The patriotic celebrations came – and were fun – and went before I had a chance to help my children use some sparkler fireworks I’d bought. Rather than letting the sparklers wait for another year, we used them to explore light in our Science in Action: L is for Light unit.
My children had a lot of fun dancing around with the sparklers.
However, a word of caution is needed. Sparklers are fireworks. They burn very quickly and are extremely hot. When we did this activity, we had a 5-gallon bucket of water in which to extinguish the sparklers. We also had two adults watching (okay hovering over) the children. We were on moist grass, freshly watered just before the activity, and had removed any flammable objects from around our activity area.
When doing this activity, please use caution to avoid any burns to children or the start of any fires because of the sparklers. I do not recommend this activity for children under the age of 4. All children, regardless of age, should be vigilantly supervised at all times during this activity.
Okay, back to the fun activity. We danced and played with the sparklers lit and set up the camera to capture the light the sparklers created. We went through 60 sparklers, and my children still wanted to do more. We sent one child out at a time with his/her sparkler. Everyone had a great time, and the resulting photos were amazing.
My children tried all different types of shapes and lines with their sparklers. They were experimenting with what ways the camera would capture the light. They were excited to see how the photos turned out. And this opened up the opportunity for me to talk about how light works.
Objective: help the children understand that what we see is what light is bounced off or radiated from an object.
Candle in a container
Bucket full of water
Dark, moonless night with a little extra light as possible
Make sure to have the bucket full of water, candle, and sparklers set up somewhere away from flammable materials.
Set up the camera on the tripod and set the settings to manual, the shutter to bulb, the ISO for 100, and the F-stop to as wide as the lens will allow. (The hard part about capturing these pictures was that each picture needed to be manually focused. We would first have the camera autofocus once, and then moved the focus to a manual focus. Keeping the camera in autofocus mode will result in not capturing any pictures.) When the child is in front of the camera press the shutter down until the child is done with the sparkler. Bulb mode will keep the shutter open until the shutter button is released.
Light the candle and use it to light the sparklers
Begin by explaining that the camera captures the light that is bounced off of an object or produced by an object and that our eyes do as well. Explain that the children are going to paint with light for the camera.
Explain that the sparklers are very hot fireworks and how to handle and dispose of them safely. We told our kids they could not get any closer to the sparkler lighting area than the bucket. We showed them how to hold the sparkler by its end, and we told them to place the burnt-out sparkler immediately in the water bucket.
Next, light a sparkler and show them how the sparkler draws lines of light in the night sky. Explain that the burning firework is giving off energy in the form of light.
Explain that they are going to do the same – over where the camera can capture the drawings.
Send the children to the area where the camera can see one at a time and let them draw in the night.
Later, look at the photos together. Talk about how the light was captured by the camera.
We had a great time with this activity and it led to some great discovery and discussion. Later we watched “The Magic School Bus Makes a Rainbow” and talked more in-depth about how light is made up of differing wavelengths, and that what we see is the wavelength that is reflected back to our eyes.
Watch “The Magic School Bus Makes a Rainbow” and discuss how light contains the different colors we see. (Full episodes are available on YouTube and Netflix.)