Have you ever played with a kaleidoscope? These toys can mesmerize and amaze children for hours, as they peer through the eyepiece to see ever-changing patterns of beautiful colors and shifting images.

But what exactly is a kaleidoscope? Kaleidoscopes look a little bit like a small telescope that you can hold in your hands. One end has a hole you can look into. The other end has translucent paper or other material that lets light in.

Inside the kaleidoscope, there are mirrors arranged in a circle, as well as a variety of colorful objects, like beads, pebbles or small pieces of glass, that are free to move around. As you look through the viewer and rotate the outside of the kaleidoscope, the mirrors reflect the movement of the small objects to create fascinating visual images that change with each movement.

Scottish inventor Sir David Brewster created the kaleidoscope in 1815 when he was doing experiments on light polarization. He came up with the name “kaleidoscope” by combining several Greek words that meant “observer of beautiful forms.”

The key to a kaleidoscope’s beautiful patterns and images is the concept of multiple reflections. Using several mirrors attached at specific angles, unique duplicate images of whatever objects are inside the kaleidoscope can be created as a colorful pattern.

At first, Brewster intended his creation to be used as a scientific tool. It became very popular as a toy, though. In 1817, Brewster sold over 200,000 kaleidoscopes in London and Paris in just three months!

Brewster thought he would likely become wealthy as a result of his invention. However, a fault in his application for a patent for his invention allowed others to copy his invention. Today, kaleidoscopes can be made from just about any type of material, from plastic and cardboard to wood, steel, brass and even stained glass.


46 Join the Discussion

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    • Got it, Samuel! Thanks for being the very first Wonder Friend to check out today’s Wonder about Kaleidoscopes and leave us a comment! Way to go! :-)

  1. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I loved today’s wonder! I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about reading.

    Remember back on wonder of the day #588 – How many ways can you say mom? I thought wonder of the day #589 was about flowers and I was really close. Wonder of the day #589 was How do seeds sprout?

    I saw Samuel’s comment and he posted it 1 minute before this one.


    • Happy Saturday, TJ! We think you were really close with your guess for Wonder #588, too! If you think about it, some seeds DO sprout into flower plants, so you were SUPER, SUPER close! We’re proud of you! :-)

    • We’ve never seen a black-and-white kaleidoscope, Avril, but we think that would be REALLY cool! You can check out the links (colorful text) in today’s Wonder to learn how kaleidoscopes are made and even how to make one yourself! :-)

  2. My bff Grace wants to say something…
    Hi wonderopolis the clip was awesome!!!!!!!!
    You guys might of had me on wonderopolis before, but your website is …AMAZING!!!!!!!!! :]

    • Hi, Grace and Avril! We think it’s SO COOL that you guys were learning together in Wonderopolis today! Thanks for leaving us this comment and thanks for letting us know you liked the video for this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing that you have a kaleidoscope and what it’s like when you look through it, Jada! We enjoy when our Wonder Friends (like YOU!) share their personal connections to our Wonders of the Day! :-)

    • We’re super sorry to hear that your kaleidoscope got destroyed, Caelah! We bet you would have a LOT of fun making another one yourself! You can learn how by clicking on the links in the “Try it out!” section of today’s Wonder! :-)

    • We think the kaleidoscope images in today’s Wonder video look cool, too, Levi! Thanks for sharing that you think they look like flowers. We like how your Wonder brain works! :-)

    • Your comment is really COOL, too, Stephen! Thank you for stopping by today’s Wonder and leaving us a message to let us know you were here! Have a WONDERful day! :-)

    • It’s OK if you don’t have a guess about tomorrow’s Wonder, Mackenzie…sometimes it’s just as much fun to be totally surprised! We hope you’ll visit Wonderopolis again tomorrow to learn some more neat things with us! :-)

    • We like that guess a bunch, Rylee! We’ll both have to visit Wonderopolis tomorrow to see if your guess is correct! :-)

    • What a SUPER guess, Amber! We like that we’re getting some really great guesses from our Wonder Friends (like YOU!) about what they think the next Wonder will be! :-)

  3. Something with pretty colors! That is what a kaleidoscope is! I hope tomorrow’s wonder will be (shhh) secrets! ;D

    • You’re right, Maxini…kaleidoscopes DO have pretty colors! Thanks for being a WONDERful Wonder Friend and visiting this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • We’re really glad to hear that, Sean! Thank you so much for letting us know you enjoyed this COLORFUL Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • Well, we think your class is AWESOME, Julia! Thanks for letting us know you guys like hanging out with us and learning new things each day! Learning in Wonderopolis ROCKS! :-)

  4. On my nintendo dsi XL, there is a thing on the camera called mirror. It’s kind of like a kaliedoscope because it can be triangular, square, or dual imaging [shows the object on both sides]. IT’S SO EPIC!!!!
    You guys should do a wonder of the day about yugioh!!!!! It’s a show, look it up…
    But type it like this
    Just the regular english,
    not the Japanese or Abridged.

    • Thanks for sharing about that cool camera effect on your hand-held video game console, YuGiOhNinja! It sounds really FUN to WONDER about all the different types of pictures you could take and make them look like they came from a kaleidoscope! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a kaleidoscope?
  • Who invented the kaleidoscope?
  • Was the kaleidoscope designed to be a toy?


Wonder Gallery

shutterstock_62018596Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to play with a virtual kaleidoscope? Just jump online and click through to the Online Kaleidoscope. At the main menu, click on “Free Play” and have fun placing shapes into the circle on the right and then watching the effects created in the circle on the left.

If you’re up for a challenge, you can also try to make your very own homemade kaleidoscope. Depending upon how much of a challenge you want, there are several ways to make your own kaleidoscope. You will definitely need the help of an adult.

Check out the tutorials listed below and decide upon which one you think would be the most fun to make. Then grab whatever supplies you need and get crafty!


Still Wondering

Check out Illuminations’ interactive Shape Tool to create various polygons and other geometric figures, such as lines and segments.


Wonder What’s Next?

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