Rainbows are a fantastic jumping off point for kids to learn about lots of different science disciplines. The way light refracts to create a rainbow has to do with things as near to your child as a drop of water or as far away as the sun.
You can even touch on folklore, since every kid knows what’s at the end of a rainbow. The study of rainbows even includes a few artistic concepts, including what happens when you blend primary colors.
Before you begin, talk with kids about where they think rainbows come from.
Making Your own Rainbows
Summer’s a great time to try making your own rainbow at home, since there’s a good chance you’ll be home with the kids during a time when there’s strong sunlight coming through the windows.
If that’s the case, all you really need is a glass of water and a piece of paper. Just set the paper down flat and hold the glass of water in front of the window and move it around until a rainbow appears on the paper.
For a stronger rainbow, put a mirror in the glass, tilted at an angle.
If you don’t have any direct sunlight, just close the curtains, turn off the lights, and use a flashlight instead.
Once you’ve made your rainbows, talk once more about where rainbows come from and what in nature might work the same way as the glass of water.
Taking Learning Further
Once you’ve done the basics with what you have at home, pick up books and videos to further explain the way prisms bend light.
Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus is always a winner, so you can’t go wrong with The Magic School Bus Makes a Rainbow. The story compares refracted light to a pinball machine, which may help kids make the leap to understanding how prisms work. There’s also an accompanying Magic School Bus video on YouTube or Netflix.
If your kids are really digging in the rainbow theme, you can even pick up a rainbow lab like the Magic School Bus Mysteries of Rainbows kit
Now that they understand how rainbows really work, you can start to explore folkloric beliefs about where rainbows come from and what messages they send. For a beautifully illustrated fable about rainbows, check out The Rainbow Goblins.