American Flag Optical Illusion Art + Science Activity

Whether you’re celebrating a patriotic holiday like 4th of July or Memorial Day or working on a study unit about the United States, this American Flag Optical Illusion Art Activity will be a hit.

Kids love art activities, but I love throwing in an added twist.

Today I have a Play-Doh art activity and science experiment all rolled into one that young kids will love to participate in while the older kids will be amazed by.

Be sure to check out our other fun family-friendly kid activities and crafts!

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American Flag Optical Illusion Science and Art Activity for Kids | Mommy Evolution

World Play-Doh Day

My family adores doing art projects.

But because I have boys, they usually need an additional twist of fun to them… otherwise, how am I going to get them to sit for long periods of time?

Play-Doh is one of those classic toys that no matter how old you get, it never goes out of style. 

Never. 

So when I pull the Play-Doh out, it doesn’t take much to get my boys to come to the table and sculpt.

I wanted sculpt something with my kids that shows our national pride to help celebrate the upcoming World Play-Doh Day.

My boys just couldn’t get past thinking about the American Flag.

(That, or it was the full range of the Colorado Rockies…. but I’m a mom, not Van Gogh.)

To them, it’s the epitome of what America is… from the American flags on people’s porches to the American flag we add to our boat every summer.

I have to admit – the moment I open up a container of Play-Doh, I’m immediately sent back to my own childhood and the hours of joy in creating whatever came to mind.

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Speaking of being sent back to childhood memories, when my boys were so adamant on making an American Flag, I remembered sitting in my elementary school’s art room and creating our own optical illusion using the American Flag. Game on!

Optical Illusion American Flag Art Activity

American Flag Made with Play-Doh | Mommy Evolution

Learning about the American Flag

For this activity, we first decided that we should sculpt the actual American Flag.

We talked about why there were 13 stripes (for the 13 original colonies) and 50 stars (for the 50 states).

We also talked about how the American Flag has changed over the centuries because America is a country that can always change.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is our fierce dedication to freedom in all its forms.

Sculpt an American Flag Optical Illusion Art Activity

Then I pulled out the second series of colors for the optical illusion flag.

For this project, you’ll need Play-Doh in turquoise/sea green, black and yellow colors.

We also used a round pizza cardboard piece to lay down the sculpture… because once you’ve put it down, you won’t be able to pick it up.

So use something you don’t mind messing up.

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A cookie sheet would work, too. But you won’t have access to the cookie sheet again until your kids can depart with their flag.

Play-Doh in Process

To make the stripes, we rolled out the individual stripe colors into long tubes, then flattened them using a mini rolling pin from the Play-Doh Starter Set.

We just laid the pieces down together and rolled them again, which connected them.

For the stars, I had the boys roll little balls of Play-Doh.

Talk about some great fine motor skill practice!

Optical Illusion American Flag

When you’re done with the Optical Illusion American Flag, have your look at the center of the flag (you can place a button in the center to give you child something to fix on).

Have your child stare at the image/center dot for at least 30 seconds then have them look at something white.

(It can be a white wall, a piece of white paper or even the ceiling.)

Your kiddo will see the American flag floating on the white surface. Oh snap!

How does the Optical Illusion Work?

When you look at a white surface after staring at the strange-colored flag, you’ll see a red, white and blue American flag.

What you’re seeing is called an afterimage.

The afterimage you see are the negatives of the colors we used to make the second flag.

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But why does this happen?

American Flag Optical Illusion Science Experiment

When you stare at the colors in the flag, your eyes get tired and the cells in your eyes tell your brain to stop registering or responding to the colors. 

Your brain gets to the point where it notices it’s not getting any signals that the color is yellow, so it mistakenly thinks you’re look at blue.

So when you look away at a white surface, the image “burned” into your eyes become the negative colors… thus, you see the true colors of the American Flag!

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