Solar beads are a fun way to learn about the importance of sun exposure. We should put on sunscreen every day and think about reapplying it. We can teach children a craft project with pony beads and experiment with the UV rays given off by light sources and test sunscreen products for effectiveness.
UV detecting beads (or solar beads) are available from several sources and are the same size as pony beads. I like to offer children the UV beads along with alphabet beads for personalization, various colors and finishes of pony beads, and even some glow-in-the-dark beads for fun. I also like to offer stretchy cord for bracelets or hatbands, zipper pulls, key chains, and lacing so the children can make jewelry or other accessories.
Safety note: Be sure to explain safety precautions to children. This experiment uses sunscreen which can irritate eyes and light bulbs which can get hot. Eye and clothing protection should be used. Avoid getting chemicals on clothing or in eyes. After these experiments, be sure to thoroughly clean hands. Disclaimer: All information provided on this site is for entertainment and education purposes only. Using any information from thecasabouquet.com is at your own risk.
Choose a few spray suncreens, all of the same SPF, such as 30. I like to experiment with top advertised brands versus store or “no-name” brands. Put 20-25 solar beads in a clear plastic container with a lid. I like to use the baby soda bottles with lids but this experiment will work with reclosable plastic storage bags. Label the containers with stickers or masking tape and a marker pen. At this point, it is time to put on the safety glasses. One should have no sunscreen. Each of the other bags should be sprayed with the sunscreens you are testing and labeled. (Note: this experiment can also be done with lotion, but if I’m in charge of sun protection for a group of children, I prefer to spray them).
Find a room you can darken completely. Set up light sources of various types: 60 watt incandescent, 100 watt incandescent, halogen, LEDs (such as flashlights), fluorescent, and various CFL bulbs. If you have a blacklight, that would interesting, too. Hold the test containers under each light source for about 30 seconds and record the results. It’s possible the beads may not change with many of the light sources. For safety, be sure the children understand not to touch the light sources or lamps. A few of these could get quite hot.
Next, take the test containers outside on a sunny day. How fast does each set of beads change? Do they all change? Is one sunscreen better than the others?
While outside, I like to give the children a chance to sort their beads by color. You could provide paper cups or ice cube trays for this. As the leader of the activity, I think they should be happy if their craft project just has assorted colors in the sun, but the children do NOT usually feel that way!
For bracelets, cut a piece of stretchy bead cord about 3 inches longer than the wrist size. An important first step is to pull the bead cord and stretch it. This actually will help the bracelet last longer. Next, figure out a pattern for the solar beads and other assorted beads. Hold one end of the cord (it might be easier to secure with paper clip or safety pin to keep the beads from falling off). String the beads on in the desired pattern to the desired length. Tie the ends of the cord together with a strong double or triple knot. Cut the excess cord to about a half inch, and thread back through the beads to hide the knot.
My recommendations: for a 7.5 inch bracelet you will need 24 solar beads and 8 colored pony beads. String 3 solar beads of the same color, then a colored bead, then 3 solar of another color, a colored bead, and so on. Solar beads usually come in 5 or 6 colors. Knowing that 32 beads makes 7.5 inches, you can adjust for wrist size and other combinations of beads. Four beads make about 1 inch of bracelet.
Children who enjoy making Rainbow Loom bracelets can use solar beads for some of the ladder designs.
Now you can wear your jewelry all summer to check on your sun exposure. And use your best-rated sunscreen on yourself and your beads for protection!
- 2 or more sunscreen sprays
- 24 UV detecting beads (solar beads)
- Alphabet beads
- Assorted colors pony beads
- Stretch bead cord
- 3 or more clear containers with tops (or reclosable plastic storage bags)
- Safety glasses
- Lamps, light bulbs, flashlights (incandescent, fluorescent, LED, CFL, halogen, blacklight)
- Marker pen, masking tape, scissors, paper or notebook for recording results, pen
Sources for solar beads activity
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase using product links, I’ll receive compensation towards maintaining this blog.
- Ultraviolet Detecting Beads – 250 Beads Per Pack
- Pepperell Stretch 0.5mm Magic Bead and Jewelry Cord, 10m, Clear
- Paxcoo 100 Pcs Metal Swivel Lanyard Snap Hook with Key Rings (Small Size)
- 6 Pack LEARNING RESOURCES JUMBO TEST TUBES
- Safety Glasses Intruder Multi Color Clear Lens 12/box
What is the science?
Content: Assess the impact of products; waves, light, electromagnetic spectrum; energy transfer
The plastic beads are imbedded with pigments that are sensitive to ultraviolet rays. This is an example of fluorescence. Electrons in the atoms receive energy from uv light and jump to a higher energy level. When they jump back down to their normal level, we see the released energy as visible light. The solar beads are a small portable way to demonstrate this. A similar principal applies to solar panels being excited by sunlight and producing electricity with the moving electrons.
Phosphorescent objects will continue to emit light after the electrons in the object have been excited by light. The electrons in phosphorescent materials make bigger energy level jumps and take longer for all the electrons to return to their normal levels. Examples are glow-in-the-dark beads and the star stickers sold for bedrooms.
Resource Links for solar beads activity
- Fluorescence vs. phosphorescence from VanCleave’s Science Fun
- Glowing in the dark phosphorescence activity from Science Friday
- What is light? from Canon Science Lab
- Be seen after dark from Science Buddies
Let’s Talk Story
Why can’t school be more like summer camp? In my career as a university pre-college outreach professional, I had the opportunity to plan summer educational experiences for middle school and high school students. And I found that joy of learning still exists! By approaching lessons and units with the perspective of camp counselors, you can inject the wonder and motivation that so often disappears in our testing-crazy times.
Tutu is a name for a grandparent in Hawaii. When our grandson comes to spend time with us, we say he is at Camp Tutu! Welcome to Camp Tutu, my way of energizing science lessons!
It’s amazing when you combine arts with science. Children really get energized by learning the science around an object they make and can keep. It’s a way to empower them when they wear their creation, learn why sun protection is so important, and can explain to others the science behind their accessories.
I’ll be looking for comments below, or contact me at lisa [at] casabouquet.com.
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