Children are natural scientists. A youngster’s natural inquisitiveness is the beginning of their scientific journey into the world around them. Kids come into this world with an innate drive to understand how the world around them works.
Science always starts with a question. Where does the sun go at night? Why does my shadow change during the day? Scientific processes start with identifying a problem that you can explore to discover their secrets.
This journey to examine one’s natural surroundings creates playful and powerful opportunities for intellectual stimulation and growth. We have an entryway to assist in our children’s natural desire to investigate and we can assist them as we let children engage in their surroundings.
Today, let us look at ways to explore the power of light and shadows. Shadows are everywhere. Any object casts a shadow when light shines on it. The shadow’s shape is related to the object that blocks the light. We will explore how the shadow changes as the angle to the light also changes.
What We Can Do At Home:
A family walk is an excellent opportunity to investigate patterns of light and shadow. Natural environments allow your child to enjoy the outdoors while investigating how shadows change in size and shape. Explore the shadows of objects around you— trees, a bird in flight, cars, lamp posts or your own body. Have them detect ways in which your shadows move with you as you walk.
Measure Your Shadow
Mark a spot on the driveway or sidewalk for a child to stand on. Trace their shadow with chalk in the morning. Record the time. Come back throughout the day and repeat the process. What has happened? How are they the same or different? You can even measure the effect with a regular tape measure or yarn.
This is an opportunity to ask guiding questions: What will happen to your shadow if you step forward or back? Where is the sun in the sky? Where was it earlier? What happens to your shadow on a cloudy day?
Set up in a dark room with a light source (lamp or flashlight) that can be turned off and on in a handy location. Have several objects with recognizable shapes (dog cutout, fork, boot or shoe, coffee mug, etc). Have your light source about 15-20 feet from the wall, but you can experiment with this to suit your needs. Hold an object a few feet in front of the light to cast a shadow but have your child’s view blocked so she can see only the shadow, but not the object. You can try standing behind them with the item in front of the light source so the child cannot see what you are holding.
Start by placing an object into the light and ask them what they think the object is. Begin with easier items and move to more complex. Try holding some objects at interesting angles to the light so their shadows are less obvious. Then spin the object incrementally until it becomes clear what the item is. You can experiment more by asking them to predict what will happen when you move an object closer or farther from the wall.
At the Museum:
To correlate with the activities done at home, we have several opportunities for children to explore shadow and light. Let us begin at the front of the museum in our Creativity Connections area.
Our Shadow Town area is dominated by the Shadow Arch, which takes up the south wall of the exhibit. Children can explore building a city scape and investigate how sunlight moves across the town during different times of the day. What is producing the shadows they see? What does this light source represent? How does this light source appear to move throughout the day? Explore similarities and differences from when you measured your shadow in the experiment above.
Shadow Town is representative of what happens on Earth. In Chicagoland, we are roughly 42 degrees north of the equator, so sunlight that rises in the east and sets in the west will appear along our southern skies as it moves throughout the day. Our Shadow Arch is on our south wall to duplicate this effect. As children become more in tune to the exhibit, you can relate the patterns of light to different hours of the day. When are shadows very long? When are they shortest? What time of day is it when these shadow patterns occur?
Freeze Your Shadow!, another activity in the Creativity Connections section of the museum, allows children to produce a burst of light that “freezes” their shadow on the wall. Explore moving closer and farther to the light source? What patterns do you see?
At our Shadow Playscapes table, also in Creativity Connections, children place different shapes on a light table that produce shadows on the wall. What happens as you place objects on top of each other? Challenge them to make shadows in as many different combinations as they can.
These are a few examples of what you can do at the Dupage Children’s Museum, yet there is so much more! Check out our digital Shadow Sand exhibit or the round Wonder Room, where the dimension of color added to our explorations of light and shadow.
I hope you enjoy exploring, observing and experimenting with shadows together!
Related Next Generation Science Standards:
1-PS4-2. Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that objects in darkness can be seen only when illuminated.
1-PS4-3. Plan and conduct investigations to determine the effect of placing objects made with different materials in the path of a beam of light. Examples of materials could include those that are transparent (such as clear plastic), translucent (such as wax paper), opaque (such as cardboard), and reflective (such as a mirror).