Children look upon shadows with a vibrant curiosity. Shadows can be found all around and in countless poems, songs, and stories across the world.  Engage your child in learning through play!

Light and Shadow Information

  • An object can only be seen if there is a light source to illuminate it.
  • Light sources can be natural (sun or bioluminescent) or artificial (light bulbs, candles, lanterns, etc)
  • Light rays travel in a straight line away from a light source until they are blocked by an object, which then creates a shadow.
  • Light appears differently when it strikes objects of various opacity (transparent, translucent, opaque).
  • Transparent materials allow light to completely pass through them. Objects can be seen clearly when viewed through transparent materials. Air, clear glass, clear plastic, and clean water are examples of these materials.
  • Translucent materials allow only some light to pass through, thus creating more of a faint shadow. Objects can appear a bit blurry when viewed through translucent materials. Waxed paper, frosted glass, and fog are examples of materials that only allow some light to pass through.
  • Opaque materials do not allow any light to pass through. Wood, metals, painted plastics, cardboard, people, and most animals are examples of materials that do not allow light to pass through.
  • The position of a light source affects the appearance of a shadow. Light position causes shadows to change size, shape, and location.

Shadow Activities

Engage and teach your child by encouraging shadow play. Discovery begins with exploration. Take your child outside on a sunny day, or grab a flashlight and explore shadows indoors!

Shadow Tracing

Materials:

  • Opaque toys or objects
  • White paper or a flat surface suitable for tracing shadows (driveway, sidewalk, board, etc).
  • Writing/drawing utensils (pencil, marker, crayons, or chalk).
  • Sunshine or a strong light source

shadow tracing activity

Procedure:

  1. Lay your paper out on a flat surface in the sun (or under a strong light source). If you use paper on a windy day, you will need to anchor the corners of the paper with rocks or other heavy objects.
  2. Line the Safari Ltd animals and other objects to be traced along the bottom edge of the paper (make sure the shadows are cast onto the paper). Another option is to trace or fill in the animal shadows with chalk directly onto the driveway/sidewalk.
  3. Use a writing utensil to trace around the shadow’s edge or completely color in the shadow.

shadow tracing

Extension Activities:

  • Cut out the animal shadows traced onto paper (color and decorate if desired) and glue to popsicle sticks for puppets.
  • Color, paint, or fill in (with paper pieces, sequins, lentils, etc) the inside of the shadows outline.
  • Cut out the animal shadows, color, and then glue onto a background scene that your child draws or finds in a magazine or on internet.
  • Have your child stand while you trace their shadow or vice versa. You can use sidewalk chalk, or if you would like to keep the shadow tracing to decorate, use a large piece of plain paper.

shadow tracing with markers

Moving Shadows

Materials:

  • Opaque toys or objects
  • Strong flashlight, bendable desk lamp (that can be aimed at an object), or the sun
  • A solid, light-colored, horizontal, and flat surface for a shadow to be cast (table, floor, etc)
  • Paper
  • Writing/drawing utensils

Procedure:

  1. Use opaque objects that will cast a shadow
  1. Turn on your light source and shine the light onto the object. Note where the shadow falls. Encourage your child to move the light source in different positions around the object. As the light source shines on the object in different ways, the shadow will move and change shape.

opaque shadow activity

Extension:

  • Follow the above procedures, but trace the various position of the shadows onto a piece of paper or concrete (if outside using the sun).
  • We used the large Reticulated Giraffe from Safari Ltd outside in the sun.

We kept the giraffe in the same place on our driveway (marked where the feet were, set up cones and wrote a note to not move). We traced/colored in the shadow onto our driveway every two hours from 10:30-4:30. 

cones and toys driveway

Shadow Exploration

Materials:

  • Objects of varying opacity:
    • Transparent
      • Glass, clear plastic, page protectors, sunglasses, etc…
    • Translucent
      • Magna Tiles, wax paper, frosted glass, frosted plastic, etc..
    • Opaque
    • Strong light source (sun, flashlight, bendable desk lamp)
    • Painters or masking tape
    • Plain and light-colored paper

shadows and blocks and toys

Procedure:

  1. Engage your child in shadow play by giving them interesting objects of varying opacity (transparent, translucent, opaque). Encourage them to freely explore shadows with a light source and the chosen objects.
  2. What do they notice? How are the shadows different from each other? Some objects will create an outline shadow or a colored shadow (transparent and opaque), while opaque items will cast a strong shadow.
  3. Build a structure with blocks and other objects. If inside, build with a vertical surface in the background to cast the shadows upon.
    • We used BiOBUDDi Blocks, magnetic tiles, and colorful plastic cups.
  1. Add Safari Ltd figurines to and around the structure
  1. Shine a light onto the structure and Safari figurines. Talk about all of the different shadows they see.
  2. Another option is to use painters or masking tape to tape a piece(s) of plain paper to the wall where the shadows are being cast. Trace the shadows onto the paper that is hung on the wall. Your child can simply outline the shadows or choose to color the shadows in with the color of the shadow (of colorful transparent/translucent objects).

making shadows with your kids to learn

Extensions:

  • Do a “play” with shadows using the Safari Ltd animal figurines. Your kids can have the animals “talk” or “sing.”
  • Draw a simple outline drawing with permanent marker onto a clear (colored or plain) page protector/binder divider. Hold up the drawing and shine a light through one side to cast the drawn object’s shadow onto the paper taped to the wall.
  • Make shadow puppets with your hands onto the wall or cast upon paper to trace.
  • Shadow dance party. Shine the light onto your child, crank up music and let them dance with their shadows cast upon the wall.
  • Shadow hunt: go outside on a sunny day and look for shadows. For added fun, you can even let your child take pictures of the shadows they find.

shadows by the pool!

Anji Audley is an early childhood educator with experience in grades Pre-K through First. She is also a mom of two active and creative boys  ages 9 and 13. Anji is a strong advocate for play-based learning. She infuses learning with STEM activities, play, and art to inspire discovery and creativity. 

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