Summer Nature Activity: Refract a Rainbow
Create colors with sunlight.
- Grades: PreK–K
Children will learn about light as they investigate how prisms create colors.
- Prism or crystal
- Garden hose with a spray nozzle
- Waterproof smocks
Set Up and Prepare
Hang the crystal or prism outside where it's in bright sunlight. If possible, place it in front of a light-colored surface, such as a white wall.
- On a bright, sunny day, take children outdoors, where they'll discover a wonderful surprise — the prism or crystal that you've hung up to catch the sunlight. Talk about the rainbow of colors made by the prism. What colors do they see? Have children ever seen a rainbow in the sky?
- Take down the prism and let children hold it. What happens when the sun catches it from behind? What happens when they walk with it? Have children carry it to a shady place. Does the rainbow disappear? Explain how the prism bends the sunlight to create color.
- Invite children to become rainbow makers. Have one child put on a smock. Turn on the hose so that it makes a misty spray of water. (Someone may need to hold the hose in place.) Have the other children stand facing the water and with their backs to the sun. What happens when the child holds the prism in the water?
- Explain that sunlight actually contains all of these beautiful colors, even though we do not see them. When the sunlight passes through the water, the colors separate and we see a rainbow. Let everyone have a chance to hold the prism. The others can put on smocks and walk through the rainbow.
For younger children: Provide markers or paint and large sheets of white construction paper that children can use to create their own rainbows.
For older children: If possible, provide prisms of different shapes and sizes that children can use to further their rainbow explorations.
Make a bubble solution with 1/4 cup of liquid soap; 1/4 cup of glycerine, and 2 cups of water. Give children straws or bubble pipes and let them blow bubbles. When the children blow bubbles in the sunlight, the sun's reflection will create a rainbow of colors!
Duckie's Rainbow, by Frances Barry (Candlewick)
A Rainbow All Around Me, by Sandra L. Pinkney (Scholastic)
What Makes a Rainbow?, by Betty Ann Schwartz (Piggy Toes Press)