Magic Spinny Picture Thing (aka Thaumatrope)

I love sharing impressive tricks with my kids like creating flip books and these thaumatropes (which I prefer to call magic spinny picture thing, as I think it’s more memorable).

They are great for showing illusions and how our eyes can be tricked. But they’re also just good fun to entertain your kids (or yourself) any time.

Watch How the Thaumatrope Works

A Brief History of the Thaumatrope

I’m not here to give a history lesson, but I did find this bit interesting.

First, the word thaumatrope comes from ancient Greek meaning ‘Wonder Turner’.

The thaumatrope’s original purple was that of a children’s toy, and I can see why. It’s fun to play with!

I think the thaumatrope also could be called the start of animation. It’s illusions like these that animation uses to make us feel like pictures are moving.

How Does the Thaumatrope Work?

Thaumatropes use something called Apparent Motion to trick our eyes/brains into seeing something move – or in this case, see two things merge together.

Our brains, in essence, don’t like to be confused. So they often fill in information for us to make sense of the world.

In the case of animation, our brains make sense of a bunch of still pictures by filling in the motion for us.

So we don’t see Lightning McQueen frame by frame. We see a race car zooming by.

Similarly, with the thaumatrope, instead of seeing each side as it’s own image, our brain fills in the information so we kind of see both images at the same time.

If you and your kids find the thaumatrope interesting, make sure to google flip-books, phenakistiscopes, and zoetropes , too!

How to Make Your Own Thaumatrope

These magic spinny picture things are so easy to make.

Start with either the templates I’ve provided below or make your own with cardstock.

You can use regular paper with these but the cardstock is going to hold up a lot better – and also provide a better picture.

Color in the pictures or draw your own design on each side of the paper.

Cut out the pictures and fold the two sides together. Tape the sides together. If you tape the entire thing, it’ll be stronger and the picture will be clearer.

Cut a hole on both sides of your design.

Then take some string or yarn and tie a piece in each hole. The two pieces should be about the same length. Ours were about 6-7 inches long (after being tied on)

Hold each piece of yarn in one hand. Spin the design. Then pull it taut and watch the picture.

Alternative Design for the Thermatrope

If you don’t have string or a hole punch, you can also make this with a pencil!

Just tape your design to a pencil.

Then spin the pencil in your hands.

We didn’t feel the pictures were as clear with this method but it still worked okay.

Get the Premade Templates

I made a few templates to get your started. But I highly encourage kids to try and make their own designs, too!

Get yours here

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