Water, Mirrors, and Reflections: A Physics Investigation for Preschoolers


Water mirrors and reflections. An early physics exploration

I’ve been struggling with this post. Not because the activity it’s about wasn’t fun and worthwhile. On the contrary, it was simple to set up, fits well with my belief in the philosophy of learning through play, and engaged my son and my daycare kids for a good amount of time. What I’ve been stuck on is whether to include the word “physics” in a post about an activity for toddlers and preschoolers.

I don’t have a teaching background. Science and math have never been my strong suits. When it comes to kids activities, arts and crafts and nature play are my comfort zones. I don’t want to mislead parents into thinking that I am suggesting they teach physics terms to their three year-olds. Or worse, give them reason to think that I have no business talking about this subject in the first place.

When I mentioned this dilemma to some blogging friends of mine they kindly tolerated my neuroses and convinced me that not only was it ok to write about physics for preschoolers but that I might actually help other parents see how easy it is to incorporate science and math into activities they do with their children.

My son is almost three and the two little ones who come to my house for daycare are two and a half and three. They are too young to understand the law of reflection but they are not too young to benefit from exposure to a simple exploration of reflection. As my son’s first teacher (thank you Mary Catherine from Fun-A-Day for reminding me of that) I am always looking for ways to build on his interests, nurture his curiosity, and introduce new concepts to him in playful and age appropriate ways. I believe that by giving him a broad range of experiences, both in the arts and in sciences, I am helping set the stage for a lifelong love of learning.

And so, without further ado, here’s our activity, “Water, Mirrors and Reflections: A Physics Investigation for Preschoolers”.

The kids and I headed outside with two small mirrors and a plastic storage container.  I showed them how the mirrors could be angled to catch sunlight and reflect it onto the birch trees at the edge of our lawn. Then I put the mirrors in the container and had the kids lean in to look at their reflections.

Next came the real fun! Any activity we do with water is always met with enthusiasm and this one was no exception. I gave the kids containers of water (empty pop/soda bottles, a spray bottle without the nozzle, and a little plastic cup) and instructed them to take turns pouring water on top of the mirrors.

water and mirror investigation

As they poured the water we talked about how funny and strange our distorted reflections looked.

Pouring water over mirrors and observing how ones reflection changes

After each container was emptied and the water became still we could easily see ourselves in the mirrors again.

Activity to explore reflections

Dandelions found their way into the container…

Exploring refelctions with water and mirrors

Peanut thought it would be neat to gently shake the container to make the water move. I love that he came up with this great idea to extend our investigation all on his own. We’ve been visiting a stream in our neighbourhood a lot lately and he’s been interested in the ripples that form on the surface of the water when he throws rocks in. I could see that he was drawing on his experiences at the stream while participating in this activity.

How does a reflection change when water moves over it


early exploration of the physics of reflections

Eventually the kids lost interest in peering at their reflections and our activity evolved into good old water play and scooping dandelions.

Prechooler Reflections Activity




Thanks for reading! Next time I’ll spare you the rambling preamble about my insecurities. ;)


28 thoughts on “Water, Mirrors, and Reflections: A Physics Investigation for Preschoolers

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    • Hi Lisa, I got the mirrors from a dollar store (The Dollarama here in Canada). They are meant to be adhered to a hard surface and are not framed so I had to be mindful of making sure the kids didn’t pick them up and drop them, or drop anything heavy on them.
      You can get much bigger, framed mirrors at yard sales or thrift shops.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. Ann this is an absolutely beautiful (simple and beautiful) activity! The photos are adorable, and the setting – amongst the grass and flowers looks idyllic! We’ll be trying this for sure as my son is crazy about water play too!! Thank you! I’m not on pinterest (yet!) – but I’ll share on fb for sure!

    • Aw, thanks Anna! My husband might disagree with you though as to whether the grass and flowers are “idyllic”. I took these photos on our lawn after a week of warm weather followed by two straight days of rain. The grass grew like mad and the dandelions took over. He may get frustrated by the dandelions but I secretly like them. ;)

  10. Kids learn an enormous amount of science and math through play. It doesn’t do anything positive or negative to use the word physics as they learn physics all throughout the day. If you give them lots of these experiences when they are young then when they are older and they learn that what they are doing is physics it makes learning more fun for them as they remember the fun activities they learned when younger.

    • I’m a big believer in play-based learning and completely agree that kids learn math and science through play.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

    • Thanks Beth! The kids really had fun with it and it was simple to put together. Two things that make an activity a success in my books! ;)

  11. Love this! Glad you posted and glad you rambled….lol. Jaxen doesn’t elaborate on the activities he does so I look forward to reading about them on your post :)

    • You mean he didn’t come home and say, “today we did a physics lesson?” LOL!
      He stayed at this activity the longest by the way. :)

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