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Shadow Explorers

by Diann Gano

"It looks like we're holding hands, but we aren't!" says Maya to Noah as she studies their shadows.

When we're outside, we often engage in body shadow play with the sun as our light source. Exploring the ways that our shadows change as we move our bodies is a great way to get children engaged and excited about learning.

Whenever the road to our center is closed to traffic during the winter months, we seize the opportunity to measure the length of our shadows with tape measures.

You can also show the children how to change the size of a shadow.

Move an object closer to a light source and the shadow becomes bigger.

Move it away from the light source and the shadow becomes smaller.

I often challenge our early learners to see if they can disconnect from their shadows.

After a few minutes of contorting our bodies to see if we can separate from our shadows, we decide that we can't. But that never stops the fun and silliness of trying!

Here's a great way to help foster the development of fine-motor skills through finger-isolation exercises during shadow play:

Use the sun, a projector light or a flashlight to create shadows of the children's hands on a wall. Then ask the children to try the following:

  • Point with their index fingers
  • Count out the fingers on their hands by raising them one by one
  • Wiggle all of their fingers together
  • Wiggle each finger individually
  • Touch the thumb to each finger
  • Try different hand positions to create a variety of shadow shapes. This activity will help your shadow explorers develop the small muscles in their hands and prepare them to hold a pencil down the road!

We also play "Follow the Shadow Leader" and encourage the children to recreate the leader's shadows by duplicating his or her movements.

We play math shadow games by calling out different shapes and encouraging the children to do their best to match these shapes with their shadows.

Movements like standing on one foot, reaching up high to touch the sky and walking on all fours all cast interesting shadows while helping the children develop body awareness.

Shadow play also helps children develop an understanding of cause and effect as they observe what makes a shadow and where the light needs to be to cast a shadow.

By moving around, they can investigate different shadow shapes and sizes.

Light and shadow play is an amazing way for children to explore their world. It's packed with science, along with fine-motor and gross-motor exercises.

So if the sun is shining, don't delay—step outside for some shadow play!

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