Light Fantastic: 5 Ways to Teach with Rainbows

Photo by Yuko Hirao / Stocksy United / 665529
Photo by Yuko Hirao / Stocksy United

You don’t need to be a child to gasp at the sight of a rainbow in the sky as the sun shines down on a rainy day. But children seem to be especially awestruck at the sight. Take their wonder to the next level, by exploring the wonderful science (and the artistic wonder, too) behind that arch of color.

1. Learn about rainbows (with both sides of your brain).

Rainbows can teach us so much about science—and a lot about feelings, too. Books like All the Colors of the Rainbow explain the why behind the colorful arch in the sky and even introduces budding scientists to Isaac Newton. We also love The Rainbow Book, which helps children equate colors with feelings. “When I feel RED, I feel fiery and mad!”

2. Go “rainbow hunting.”

Take your child for a walk on a day with scattered showers mixed with sun peeking out brightly behind the clouds. When the sun makes its appearance, look at the sky in the opposite of the sun. If there is enough moisture in the air, you might spot a rainbow! Morning and late afternoon are the best times to spot a rainbow because the bright sun is at a better angle in the sky.

3. Bring the rainbow inside.

Sunlight is actually a mixture of colors, but we usually see it as bright, white light. When the sun shines on a rainy day, the sunlight bends through drops of water in the sky, breaking up the colors and creating a spectrum of light—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. You can show your kids the same thing (even on a rainbow-less day) using a simple prism. (As your children get older, you can buy a glass version of a prism as well.) If you have a beam of sunlight coming through your window, you can cast rainbows around your room, on walls, or even on the family dog. Endless indoor fun!

4. Make your own rainbow.

If you make it home from your “rainbow hunt” without catching the rainbow, you and your child can make your own rainbow with a water hose. Simply stand with your backs to the sun and adjust the water coming out of a hose into a fine spray. You’ll spot a rainbow in the mist!

5. Make some rainbow-inspired art.

Fruit Loops cereal is made up of a nearly-full spectrum of colors, which makes it perfect for a rainbow craft. (No need to make a perfect rainbow here. You can just provide the cereal and the glue and let your kids have at it!) You can do the same thing with torn construction paper: sorting and naming colors is a great skill for young children.

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