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Light, Heat and Sound Energy Lessons and Activities

Young, elementary-aged children generally understand things such as light, heat, and sound best when they are able to learn in a hands-on manner. This is because young children have short attention spans and limited vocabularies in comparison to adults. To ensure that children remain interested in the lessons and are able to comprehend each of these basic concepts of physics, classroom experiments and demonstrations are excellent hands-on teaching tools. Experiments and demonstrations should be kept simple to ensure that the focus stays on the concept that is being taught. Whether teaching children about light, heat, or sound, there are several options for experimenting or creating demonstrations featuring these concepts in a classroom environment.


Light is a type of energy that is also known as electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation comes in several different forms, which, aside from light, also include X-rays and microwaves. Light rays, however, are the only type of electromagnetic radiation that the human eyes are able to detect. These light rays are able to be detected in the form of light and colors by human eyes as well as by many other species. The type of light rays and the visible colors that can be detected by the eyes vary widely based on the capabilities of a given animal's eyes. Light travels in straight lines at speeds that are nearly incomprehensible to most people, approximately 186,000 miles per second. To put this into perspective, it takes less than ten minutes for light to travel all the way from the sun to Earth. Keeping in mind that Earth is 92,960,000 miles from the sun, if it were possible for humans to drive this distance and reach the sun, it would take more than 100 years to get there, even at 100 miles an hour. While any matter of physics can be difficult to teach, light can be an especially tricky subject to conquer when teaching young children. Many children learn complex concepts best when they are taught through hands-on experiments and demonstrations. There are many experiments and demonstrations that are simple enough to perform in an elementary-school classroom setting to ensure that children are able to grasp the basic concepts of light.


Everything in the universe is made up of a series of atoms and molecules that are constantly moving. Atoms and molecules are frequently bouncing against one another or vibrating. All of this constant motion, in turn, stores or releases energy. There are many types of energy, including light, sound, electrical, and thermal energy. These energy types are capable of changing forms, and many of these forms change into energy that is known as heat or thermal energy. For instance, light from the sun is transformed into heat energy as it reaches Earth, and in turn, this warms the planet. Other types of energy, such as electrical energy, can be used to create thermal energy. A hair dryer, for instance, requires electricity (or electrical energy), which is then converted into thermal energy inside of the device. The thermal energy is then forced out of the device in the form of warm air. Heat can also be created from friction. Simply rubbing one's hands together quickly is an excellent experiment that can be demonstrated in classrooms to show the conversion of friction into heat energy. This experiment does not require extra materials or detailed instructions, so it is ideal for elementary-aged children who are learning about heat energy.


Sound is generally a term that is used to describe when something is heard by the ear. Sound, however, is much more complex than it may seem. Sound first starts out as a vibration that is formed before anything is able to be heard. These vibrations are created by movement, for instance, when two hands clap together. These vibrations then travel through matter (whether it's air or a solid or liquid) to reach the ear, where they are perceived as detectable noises. Sound vibrations travel in waves at speeds much slower than light (around 1,126 feet per second); however, the speed of sound varies greatly depending on which type of matter the sound waves must travel through. Sound waves typically move about four times faster in water than through air, although other materials, such as iron, can enable sound to move at speeds nearly 15 times faster than they are capable of moving in the air. There are endless simple sound experiments and demonstrations available for use with children of elementary-school age.

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