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Make a Thaumatrope

black and white drawing of two circles side-by-side. One circle has a bird in it, the other a cage.
Thaumatrope optical illusion

A Thaumatrope or “wonder turner” is an optical illusion based on combining two images with movement. It was invented in 1826 by the English physician J.A. Paris. Thaumatropes were popular when the Longfellow children were young in the mid-1800s. You can make one with very few supplies in your own home!

Supplies

  • printable Thaumatrope template or paper
  • rounds of cardstock/cardboard
  • drawing tools (crayons, markers, watercolors)
  • glue
  • something to poke a hole (hole punch, safety pin, skewer)
  • string

STEM Connections

The optical effect is produced by persistence of vision, the retention of the first image by the brain long enough to superimpose it on the other, making the two parts of the image appear together.

Steps

  1. Print and cut out the Thaumatrope Template. If you don’t have a printer, use a cup to trace two circles onto a piece of paper.
  2. Cut a circle disc out of cardstock/cardboard.This should be the same size as the paper templates.
  3. Glue your paper circles to the cardstock/cardboard circle, with one circle on each side. Make sure one of the images is upside down.
  4. Carefully use your poking tool to punch out the two small holes in each circle.
  5. Tie on two lengths of string at the punched holes, one on each side.
  6. Hold the strings in each hand and twirl the card to see the illusion.The bird should appear to be inside the cage!
  7. Try making your own designs! Many images will work:a juggler throwing up two balls on one side, and two balls on the other; the body and legs of a man on one side, and the arms and head on another; a horse and his rider; a mouse and trap.

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Last updated: April 20, 2020