Nocturnal animals and a 'magic' torch

It was my youngest son's first birthday recently, and we bought him a set of hand puppets.  He was a bit unsure about them to start with, and then once they began to wave at him and talk in silly voices (ok, that was me...) he warmed to them and waved back.  My elder son, however, was instantly keen on them and started to ask lots of questions about them.

First up was why the badger was a badger and not a panda.  Ok, so they're both black and white, but it doesn't really look like a panda.  I realised that although I've been lucky enough to visit a panda sanctuary in China, he's never seen either in the flesh.  He knows a few things about pandas e.g. that they eat bamboo and live in China, but nothing about badgers other than their literary appearances.  I explained that badgers actually lived quite near to us, and that there are probably some in our local country park.  He wanted to know why he'd never seen one, and I explained that they live underground and come out at night i.e. they are nocturnal.  This then led onto the realisation that four of the hand puppet animals (the badger, owl, hedgehog and fox) are nocturnal.

Nocturnal animal puppets

We talked about the fox, and how some do come out in daytime (particularly in urban areas), but that the only owl he's ever seen at a city farm was asleep during the day, and he's never seen a hedgehog.  He wanted to know why some animals are nocturnal, and we talked about how for some animals it's safer to go out and find food at night. I also mentioned that hedgehogs hibernate (which I explained means that they go into a long deep sleep) all Winter. He was fascinated by this idea, I think because it's so different to anything he's thought about before. He wanted to know if foxes, badgers or owls hibernate too (they don't).

On a recent visit to our local museum, we went to the gallery full of taxidermy animals, and whilst previously he's not really been interested, he had a good look round this time, and wanted to know what lots of the animals were.  We found foxes, badgers, a hedgehog and owls.  His brother was napping so we got to talk about the animals at the pace he wanted to see them.  It turned out that he was expecting a badger to be much larger than it was (maybe with the panda in mind again?).  We also went to London Zoo in January, and they have several nocturnal animals, including those usually found in other countries.  My son was disappointed not to be able to see the Madagascan aye-aye, but we spotted some of the other nocturnal creatures including bushbabies and bats.

Nocturnal house at London Zoo

For Christmas, the small boy received the book 'Goodnight Lion' by Joshua George, which he enjoys.  It professes to be a 'magic torch' book, and the small boy has enjoyed using the pretend torch to find the jungle animals at night.  Last week he asked me how the book worked (he's got in to asking how things work - we recently explored how our printer uses four inks to make all the colours we print).  I wanted to show that it's science rather than magic, and I decided to link it to the British nocturnal creatures that we had talked about.

Drawing the night scene on acetate

The way the 'magic' torch works is that the animals it 'illuminates' are printed on clear plastic which is in front of a dark background. Light hitting the picture is absorbed by the dark background so you can't see the animals well. The torch has a patch of white cardboard, and when inserted between the clear plastic and the dark background, light is reflected - aside from where it is absorbed by the animal pictures on the plastic - and so it looks bright, as if a torch/flashlight has been shone on the animal.

Finished night scene

I drew a picture with black permanent pen on clear acetate (part of the pack I bought to demonstrate how our printer works). I included a barn owl, bats, a fox, a hedgehog and a badger. I'm no artist, so it's not comparable to the illustrations in the book, but it turned out later it was good enough for my son to recognise the animals!

Attached to black cardboard, and with the 'torch'

I then stuck the A5 piece of acetate to the same size piece of black cardboard with sellotape along the top so it could be folded and unfolded, and the 'torch' inserted between the acetate and cardboard. I made a 'torch' by sticking a circle of white cardboard onto another piece of black cardboard and cutting it out in an approximate torch shape.

Finding the nocturnal creatures

The next time we read the Goodnight Lion book, I got out my construction and told the small boy that he could play with it to see how his 'magic torch' worked. He was fascinated, and enjoyed finding and naming the nocturnal creatures (I was impressed that he knew it was a barn owl from having seen one in the museum). He was also intrigued as to how it worked and experimented with opening it and turning the torch over so it was entirely black. I explained that no light bounces back to his eye when there's a black background so he can't see the picture, but the light bounces back from the white cardboard (properly it is reflected but I feared confusion with mirrors if I explained it that way).

Checking that it worked the same way as the book

He clearly wanted to check that his book worked the same way as he tried the book 'torch' In my construction and vice versa (they were interchangeable). He seemed satisfied that he could see how it worked, and he's asked to play with it a few times since just to find and identify the nocturnal animals (he's also remembered the word 'nocturnal' and its meaning).