Young children are fascinated by their shadow on a sunny day. Watching your shadow change as you move your body or running from your shadow are things kids of all ages have memories of. Experimenting and creating with shadows are a fun way to explore light and other Science concepts. Give these educational shadow activities a try.
Science of a Shadow
Here are a few things you need to know about shadows. Light travels in straight lines. If something is blocking the light source, that creates a shadow. Depending on which direction the light is coming from changes where the shadow is.
Go on a shadow hunt and look for different shapes made by shadows. Can you find a square or rectangle? What about a shadow shape of a circle? Draw the shapes on a piece of paper and cross them off as you find them. Are shadows always black? Have you seen any colored shadows?
This is a fun activity for young kids and older kids too. Go outside and stand in the sun. Have someone else trace your shadow with sidewalk chalk. Make a silly pose and trace it. Trace two shadows and make it look like they are holding hands. Color in the shadows with chalk or make your own chalk paint to turn the shadows into shadow art on cement.
A fun shadow experiment is to make a sundial. Why not make a human sundial! Go outside and stand in the same spot during different times of the day. Stand in that spot and trace your shadow in the morning.
Trace your shadow from that spot in the afternoon and then again in the evening. Try this experiment for several days in a row. Record the results and look for patterns.
- What do you observe about your shadows throughout the day?
- How does a sundial help you tell time?
- Measure the length of the shadow each time. What do you notice about the length of the shadow at different times of the day.
- Is there a time of day where there is no shadow?
There are a few ways to try shadow drawing. First, you can put an object on a piece of paper in the sun and then trace its shadow. This is similar to what you are doing when your shadow is being traced in the above activity. It can be on a smaller scale or more detailed scale.
Start simple with a tower of building blocks. These are easy to stack and the straight, simple lines of the shadow will be easy to trace.
Then, try other items like toys or characters from your playroom. Trace the toy shadow like they did at Rookie Parenting. You can also make and set up a pipe cleaner figurine like they did Science Sparks. Then, trace its shadow.
Go big with large shadow art like they did at Creative by Nature Art. Buy a large roll of paper and take it with you on a hike. (affiliate link) Set it up to find a cool design. Trace its shadow and then bring it home to color or paint. What a cool piece of family art to design together and display at home.
You can also try this inside with an overhead projector. Put a piece of white paper on the wall where the projector shines. Use painters tape to secure it. This will not damage your wall or paint. Set transparent objects on the overhead projector. Create a design and trace it on the paper. This idea from Racheous includes light play and shadow art.
Shadow Puppet Theater
You can make your own puppet theater out of a box and wax paper. This tutorial is from my book, Adventure Girls! I love how simple and doable this project is and it provides hours of pretend play and storytelling.
You can make your own shadow puppets on a black piece of paper glued onto a craft stick or you can download these printable shadow puppets from Adventure in a Box.
Make puppets that are your own characters. What are their names? Then, make up a story for your puppets. What is a problem that they run into? How do they solve it?
What about playing with shadows inside with a flashlight? Remember making fun hand puppets into different animals in front of a flashlight when you were younger? You can arrange your hands to make different animals and show them on a wall or sidewalk with the sun or any light indoors. What a creative way to explore light and shadows!
Moon Child Adventures makes shadows with toilet paper tubes and calls them toilet paper tube projectors. Use a toilet paper tube, plastic wrap, and a sticker. Then, shine a flashlight on the end of the tube in a dark room. You will see the shadow on the wall. That’s because the sticker is blocking the light coming from a flashlight. Remember, light travels in a straight line. I love how this activity uses what you have on hand and the possibilities are endless with different themed stickers.
I remember making a silhouette piece of art in elementary school. Teachers are still doing this activity and parents are still loving it. Have your students or children stand in between the overhead projector light and the piece of paper on a wall. Trace the shadow of their face or silhouette. Or try the brilliant idea from Little Learners to have them stand in between the light and the paper and take picture of their silhouette instead of tracing it. What a cool shadow art experience!
Groundhog Day Activities
Will the groundhog see its shadow? This tradition comes from a Dutch superstition that if the groundhog comes out of its hole and sees its shadow, that it will go back in and there will be 6 more weeks of Winter. If it doesn’t see its shadow, Spring will be arriving early that year. This yearly event is a great way to start the discussion of shadows. Check out these Groundhog Day Activities and Crafts.
Fun Facts about Shadows
- Shadows are an area where light can NOT get through. It is completely blocked.
- Did you know that shadows aren’t completely black? The part in the middle of the shadow is entirely black because the light is completely blocked. As you look toward the outer edges of the shadow, it looks lighter because light rays are actually getting through and aren’t completely blocked.
- Shadows can help tell directions. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. In the morning shadows are pointing toward the west because things are blocking the sun that is rising in the East.
Books about Shadows
As you experiment with shadows and create shadow art, add these books about shadows for kids to your reading list. I love how books (fiction or nonfiction) draw children in and make them think about different things and draw conclusions.
The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers
Rabbit has a huge black rabbit chasing him. This is a funny book about shadows and friendships.
My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson
An entire family explores their shadow in this fun book!
Groundhog’s Runaway Shadow by David Biedrzycki
A groundhog’s shadow runs away and goes crazy. This is a funny story that is a great read while experimenting with shadows and also before Groundhog Day.
Oscar and the Moth: A Book about Light and Dark by Geoff Waring
This book introduces core Science concepts such as light and dark in a fun way.
Have fun learning with these awesome shadow activities for kids!