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Shadow play

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Mathematical thinking

Duration/age

Duration: 
Suitable for children: 
Location: 
Skills this activity improves: 
Two people making shadows on the ground

Shadows on the wall, shadows on the ceiling…you can make shadows too.

Sit with your child and use a torch or a lamp to make shadows on the wall or ceiling.

Can you make a shadow with your hand? What about your feet?

Talk about the way shadows are made.

Your hand blocks the light from reaching the wall. That's how it makes a shadow.

You can also make shadow puppets together. Cut out some figures, such as a person, a cat or a kangaroo, and stick them onto a pop-stick or a straw. You can also use some of your child’s drawings by cutting them out. Hold the puppets in front of a strong lamp or torch and watch the shadows move and play on the wall.

How are you today? Can your puppet talk to my puppet?

Talk about what happens to the shadows when they are closer to the light or further away.

What do you think will happen if you hold the puppet close to the light? How can you make the shadow bigger? If I hold up my hand and you hold up your hand how can we make them the same size?

Materials you will need

  • Cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Pop-sticks
  • A lamp
  • A torch
  • Glue or tape

Alternative tools

  • Straws

Why does this matter?

By playing with shadows your child will be beginning to understand cause and effect, as they explore and observe what makes a shadow and where the light needs to be to cast a shadow. They will be experimenting with size and shapes as they move the shadows around.

They will also be learning new words relating to shadows.

What does this lead to?

Plenty of practice with experimenting and exploring helps children to learn about the way the physical world works. Observation skills will help them to notice differences and make changes, like when they move a puppet closer to the light source.

A large vocabulary helps children to express their thoughts and to become a fluent reader.

Language to use

  • Shadow, dark, light
  • Big, small
  • Near, far, close
  • Torch, lamp
  • Floor, ceiling, wall
  • Same, different
  • Block the light, cast a shadow

    Questions to use

    • What else can you make a shadow with?
    • Is there anything that doesn't cast a shadow?

    Useful tips

    1. You might also like to take a look at the Me and my shadow activity.
    2. Remember to talk to your child in your home language.

    Variation by age

    Three to five year olds

    • Go for a shadow walk. Look for shadows as you walk outside. What is the best time of day to find shadows?
    • Play with a torch outside at night - what can you find?

    Questions to ask

    • Do you think there will be shadows today?
    • Do things look the same at night as they do in the day?

    Language to use

    • Sun, light, shadow
    • Day, bright, dark