Indoor shadows

On our recent Autumn and Winter scavenger hunts and various other outdoor walks, my son has been intrigued by his shadow. He's been particularly fascinated when the Sun has been low in the sky and his shadow has been much taller than himself. I therefore though he might like to play with some shadows at home.

As it's Christmas next week and the small boy is excited by all things Christmas-related, I chose to do this activity with Christmas shapes. You could make this engaging for your child by using the shapes of whatever they are interested in at the time (e.g. the reindeer could easily become a unicorn with a bit of remodelling the antlers into a horn!).

I cut some silhouettes of Christmas themed shapes out of cardboard, and stuck them on lolly sticks. If you have a child that likes to draw or cut, you could involve them in this bit, but I wanted us to get as far as the shadows and my son has an extremely short attention span for arty activities!

Long shadows of Christmas shapes

The first thing we tried was putting the sticks into blobs of play dough on the table to make them stand up. We then switched the lights off (it was late afternoon, so dark outside) and used a torch to simulate the path of the Sun across the sky. We shone it from the horizon (level with the table) to high in the sky (right above the shapes) and towards the opposite horizon. The small boy, and his brother who sat and watched without complaint from his high chair, saw how the shadows started out long, got shorter as the 'Sun' rose and then changed direction and got longer towards 'sunset'. We talked a bit about what we had seen outside and the small boy experimented with moving the shapes around and shining the torch from different directions. He then got a bit silly with the torch and we had to go and play with something else...

Short shadows when the 'Sun' was overhead

A bit later, I tried something else which turned out to be fun. I used the ceiling light to cast a shadow of the reindeer and the Christmas tree on a cardboard box on the floor. They were about the same size, so I asked if the reindeer could hide behind the tree. The small boy tried, but the shadow of the tree wasn't big enough to hide the reindeer. I then showed him how to make the tree bigger by holding it closer to the light, and then how the reindeer shadow could be concealed by the tree i.e. the reindeer could 'hide'. He then wanted to make the tree small enough for the reindeer to eat (I don't think they eat Christmas trees...!) so we swapped over which one was closer to the light source. He then had a play with some of the other shapes, doing the same sort of thing. I hadn't intended to do this, but I wanted to avoid getting the torch out again, and it turned out to be a successful spontaneous addition to what I had planned!

Shadows cast on a cardboard box with the reindeer and tree held the same distance from the light