Background: Surprisingly little is known from a research perspective about the conceptual development of children’s understanding of rainbows and rainbow formation. Yet research has shown that teachers tend to overestimate the proportion of students’ correct answers in this domain. The present cross-sectional study aims to rectify this shortcoming.
Material and Methods: Primary school children aged 5, 8 and 11 years responded to various questions around rainbows and rainbow formation. The youngest children were also asked to draw pictures. Answers and drawings were evaluated in terms of scientific accuracy.
Results: The outcomes demonstrate age-related increase in reference to scientific explanations of rainbows and their formation. While younger children’s understanding was largely inaccurate or limited, the oldest children were more able to demonstrate more sophisticated forms of understanding.
Conclusions: This clarification of the actual levels of conceptual understanding may serve useful when conceptualising pedagogy, lesson plans, or more general curricula in the early science classroom. Even in non-science domains, such as art or storytelling, recognising the differentiation between fact and myth in relation to rainbows could be of value.