All About Optical Illusions

Optical illusions are all around us. But how do they work? Some illusions work because you look at things the wrong way. By looking at an image carefully from all angles you suddenly see what it really is. Sometimes, illusions use substances like water to change our perception. Other illusions work because they use motion to trick our brain into processing information in a way that is different from reality. 

Optical illusions are fun to look out. But did you know that they can also be a useful tool for survival? In nature, zebras have stripes on their bodies to confuse lions. Zebras don’t want to be seen by lions so their stripes act as an optical illusion.  The stripes appear to look like pieces of wavy grass and shadows. This makes it hard for lions to see a single zebra in a moving group (a herd).

Try the following activities to explore some fun optical illusions! Observe what you see and make sure you have adult help and supervision!

Video Example – Fish and Bowl Optical Illusion

Materials Needed: 

  • Scissors
  • Tape 
    • or any adhesive like glue
  • A plastic straw
    • Or a reusable straw
    • Or a thin wooden stick
    • Or a single chopstick
    • Or a rolled up piece of paper
  • A writing utensil
  • Paper plates
    • Cardboard
    • Construction paper
    • Regular paper
  • Optional – a glass or cup
  • Optional- coloring utensils 

Disappearing Coin

Materials Needed: 

  • One coin
  • One straight edged glass or jar
  • Water


  1. Place a small coin under a glass or jar. 
  2. Make sure that you can clearly see the glass. 
  3. Fill the jar or glass with water. 
  4. Observe what happens to the coin!

The X-Ray Tube

Materials Needed:

  • A small tube which can be…  
    • A toilet paper roll,
    • A paper towel row
    • A rolled up piece of paper


  1. Find a small tube
  2. Raise the tube to your face and look through it with your right eye. 
  3. Take your left hand and place it against the side of the tube
  4. Make sure your left palm is facing towards you.
  5. Open both of your eyes
  6. Stare through the tube across the room. 
  7. Observe what happens to your hand!

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