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What is a Kaleidoscope?

Updated on November 17, 2016

How does this classic toy work?

Come along and take a look inside this child's toy that creates hours of fun.
Come along and take a look inside this child's toy that creates hours of fun. | Source

A kaleidoscope should be in every child's toybox!

A a classic kaleidoscope just might be the perfect toy. First of all, it stimulates the senses. A kaleidoscope is visual, tactile and auditory. The sheer number of colorful shapes one can see by turning a tube is fascinating; feeling the tube in one's hands and turning it is gratifying, too; the sound of the tumbling glass and beads can be soothing (think about those rainfall sticks). This hand-held, take it anywhere toy, can be transported easily in a pocket or a pouch or a purse making it a perfect travel toy.

As a child, I would sit for a long time watching the patterns change as I turned the tube of my cardboard kaleidoscope. You could hear me say "Ooh, that one is my favorite!" and then say the same thing for the next pattern to fall into place . When one thinks about it, the very word "kaleidoscope" is interesting, too. It sounds like a combination of the words "collide" and "scopes". In fact, that is what happens: the colored glass or plastic pieces collide inside of this telescope, don't they. (FYI: scroll down to see the actual linguistic history of kaleidoscope)

In today's digital world, one no longer needs a tube to turn to see these lovely geometric patterns; YouTube has many short videos that take the place of my beloved toy. Scroll down to see 5 of the short films I found the most enjoyable. Be fore-warned, a few come with psychedelic music or soothing meditation vibes.

photo credits: all images by Mickie Goad unless stated otherwise.

See the "fractal" inside this toy?

Turn the end of the toy and change your view instantly.
Turn the end of the toy and change your view instantly. | Source

Oh, don't know what a kaleidoscope is?

Sir David Brewster invented the kaleidoscope in 1816; he coined the term "kaleidoscope" to describe a tube lined with mirrors that had colorful stones, pebbles or bits or glass contained a one end. While looking into one end of the tube and turning it, you can see the the shapes and colors reflected by the mirrors inside. Unlike my analysis of the term, the name is actually derived from the Greek words kalos ("beautiful"), edos ("form"), and skopen ("to view").

source: Encyclopdia Britannica Online Library Edition, s.v. "kaleidoscope," accessed July 26, 2012 .

A Classic Tin Kaleidoscope - Unique travel toy

The kaleidoscope I purchased was extremely cheap and was made in China. I tried to find one locally that was made in the USA, but had no luck. I have written the company (HQ is located in the USA) that sells the tin kaleidoscope shown below to find out where it is actually put together. Will let you know when I get a reply.

Schylling Classic Tin Kaleidoscope
Schylling Classic Tin Kaleidoscope

A great artistic toy for travel. You just need light.


How to use a simple kaleidoscope:


How to use a kaleidoscope:

It is as easy as 1, 2, 3 to use this tube. Create thousands upon thousands of beautiful designs just by turning.

This particular kaleidoscope is about 6 inches in length and 1 1/2 inches wide.

(Image is mine created with

Designs seen in a kaleidoscope: - beautiful optical illustions


All the designs were made with a kaleidoscope I bought for $1 at a discount store.

Do you like fractal design? Then you might want a mousepad like this one on!

Kaleidoscopia Coloring Books - Color your own fractals

The following Kaleidoscopia coloring books come highly recommended on Amazon. Some of the reviewers use colored pens (like a Sharpie) for coloring the designs. I love good quality colored pencils, myself. Keep a pencil sharpener handy.

Mandala Adventure: A Kaleidoscopia Coloring Book
Mandala Adventure: A Kaleidoscopia Coloring Book

The meaning of "mandala" comes from Sanskrit meaning "circle”. Mandalas offer balancing visual elements, symbolizing unity and harmony. So, you can create some unity and harmony while being artistic.


Video: How does a kaleidoscope work?

Three more designs made by my inexpensive kaleidoscope: - just by turning a tube and looking towards a light!


A creative gift to inspire:

A kaleidoscope is a wonderfully artistic and scientific gift idea. If you do give this imaginative toy to someone as a gift, you could include a Easy Kaleidoscope Stained Glass Coloring Book .

