This fun optical toy is a really quick and easy Earth Day craft you can do with kids of all ages! It’s called a thaumatrope, and it dates back to the early 1800’s. It’s basically a disc with a design on each side and when you spin it, it gives the illusion that the images on both sides blend into one.
The traditional design is a disc attached to two strings, but I think that mounting it on a stick and twirling it is much easier for young kids to make and play with, and the effect is pretty much the same. The classic thaumotrope design is of a bird in a cage, but I made these two special versions for Earth Day – one showing a heart in the middle of the Earth, and another showing a smiley face. Some may argue that the planet probably isn’t smiling very much given the environmental crisis, but you can choose the version you think is most appropriate!
I’ve included a FREE template for the thaumatrope and you can find the download box at the end of the tutorial. In order to save paper, there two copies per page and you can choose to print only one design, or both. I’ve also included a blank disc if you want kids to experiment with their own message or design for the reverse!
- A sheet of white cardstock
- Coloured pens, pencils or crayons
- Sticky tape or masking tape
- Wooden kebab stick
How to make the Earth Day Craft Optical Toy:
1. Download the free template (see the download box at the end of the tutorial) and print the thaumatrope onto cardstock.
2. Choose two discs – one Earth and one back. Colour them in. NOTE: the smiley face doesn’t need to be coloured.
3. Cut out the two discs. Turn one over and use some sticky tape to fix a wooden kebab stick to it. Make sure you fix the stick so that the design is straight when you hold it up – very young kids will need help with this.
It’s a good idea to use masking tape, as you can peel it off and re-stick it easily. You could also use a pen to mark a little dot on the bottom of the disc, which will help kids see where to fix the stick.
4. Put some glue on the back of the other disc and stick it to the first one so that you sandwich the kebab stick between the two. Make sure to stick it on straight – again, young kids will need some help with this.
5. The thaumatrope is finished! Hold the stick between the palms of your hands and rub them backwards and forwards to make it twirl. Watch the heart appear in the centre of the Earth, or see it smiling!
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