If your household is anything like ours, you’ll accumulate toilet rolls at an alarming rate! But before you throw out that next toilet roll, consider adding it to your kid’s crafting supplies. They do take up a bit of storage room. But they’re so versatile for crafting, they really are worth holding on to. Then you can make these toilet roll telescopes – with optical illusion.

We decided we wanted to make telescopes the other day, for a bit of pretend pirate play, argghhh.

I scoured the internet, as I do, for inspiration. Only to discover that optical telescopic lenses aren’t something you can make from junk lying around the house!

In fact, the articles that tell you how to make a real telescope basically wrap 2 real lenses in a cardboard roll…

So, I started to experiment with a toilet roll, a plastic cup and some coloured soft plastic. And totally be accident, I created my own optical illusion! I discovered that looking through a small hole, held a little bit further from your eye, creates a sense of looking into the distance.

toilet roll telescope illusion

Even when objects are right in front of you, your mind perceives them as being in the distance. And because you have no peripheral vision, as you move the telescope ‘lens’ around, the effect gets even better. In fact, things around the edge appear to bend a little, almost as if you’re looking through a fish-eye lens.

toilet roll telescope illusion2

You can try this out right now.

Create a telescope with you hands, like we used to when we were kids. Just hold your hands in a loose fist. Now put your hands together so the pinky of one hand rests on the thumb and forefinger of the other. Now hold both hands up to one eye, and close the other. Tighten your fists a little to block out the light, and so there’s just a small hole to look through.

Obviously this isn’t a real telescope, and things aren’t magnified. But the illusion is cool enough to keep kids entertained for hours!

And this is a fun craft to do with kids. From 2 years up to 9 or 10, this craft keeps little ones busy.

Grown ups will need to do some of the cutting. But we found our kids loved helping with the sanding and taping.




And of course, the painting!

How to make a toilet roll telescope – with optical illusion

You will need

  • Toilet roll or kitchen paper towel roll
  • Plastic cup
  • Tape
  • Sandpaper
  • Stiff card
  • Soft coloured plastic (eg plastic binders, plastic sleeves, plastic report covers, or similar)
  • Scissors
  • Craft knife
  • Paint and paintbrushes (you’ll need primer as well as a top coat)

What to do

  1. The first thing you’ll want to do is scuff up your plastic cup with some light sandpaper. This will help the paint to stick to the plastic. You could skip this part by using a paper cup, but your telescope want be nearly as strong.
    toilet roll telescope sanding
  2. Now cut a round hole in the bottom of the plastic cup with your craft knife. You want the hole to be slightly smaller than your toilet roll for a snug fit. Be very careful when cutting plastic cups, as the cup can slide around, and the knife easily slip. We definitely recommend a parent cuts out the hole.
  3. Now slide the toilet roll into the hole, from the outside of the cup. It should fit quite snugly, but use 3 long pieces of tape to attach the toilet roll to the cup. Stick the tape to the inside of the cup and the inside of the toilet roll for the best finish.
  4. Cut out a square from the card that’s slightly larger than the circumference of the plastic cup (we used black card just to conceal it a bit better). And using a craft knife, scissors, or a sharp pencil cut a small hole in the middle of the card. A hole the diameter of a pencil is about perfect.toilet-roll-telescope-lens
  5. Cut a small square from the soft coloured plastic, just wide enough to cover the small hole. Tape the plastic square over the hole. This is what creates the telescope ‘lens’.toilet-roll-telescope-lens2
  6. Now snip the corners off the card, and push it into the end of the cup until it’s snug. Make sure the tape is facing out of the cup. Use a few more pieces of tape to fix the card and plastic ‘lens’ to the inside of the plastic cup.toilet-roll-telescope-lens3
  7. Now paint 2 coats of primer over the whole thing, including inside the cup, and down the toilet roll. You’ll find that 2 coats really seals everything, and leaves the best surface for kids to paint on. We used Resene Quick Dry Waterborne Primer it goes on quick and dries really fast.
  8. And now it’s time to paint. You can either get out a drop sheet and let the kids go crazy, as we did. Or you can tape off the cup and go for a more refined finish (which we also did 😉 ). We used Resene Gelato for the handle, Resene Dark Knight for the scope and Resene Gold Dust for the ‘focus rings’.toilet-roll-telescope-painting

That’s how to make a toilet roll telescope. For more great toilet roll craft ideas be sure to check out Toilet roll houses, Toilet roll reindeer marionette, or Toilet roll autumn trees.

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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