Learn from a Kaleidoscope: - A Scientific and Educational Toy

Yes, the classic kaleidoscope can be educational. Here are a few of the concepts you and teach or learn from this simple toy:

  1. The Science of light! (prisms)
  2. The Science of color! (mixing color)
  3. The Science of math! (geometry and angles)

Deconstructing a Kaleidoscope:

What is inside my simple kaleidoscope? - Remember, it only cost a dollar!


My husband pulled the clear container that holds the colorful beads and plastic off the tube and we discovered that there were three reflective surfaces held by a cardboard tube on the inside.


The cardboard tube rests on a plastic tube-like piece. See it the first picture on the left at the bottom? The reflective pieces are not glass and are not taped in any way; the cardboard tube keeps them in place with an exact fit. The round clear container has some interesting pieces.

Find the vintage kaleidoscope that you remember:

Every now and then you can find a toy from your own childhood on eBay. If you loved the kaleidoscopes from the past, then you might a collectible here.

This would be a great toy to take on a trip--it is easy to store; does not require batteries.

Good luck!

Kaleidoscopic Visions on YouTube

Ecological kaleidoscopic fun!

A kaleidoscope makes a unique gift for anyone. Even adults can be mesmerized by this simple (yet complex) toy. Click the "buy" button to get one of these classic scientific toys today.

Plan Toys Mushroom Kaleidoscope - Each
Plan Toys Mushroom Kaleidoscope - Each

Made with eco-friendly materials. Not made in the USA, but in Thailand.


How YOU can make a kaleidoscope:

One video uses a Pringle's can, another uses a CD Jewel case and an opaque or plastic lid. Paper towel tubes are also put to use. I have even seen crafters use aluminium foil as the reflective surface. Inventive to say the least.

My childhood kaleidoscope was typically made from cardboard and the pieces that moved to make the shapes were flat opaque glass. I remember that I loved to shake it instead of turning the tube to really mix the pieces up and change the designs.

Do you remember playing with a simple kaleidoscope? Do you agree that this could very well be the perfect toy?

Have you ever used a Kaleidoscope? - Share your childhood memories, if you will.

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    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 3 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      love kaleidoscopes! Have many of them!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 3 years ago from United States

      I have always loved kaleidoscopes! I am fascinated by the many difference designs that are instantly created right before my eyes. I have never made one myself, but you have definitely inspired me to do so. Awesome article!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 3 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I remember having a Kaleidoscope as a child -- then my children had them too. A fascinating, ever-changing, toy for sure.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      really interesting! your page is going to help a student who does a report on this topic! lots of information!

    • crystalwriter profile image

      Crystal A Murray 3 years ago from Corydon, Indiana, USA

      How did I like this lens and never leave a comment? I must have gotten distracted because it's a great lens, and definitely comment-worthy. :-) I love all the details you added with video kaleidoscopes, how to make kaleidoscopes, and even some Brewster history. If I had overflowing money, I believe I'd buy kaleidoscopes instead of diamonds. And, yes, I also buy the dollar store types, but oh how I love the ones with oil and dichroic glass.

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 4 years ago

      @Adventuretravels: It was such fun to write about this classic toy kaleidoscope. Glad you enjoyed the page.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 4 years ago from Perth UK

      I had some when I was a child. I couldn't find a nice one to buy for my son when he was younger. I love these. Great lens thanks.

    • webrunner2023 profile image

      webrunner2023 4 years ago

      I was always fasinated by these as a small boy. Time to get one for my grandson and relive my youth!

    • profile image

      cmadden 4 years ago

      I love kaleidoscopes - such fascinating designs!

    • profile image

      MaggiePowell 5 years ago

      Love Kaleidoscopes! My kids do too.. this is great.

    • banapple profile image

      banapple 5 years ago

      I had some of these as a child. They always fascinated me with all the colors and designs.

    • profile image

      BeyondRoses 5 years ago

      I was facinated by my Kaleidoscope, and it was always a treasured toy. I remember it as being cardboard, filled with pieces of reflecting colored glass. Thanks for the sweet memory!

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      One of the toys I had as a kid too. Endless variety.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont

      I loved playing with toy kaleidoscopes as a kid. I've seen some absolutely gorgeous hand made wooden kaleidscopes in high-end craft stores over the past few years. I would love to have one, but for now I think I'll try making one using the video instructions. Fun!