How beautiful it is when we take the time to stop and admire nature. Children are often naturally observant of the world around them, and notice things that adults can sometimes take for granted. One example is shadows. Do you notice shadows anymore? Children do, and there are so many learning opportunities in something as simple as a shadow.
For example, shadows can help us observe the earth’s movement around the sun. Think about sundials and how shadows were used to tell time. Shadows can also help with direction. Knowing that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west means that observing the movement of the sun through the shadows it makes gives an indication of which direction you’re heading in.
There are many things that can be explored and discussed through observing shadows, and the great part is that whether you’re a classroom teacher, a home-school teacher or a parent, there are activities that you can use shadows for in any setting and any type of weather. Here are seven ideas to get you started:
Go For a Walk
Go for a nature walk and encourage children to take note of the shadows they can see. Ask them to think about which direction the shadows are facing and compare it to where the sun is. How does the size of an object impact the size of the shadow? They could even record what they see for later reference.
Track shadows throughout the day by tracing around them with chalk in the backyard. Have children observe shadows in the morning and trace around them, then as the day goes on go and see how the shadows have moved.
Make a Sundial
Extend the previous activity by introducing your child to the sundial. Spend some time looking at some images of sundials and ask your child to try and figure out how they worked. Discuss similarities between sundials and analog clocks. Try making your own sundial using a disposable plate and a pencil. Place it somewhere outside and observe the movement of the pencil’s shadow at different times of the day.
Compare Transparent & Opaque Objects
Collect some objects that are transparent and compare these to objects that are opaque. Place them in direct sunlight ask your child to observe what the differences are in the shadows of these objects. Do transparent objects have a shadow? Why might this be?
Have fun with shadow puppets! To set up a basic shadow puppet theatre at home or in the classroom, you can simply use a thin sheet and a light source (like a torch or lamp). Have children use their hands to make shadow puppet shapes by placing them between the light and the sheet.
Another option is to make a simple shadow puppet box theatre. Cut out two opposite sides of a cardboard box, and stick tissue paper over one of these sides. Place the box in front of a light source, with the tissue paper side facing outwards. Then have children create paper puppets that they can place between the light and the box. Experiment with the size of shadows by moving the puppets closer to the light and then further away again.
Explore books about shadows. Books are a fun and simple way to observe, discover and discuss new concepts. If you are working with younger children, the picture book The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers is a great place to start. For older children, try reading the first few chapters of Peter Pan by J. M Barrie together, and talk about Peter Pan losing his shadow. Could that really happen? What if there was no light?
Use some of the following questions to prompt deeper reflection, discussion and responses from children.
- Some children are afraid of shadows in the night. What would you tell these children to comfort them, now that you know how shadows work?
- Shadows are more visible in bright sunlight. What else needs light to be visible? (Could be an introduction to colours.)
- Shadows can sometimes hide or block out objects from our view. Does that mean that the object is no longer there? (Could be an introduction to the phases of the moon.)
I hope that these ideas inspire you to try exploring shadows with the children that you work with. And next time you’re outside, why not take closer notice of the shadows that you see?
Do you want some more learning activity ideas while you’re here? You can read about how to promote children’s problem-solving skills in this post.
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