Sunshine and Shadows

So the days at the moment seem to be alternating between sunshine and hints of spring arriving, and then drizzly rain days that feel like we are living in a cloud. This is an activity for the sunny days outside but can also be done on a rainy day in a dark room, so some would say an activity for 365 days a year!

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What you need:

  • Sunshine, a torch or lamp (essential – depends what kind of shadows you want to make. Sunshine good for whole body shadows, torches and lamps better for making slightly weird animals out of your hands).
  • Hands, bodies or things cut out of card (essential but mostly easy to supply!)

What to do:

  • Position yourself between the source of light and a wall/floor to project the shadow on to.
  • Depending on if you are outside or inside use your body or hands or shadow puppets (made from the card) or anything else you want to use to make a shadow. Move around, wiggle about, dance, jump up and down etc and see what happens.

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Tips/extra bits:

  • If possible (i.e. not possible outside if using the sun as your source of light) move the object or your hands closer to the source of light and further away to see what happens.
  • If you are outside get your child to try and escape from their shadow. This obviously is impossible but they might outsmart you and use something to block themselves from the sun or merge themselves with a bigger shadow (like mine did, little smarty pants).
  • If you want long shadows from the sun then do it when the sun is lower in the sky (when it is rising and setting). You could also do a little experiment involving drawing around your shadows at different times of the day with chalk on a pavement to see their changing shapes.

(Making shadows inside, no photos of the shadows just the kids being monkeys and posing for the camera).

The science bit

Light travels in straight lines. Shadows are made when an object blocks light from a source of light, and therefore they are created by the absence of light.

If you are playing about with shadows inside then the closer the object is to the light source the bigger the shadow will be. This is because light spreads out in a straight line from the source and so when the object is close it is blocking out more of the light, hence a bigger shadow. You shadow stretches when the sun is lower in the sky because of the angle the light is being blocked.

Explaining it to children

This is such a visual experiment that children can spend hours playing about with and manipulating the object to create different shadows, which helps them to understand how a shadow is made. If you explain that a shadow is made when an object blocks out the light then you could find a transparent object to see what happens when you try and make a shadow with it. You could also go looking for shadows and get them to think about why the shadow has been made, where the source of light is and what object is blocking it.

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“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be a shadow” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.

Experiment based on an activity from the fantastic Usborne Activities: 365 Science Activities book.

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