Kid's Activity: Shadows on the Wall

by Melissa Jaramillo and Julie Snyder

Playing with shadows serves several purposes. Besides the obvious of being educational and amusing, it often helps chase away the fears some children may have of those "mysterious creatures" lurking on the wall at night.

In order to form shadows we first have to seek out a source of light. Together with your child name various forms of light. Be sure to point out those which are natural light sources and those which are manmade. Light is necessary to our very existence! Without light, we would be unable to have plants grow which provide us with our source of oxygen and body fuel (otherwise known as food)! There is much more to learn about light and its impact on our life here on earth, but for now let's explore what makes shadows!

Light travels in a straight line until it hits an object. In order for a shadow to occur, there must be three key ingredients:

  1. A source of light
  2. An object to block the light
  3. A surface to "catch" the shadow

Objects can be classified into three categories: opaque, translucent, and transparent. Transparent objects are those which allow light to pass through them. Examples would include glass, clear cellophane, and clear plastic. Light passing through these will not cast a shadow in most cases.

Translucent objects are those that absorb some light, allow some light to pass through, and scatter some light. Examples would be colored tissue paper, stained glass, or sunglasses.

Finally, opaque objects are those which do not let any light pass through. You can probably find many examples of opaque objects around you such as a rock, black paper, and wood. Both translucent and opaque objects will allow shadows to be formed.

Now that we know how they are formed, let's see if we can make some!

Materials needed depend upon activity chosen:
 --Flashlight
 --Blank wall in a darkened room
 --White Paper
 --Tape
 --Stuffed animals or various objects
 --Black Construction paper

What to do:
Shine the light on the wall. Have your child experiment with making shadows appear. Practice moving the light at varying distances. Tape the sheet of paper on the wall and help your child trace his hand. Now move further away with the light and trace the shadow. See if your child is able to make his hand's shadow too large for the page!

Next teach your child how different objects may appear as shadows. What is that frightening arm reaching across the wall? Ah, just a tree branch! The stuffed bear on the shelf may look like a giant -- but truly, it still is just "teddy". Allow your child to test out alternatives and see what he comes up with!

Finger shadow play!
What animals can you make on the wall! Is that a dog, barking at the moon? Oh my! Look at the elephant, munching away and then tossing his trunk back! There is a dinosaur, a bunny rabbit, alligator, and more! The only limitations are your imaginations!

Easy Silhouettes
Mount another piece of paper on the wall. Have your child stand sidewise casting a shadow on the paper. Trace the shadow. Next place this paper over a piece of black construction paper and cut out. You're left with a perfect silhouette! If your child is able to trace have her do a silhouette of you!

Dancing Shadows!
With a light cast on a blank wall, turn up the music and get dancing! You and your child(ren) will delight in the alternating elegant and entertaining movements of your "dancers" on the walls! See if you can make your shadows hold hands without your bodies actually touching!

Julie Snyder is a mom of six, interested in kids, pregnancy, birth, people and lives in the outlying Seattle area. Melissa Jaramillo is mom to many. She's passionate about building, encouraging, and strengthening families on this adventure known as parenthood!

Copyright © Melissa Jaramillo and Julie Snyder. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.