The Beauty of Shadow Science - DuPage Children's Museum

The Beauty of Shadow Science

October 10, 2015

Go for an evening walk with your child and I can guarantee your child will notice shadows. Watch how the streetlight casts a shadow of your image on the sidewalk. Does your shadow move with you? How can you make your shadow bigger or smaller?

Capitalizing on children’s natural curiosity about shadows was one of the main goals of our shadow exhibits in the Creativity Connections Neighborhood. Throughout this area we have created opportunities for children to use their natural curiosity for practicing scientific skills, such as observing, predicting, comparing and sharing ideas as they explore causes and effects of shadow play.

Exploring Science through Shadows
Experimenting with light and shadow helps children to develop scientific inquiry skills like observing what is happening, using words to describe what they notice, and repeating the action to compare results. Questioning and posing answers are the types of skills that transfer outside of the Museum or home as they are used every day in the classroom. While a child’s questions and answers may start out simple, they will grow increasingly complex as your child grows and develops.

While creating a scene in our Shadow Town exhibit, visitors might notice a light above the town. When activated, the light will move and cast shadows on their buildings, trees, cars, trains, or people. In Shadow Town, the angle of the light on an object affects the length of the shadow. Some of our visitors will make the association between (or compare) how the light is like the sun’s path when it casts shadows throughout the day. One child was overheard asking, “Where’s the moon?”

The Art of Shadows
A shadow can show the shape of an object, but it doesn’t show colors or intricate details. Our new exhibit, Shadow Sand, enhances the use of creativity with shadows through a multi-sensory interactive experience.  This exhibit showcases how art and technology come together in a digital world. The interactive wall projection, which features cascading colored “sand,” reacts to shadows you cast as you move in front of the projection. The sand accumulates based on the shapes you create with your shadows and falls as you move away.

Shadows at Home
Shadows can be created and explored in a classroom setting in many different ways. You can provide students with flashlights and a white or black backdrop (such as a sheet). Children can then create shadows using their hands, bodies, toys, or blocks. Here are some other ideas for extending your investigation of shadows:

Shadow puppetry is an art form that has existed for thousands of years. You can make these puppets at home using paper, craft sticks, tape or glue, and hole punchers. Shine a flashlight through your puppet or take it with you on a walk. What do you see?

Sunny Day Activities
Help your child make chalk outlines of shadows cast by trees and other objects. About 30 minutes later, look at your outlines again and talk about what has happened to the shadow. Make new outlines in a different color. Check again 30 minutes later. Each time, notice where the sun is in the sky. Ask your child, “What do you think is going on?” Help your child create pictures with your own shadows. Suggest challenges: “Can we make our shadows hold hands even if my hand doesn’t really touch yours?” “How can you make your shadow get shorter?”

Bring along clear or translucent objects (for example, plastic containers) and some items that block the sun (an umbrella, cardboard tubes, etc.). With your child, explore what happens when you try to make shadows with these objects. Does a glass of water make a shadow? How about small items such as buttons or gravel?

You might also want to explore the art and science of shadows through books. Here are a few of our favorite books about shadow and light:

What Makes a Shadow by Clyde Robert Bulla
Guess Whose Shadow by Stephen R. Swinburne
Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow by Lynn Munsinger
All about Light by Lisa Tumbaer
My Shadow by Robert Lewis Stevenson and Glenna Lang


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