Easy Shadow Experiments and Activities for Kids
Are your kids in the dark about what causes shadows? Shadows are part of everyday life, but they can be quite mysterious for kids.
Enlighten your kids about shadows with these experiments that will give them hands-on insight into how they are created and the difference between transparent, translucent, and opaque.
These ideas are great for Groundhog Day, Halloween, or any day (or night). Take the fear out of the dark!
So turn out the lights, grab a flashlight, and get ready for some fun with shadows.
Fun with Flashlights
- Flashlights (One per player)
- Darkened room
This is like regular I Spy except in the dark. Wait for nightfall or darken a room by turning off the lights and blocking off the light from any windows. Give each player a flashlight.
Select someone to go first. That player will pick an object in the room and will say, “I spy something _____.” The player should say the color of the object or a description of the object. Older children can describe the shadow of an object in the room.
The other players will use their flashlights to try to find the object. Whoever guesses correctly will be the next person to spy an object.
- Several transparent, translucent, and opaque objects
Teach children the difference between transparent, translucent, and opaque with this hands-on activity. Darken the room and give the kids a flashlight. Let them shine the flashlights on objects in the room to see which ones will make a shadow and through which light shines.
The light will shine through transparent objects like saran wrap or clear plastic bottles. Some light will pass through translucent objects like leaves or tissue. No light will pass through solid opaque objects like books and furniture.
Let your children experiment with objects that are partially opaque and partially transparent. Fans are great examples of this. The holes in the fan allow the light to pass through creating interested patterns. Move the flashlight around on the fan to change the shape of the shadow.
Have the children predict which objects they think will cast shadows and which won’t. Chart the results.
- Source of light (flashlight, projector, lamp with the shade removed, etc)
- Darkened room
- White sheet
Create your own shadows on the wall. In a dark room, shine a light on the wall. Put your hand in front of the light to create a shadow on the wall. Hold up your first two fingers to make a bunny. Snap your thumb together with your fingers to make a crocodile.
You can also place other objects in front of the light to create strange shadows. Have the kids try to guess what the object is. Move the objects closer to the light and then farther away from the light. How does the distance from the light change the shape of the shadow?
Older children can put on a shadow play. Cut out figures from construction paper and glue them to a Popsicle stick to make puppets. Use those as your shadow puppets. Make up a story to go along with your shadow creations.
Kids can also put on a shadow play by placing a white sheet or translucent tablecloth over a table or hanging it from the ceiling. Shine a light toward the sheet. The performer stands in between the light and the sheet. Have the audience sit on the other side of the table.
How to Make Shadow Puppets
- Index cards
Make shadow shapes by cutting shapes from the middle of index cards. Fold the index card in half and cut half the shape you want. When you reopen the index card, the full shape will be there.
Tape the index card over the flashlight. Now turn on the flashlight and you will have a shape shadow. You could also cut numbers, letters, a groundhog, a pumpkin, or anything else you want. This is a good way to incorporate other things your child is learning into a shadow lesson.
Have children describe the shape shadow. For example, how many sides does it have?
Make a Sundial
- Empty soup or coffee can
- Dirt, rocks, or sand
- Stick or dowel
- Piece of cardboard or sturdy paper
Explain to the kids that before clocks were invented, people would use the sun to tell the time. People used sundials that told the time based on the shadows made by the sun.
To make your own sundial, fill an empty soup or coffee can with dirt, sand, or rocks. Place a long stick or dowel in the middle of the can so that it is securely standing.
Place the cardboard in a spot outside that will be sunny all day. Put the can in the center of the cardboard. Every 30 minutes or every hour mark where the shadow of the stick is. Write the time beside the mark.
At the end of the day you will have a clock to tell you the time based on the shadows. What do the marks look like? Is there a pattern? Test your sundial on another day. Is it still accurate?
- Sidewalk chalk
- Large piece of paper (optional)
Be shadow detectives and track shadows on a sunny day. Begin your observation in the morning. Trace shadows either using sidewalk chalk on a concrete surface or on a large sheet of paper.
Find interesting shadows to track. Trees, playground equipment, and toys have interesting shadows. If you have a helper, stand facing the sun and let the other person trace your shadow.
Come back every hour or two and trace the shadows again. Track the shadows throughout the day to see the way they change as the sun moves through the sky. Stand in the same spot each time and have someone trace your shadow.
What did the shadows look like in the morning? In the middle of the day? In the afternoon? Older children can use rulers to measure the changes in the shadows.
Before you begin the activity, ask the kids about the color of shadows. Have them predict what the shadows will look like with the colored lights. Tape pieces of colored cellophane over the flashlight so that the light will shine through the cellophane. What kind of shadows does this make? Why are shadows dark?
Shine a flashlight without cellophane through a colored sun catcher. What does this make? Find other pieces of colored glass and shine the flashlight through them. Why does this make colors? Is this a shadow?
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Play in the Dark
- Games to Play in the Dark
Nighttime is the perfect time to play games with friends. The darkness adds a creepy thrill to the game. Learn how to play many of your favorite games in the dark plus discover other great games best played in the shadows.