activity instant rainbows

Instant Rainbows

Pull off a prismatic phenomenon in seconds! Catching rainbows in a bowl gives your preschooler an incredibly simple way to explore basic science and change perception.


When cleaning up, be sure to soak up all nail polish remnants with a paper towel or a scrap of paper before emptying the water into a sink.

MATERIALS - click to buy
  1. Water
  2. Clear glass bowl with a flat bottom large enough to hold 2 to 3 inches of water. We use our heavy duty, 4 quart glass mixing bowls like this one found on Amazon.
  3. Clear nail polish - We prefer the acetone-free, “top-coat” nail polish like this example.
  4. Black construction paper taken from a pack of assorted colors like this. Purple paper can work in a pinch. Light colors will not work for this activity. Cut the paper into pieces to fit your bowl’s bottom. It's quick and easy to fold and then cut an 8 by 11 inch piece of paper into halves or quarters, depending on the size of your bowl.
  1. Skilly-spark: Chat about times when you have seen rainbows, such as in water from a sprinkler on a sunny day. Let’s make our own rainbows inside today.
  2. Fill the bowl with at least 2 inches of water.
  3. For best rainbow viewing, place the bowl of water away from direct sunlight.
  4. Put the black construction paper into the water and press it down so it nearly touches the bottom of the bowl. 3-year olds and older can help adults do this.
  5. Adults, gently place a drop of clear nail polish on the top of the water. If your polish is a bit thick, make sure the wand is full and then gently touch it to the water’s surface.
  6. Watch as it spreads on top of the water into a prism of colors against the contrast of the black paper.
  7. Ask your child to look at the water and nail polish from all angles, from up top, left, right and below, to see how the rainbow of colors change. Can they name all of the colors they are see?
  8. To make your child’s rainbow permanent, carefully slide your fingers beneath the paper’s corners and lift it up, making sure the nail polish rainbow sticks to and catches on the paper. 4 year olds can handle this, but we don’t recommend rainbow catching for your younger ones.
  9. Dip and do until your child’s interest wanes and it’s no longer time to make rainbows.
  10. Let the paper dry for in an hour or two, come back and see how much more sparkly they are!


Keep the fun going
  • Shape your rainbows! Cut them into different shapes and sizes, free-hand or by tracing objects like cookie cutters. Then, tape them on a sunny window to enjoy their glittering colors.
  • Use bright and light-colored crayons to draw right on top of your night-sky rainbow.