Family Fun: December Lights

In much of the world, December is a time of lights. December holidays are times for candles and sparkle—not surprising during a month that, for the northern hemisphere, is the darkest time of the year. So, for December, our family fun is all about light.

1. Make a light table from a plastic box. It wasn’t until I started exploring activities with light that I realized light tables are such a play phenomenon. There are lots of plans for building light tables online, but I liked this DIY light table—less than $20 and no carpentry skills required. It might be the perfect use for any strings of holiday lights that are tangled beyond redemption. This website has lots of ideas for preschool play with a light table, but I think a lot of the ideas would be fun for older children as well.

2. Experiment with bending light. Science Kids’ Light and Mirror Game is an online way to experiment with light and mirrors. It is fun, but you can do the real thing with a flashlight, some mirrors, and a dark room. Try pointing the flashlight in different directions, then using the mirrors to get it to shine where you want. You might want to set up a target and see how many different ways you can hit it. Experiment with different flashlights and different mirrors. Which things change and which ones don’t?

3. Make art with light. I love this garden of light and plastic bags near the Prado museum in Madrid. Of course anything involving light bulbs or flames needs close supervision, but think about what might make a beautiful glow. What could glow atop a flashlight? Could you use strings of holiday lights to make something new and interesting? Some communities use candles in small bags as luminaries. Could you arrange them into someone more interesting than a line? If you make something wonderful, send a picture and I’ll post it! Or, if there are any photography buffs in the family, explore this introduction to “light painting” with photography. Light painting involves moving lights in front of a camera, with the shutter open for an extended period of time. The results are amazing!

4. What would be better with more light? Invent it. Years ago one of my graduate students was assigned to invent something to solve a problem. She talked to a podiatrist-uncle who told her that one of the most common problems he dealt with was toes injured running into things in the dark. So her invention was light-up slippers, created by replacing the nose on fuzzy animal slippers with a bulb that lit with each step. Since that time I’ve seen several commercial varieties of such things and wished she’d been able to make her fortune. What things around you would be better with more light? Can you really make one?

5. What’s more fun than things that glow in the dark? You can make your own glow-in-the-dark water from a florescent marker. Or how about a glow-in-the-dark Mentos fountain in the back yard? Try some black light projects from glowing jello to glowing crystal ice balls. This website has all manner of glowing projects that don’t necessarily require a black light. I’m anxious to try some of them!

In this dark time of year, enjoy some light-filled fun!

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