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Thaumatrope or Mini–Movie

Thaumatrope (mini-movie) with cloud and lightning
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What you will make:

Kids will have fun making this spinning toy known as a thaumatrope (or mini-movie). It appears to magically create one picture from two and demonstrates one of the visual concepts behind movies.

This project is great for family, classroom or group craft time. It requires no patterns and uses simple materials. With a little preparation by the adult or teen leader, this project is easy and fun for groups of children.

Here's what you need:
  • White cardstock or index card
  • Pencil
  • Compass or small lid to trace
  • Scissors
  • Crayons, markers or colored pencils
  • String
  • Optional: Awl or small hole punch, rubber stamps, stamp pad, clip art

This project is rated EASY to do.

How to Make a Thaumatrope (or Mini–Movie)

Read all of the steps before starting.
Step 1: Project Preparation (Cut Circles)

Depending upon the ages and abilities of the children, pre-cut 1½" circles from the cardstock—one or more for each child. Use a compass or small lid to accurately trace the circle. Use a hole punch if you have one that cuts circles between 1½" and 2". You can cut squares with a paper trimmer, but circles work best.

Step 2: Draw Pictures

On one side of the circle, draw a cloud, and on the other side, draw a lightning bolt. Color the images with pencils, crayons or markers. Make the background sky blue.

Other design possibilities for the two images are a bird and a birdcage; cut flowers and a vase; two words; an airplane and a runway, or two balloons. Use your imagination to think of two images that, when combined, will make an interesting new image. Small rubber stamps, pictures cut from old magazines, and clip art are other sources of images.

Tip: If your images have an up and down component, they need to be lined up with one of the images upside-down or the magical illusion won't work properly.

Step 3: Punch Holes

Use the tip of your scissors (or an awl or eighth-inch hole punch) to punch two holes on opposite sides of the circle—left and right.

Step 4: Attach Strings

Cut two lengths of string about 10" long. Thread a piece of string through one hole and tie the ends together to form a loop. Repeat for the other hole.

Step 5: Magical Illusion

Spin the disk by twirling the strings between the thumb and index finger of each hand. Like magic, the lightning bolt and cloud appear together.

How does it work?
Your eye holds the image of a thing for a split second after it is gone. So after the cloud disappears, its image is still in your eye when the lightning bolt appears. You see both images together. Movies work in much the same way, with one still frame after another being superimposed in your eye to create the illusion of motion.

That's it! Now give your thaumatrope a spin! Thaumatrope (mini-movie) with cloud and lightning

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Before you start:
  • Make a place to work.
  • Read all of the directions.
  • Gather everything you need to do the project.
  • Think about the project. Imagine how it will look and what you will do with it.

Are you ready?
Okay, get started!!!

Mini-movie (thaumatrope) using clipart

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Tip: When images have an up and down component, one of them must be upside-down on the reverse side. This mini-movie was made using clip art with the bird upside-down on the back and the cage right-side-up on the front.

Mini-movie (thaumatrope): Cut flowers and a vase

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Tip: If the strings are attached at the top and bottom, both images can be right-side-up; however, twirling will be more difficult.

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