The making of a kaleidoscope

It was a Saturday evening and I was looking for a relaxed weekend. But my eighth grade son had forgotten to inform us about a science project. “You have to get it done somehow,” my wife told us both.

“Ok. Okay. No problem,” I concealed my ignorance, browsed a website on the smartphone and noted the list of things needed — thick cardboard, scissors, silver foil, glue and broken color bangles.

While my son watched impatiently, I cut three rectangular cardboards like a ruler and stuck the silver foil on to it.

“What are you doing, appa,” he asked me.


“No, science ma’m asked us to use only mirrors. And not these silver papers.”

I felt exasperated. A kaleidoscope is a toy based on the principle of internal reflection of light. Can’t the teacher have two mirrors on opposite sides and show how the images are reflected on each other infinitely? She could gather the entire class around her and make all the students just go wow at this scientific phenomenon. Many times, such observations when taught as a group evoke a strong sense of excitement and inquisitiveness among the children.

If kaleidoscope is essential and interesting to explain to the students about reflection of light, wouldn’t it be worthwhile if the teacher performs it as a one-hour science practical activity along with all the children?

Before I could speak, my wife showed me the list of shops shown on Google maps titled “mirror shops near me”. After a detailed search, a wise-looking old shopkeeper said, “Such shops selling mirrors are a thing of the past, sir.” He directed me to the central bazaar. I finally reached a small shady looking mirror shop. I asked the shopkeeper, “Sir, do you sell small-sized mirrors?” He looked at me sagaciously and asked, “Are you looking for a kaleidoscope?”

Dumbstruck, I kowtowed in front of him. He sauntered in to the back of the shop and returned with a partially made kaleidoscope — three rectangular mirrors glued along the length perfectly. “If children handle these sharp mirrors, they could injure themselves. That’s why we have glued them. You just need to wind a round cardboard and cover the ends. Place some broken bangles inside them and the scope is ready.”

By late night, my son and I completed the scope. I looked forward to Monday evening to know about the words of appreciation from his teacher. But he was in his usual self that evening. Finally, I inquired him about his day. “She checked only a few scopes, appa.” It was a big disappointment.

“Appa, she also announced the next do-it-yourself home project. It is a submarine.”

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