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Kaleidos-CUP: Make your own kaleidoscope with a paper cup

Kaleidos-CUP: Make your own kaleidoscope with a paper cup
Kaleidos-CUP: Make your own kaleidoscope with a paper cup
T. Fresques

Quick. Guess what else can go into that paper cup besides coffee, tea, or cocoa that's completely caffeine and sugar-free, but is sure to bring you and your kids as much pleasure? A kaleidoscope. The name comes from the Greek words "kalos" meaning beautiful and "eidos" which means form. In this case we are making a kaleidos-CUP. Get it? It's not only a fun activity to make with the kids, but using found objects to make their very own kaleidos-cup is a creative exercise. Most importantly, it's a lesson in geometry (with the use of angles in the mirrors) and physics (with how the light bounces on the mirror surfaces). It's amazing how the combination of light, reflection, angles, color, and movement make an animated show of color and patterns that you will not see twice -- all inside a little cup. Let's get started.

Kaleidos-CUP: Make your own kaleidoscope with a paper cup
Theda Fresques

What you need:
-Disposable paper hot drink cup with lid
-Glassine plastic (from packaging or clear presentation folders) OR
any mirror-like surface you can find
-Black construcion paper
-Glue and tape
-Scissors and Exacto knife
-Pencil and felt-tipped pen
-Colorful Beads, buttons or similar

How to:
Measure the height of your cup then cut 3 strips of scrap paper about 3" wide and the same height of your cup. Measure 2-5/8" across one end of the strip and 1-5/8" at the other end so it tapers towards the bottom like a narrow trapezoid. This will be your template.

Lay paper template on glassine plastic and trace with felt-tipped pen (like a Sharpie). Put your paper cup upside down on the glassine window and trace circle as well. Cut-out plastic shapes.

Using one of the plastic trapezoids you just cut out, trace shape on black paper also and cut-out.

Attach plastic trapezoid shapes together to form a triangle. Remember, the closer you can get the joints together, the sharper your images will be. Use only a thin bead of glue and let dry. (Hot glue is fastest.) Then, tape the black paper trapezoid cut-outs to the outside of your glassine plastic triangle. This is your mirror apparatus that will go into the kaleidoscope. Set aside.

Turn cup upside down and locate center of bottom. Punch out a small, circle. This will be the peep-hole.

Drop in beads and buttons in the lid. If you have beads that are small, put a piece of tape over the sipping hole in the lid. Once the beads are all in, slip in the circular glassine plastic piece on the lid. It should snap into place holding the beads in.

Wrap your paper cup with your choice of decorative or construction paper.

Drop-in the finished mirror apparatus into the cup, narrow side down, then snap your bead-filled lid on the cup.

Finish off by embellishing the outside of the cup.

Find a bright, sunny spot in the house and look through the peep-hole. Spin the cup (or the lid very carefully) to see your beads and buttons create a colorful display.

Want more science? Check out Mad Science Austin. They provide hands-on activities that is sure to stretch a child's noodle. They organize birthday parties, summer and vacation camps, in-class workshops, pre-school programs, and after school programs. Check them out at Better yet, talk to a mad (but very friendly) scientist at 512-892-1143 to ask about booking a program.

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Follow her blog Things My Mother Didn't Tell Me About Motherhood in which she talks about her parenting adventures and misadventures. Her first children's book "Pepipacifoo" is now available online. Search for it at

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