STEM Play with Light and Shadow


Light and shadow play on a sunny day is a great way for children to learn about STEM concepts such as cause and effect. If the sun isn't out, grab some flashlights and enjoy some indoor shadow play. Children love to experiment with the ways that their shadows change as they move their bodies.

Gather Materials

  • Is it a sunny day? If the sun is shining, you've got everything you need for this STEM activity. Take your light and shadow play outside!
  • If it's cloudy outside, use an artificial light source such as a flashlight or a painter's light to cast shadows on a wall.

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that you feel are safe for your child and that you are comfortable letting your child use.


Shadow play can help children develop an understanding of cause and effect as they observe what makes a shadow and where to place a light to cast a shadow. By moving their shadows around, children can also investigate different shadow shapes and sizes.

Try some of these light and shadow games:

  • Show your child how to make a shadow bigger by moving an object closer to a light source. Then move the object away from the light source to make the shadow smaller.
  • Create math shadow games by calling out different shapes and encouraging your children to do their best to create shadows in these shapes.
  • Encourage your child to stand on one foot, reach up high to touch the sky and walk on all fours to change the shape of the shadows and promote body awareness.
  • Use the sun or a flashlight to create shadows of your child's hands on a wall. Work on finger isolation (pointing with the index finger, counting out the fingers on each hand and wiggling all of the fingers individually) and thumb opposition (touching the thumb to each finger), as well as other hand positions to create different types of shadows. All of these activities help build finger muscles and foster the development of fine-motor skills.
  • Play "Follow the Shadow Leader" and encourage your child to recreate the leader's shadow by duplicating the leader's movements.
  • Your child may also notice that his or her shadow is a different size or shape at different times of the day. Depending on the position of the sun, your child's shadow might be longer, shorter or nonexistent.

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