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Colored Lenses

Look at the world through colored, transparent materials.


  • transparent color paddles
  • sheets of colored acetate (sometimes called colored gels)
  • clipboard, paper, pencil

Key Science Concepts

  • Objects appear to be a different color when viewed through a transparent colored material.
  • After passing through a transparent colored material, the color of the light looks like the color of the material.


Encourage children to use color words, as well as key terms such as light, clear and transparent; descriptive words such as light and dark; action words such as describe and mix; and science process words such as change and compare.


Tell children that they are going to explore looking through transparent, or clear, colors.

  1. Provide color paddles and/or colored acetate and invite children to look at the world through these colors. What do they notice? Encourage them to look at each other as well as at familiar objects. Take notes on what they say as they observe.
  2. Introduce the word transparent in your conversation: These pieces of colored plastic are transparent. That means we can look through them and see what’s on the other side.
  3. As they explore, ask:
    • How does the (yellow) wall look when you look at it through the (red) plastic?
    • How does the (red) flower look when you look at it through the (red) plastic?
  1. Have children hold a colored acetate sheet or color paddle close to a wall or near to the ground, where sunlight can shine through it. They may want to ask a friend to hold his or her hand or a small object in the resulting patch of light.
    • What happened when you let light shine through the (blue) sheet?
    • How did Josh’s hand look when he held it in the colored light made by the (red) sheet?
    • Does this remind you of what happened when we mixed paints before? How is it the same? How is it different?
  1. Encourage children to use two different-colored acetate sheets together. Have them hold the sheets up to look through them. Then, have the children use them to make patches of colored light. What do they notice? Have a paper and pencil handy to jot down things the children say and do.

Reflect and Share

Invite children to talk about their experiences with the color paddles and colored acetate and what they discovered. Have colored acetate and paddles available so children can show what they did and what they noticed. Use your notes to share examples of what children said and did outdoors and to spark further conversation.