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Child Study Center

Center of Excellence for Early Childhood Learning & Development


girl looks through object on light table

Our journey with shadows, light, and reflections began with the children’s increased interest in the light table. New materials were introduced in the classroom to foster the children’s curiosity on this subject. A small spotlight was presented by placing it on the light table facing the wall. The children began putting objects in front of the light, which cast interesting shadows on the wall.

objects on light table cast shadows

The children first placed objects against the spotlight, but quickly learned that they had to move them in front of the light. We discussed how as you move the objects away from the spotlight, they would become smaller and clearer.

In thinking of what could be done to expand the children’s knowledge of shadows, light, and reflections, we asked ourselves….

“What can we do to help the children understand the concept of shadows?” AND “Is it necessary to understand the concept or to just become aware of shadows?”

children placing objects on overhead projector

An overhead projector was added to the classroom to extend the children’s exploration. The plan for their first experience with the projector was to support the children becoming familiar with how it operates. After hanging a white sheet on the wall, the children began bringing over various toys of their own choosing.

children interract with projected shadows   children interract with projected shadows

After becoming familiar with how the projector works, each child was given a transparency on which to write. Then, the transparencies were placed on the projector, allowing the children to see the marks they had made displayed on the wall.

 children drawing on transparencies

The next step included the children writing on the projector itself, giving them the opportunity to see their marks shown on the wall at the same time they were writing.

Subsequently our question became, “How can we help the children move beyond merely placing objects on the projector itself?

First, shape blocks of various colors were added to the classroom. The children immediately placed these on the projector.

children experiment with colored transparencies

children creating colored reflections

The teachers then placed a table in front of the white sheet to extend the children’s interest in these particular blocks. This gave them another opportunity to experiment with light coming from the same source, yet at a different distance. More shadows were displayed, instead of merely colored reflections.

Adding the table in front of the white sheet gave the shadows a new dimension. It allowed the children to send their shadows higher and give them new depth and shape.

The children were given opportunities for more experimentation. They were able to use their own ideas and test many different objects by placing them on the projector. Annika took off her hair clip and placed it on the projector. She walked over to the sheet and said, “Look!”

girl placing hairclip

rubber cylinder on projector

Amelia chose to place a rubber cylinder on the projector. She was very excited to show us what it looked like when it was projected onto the wall.

girl stands in front of projected shadow

The children were anxious to find more objects to cast shadows. The teachers also brought new materials for them to try, such as stencils and puzzle pieces.

Building in front of the projector gave the children an opportunity to build ‘up’ and to see what they had created in a two-dimensional presentation. As the children watched their structures grow, they showed they were noticing something else!

children becoming aware of their shadows

children becoming aware of their shadows

The teachers began to wonder, do they see their shadow?

As the investigation progressed, the children began to notice more on the white sheet than just their chosen objects; they began to notice their personal shadows created by their bodies.

girl casting shadowon backdrop

girl becomes aware of her cast shadow

Pictured above is a little girl being observed on the wall by her classmates. As the children began to yell “look, look,” she slowly turned around and saw her own shadow. Facing the sheet, she began to move her arms to see herself moving as a shadow.

Following this initial ‘sighting,’ the rest of the class joined in. It was interesting to see the children start out with their backs to the wall, before turning around one by one. It was clear they had made the connection that the shadow they saw on the wall was actually them….THEIR shadow was being displayed.

To add to the experience, the teachers chose to play a CD filled with a combination of classic Disney songs. While the music played softly in the background, Lennox jumped up and immediately began to dance. As he danced close to the sheet, he was able to see the shadow following his body movements.

boy watching his shadow dance

boy dancing in the light

Towards the end of our work with shadows and light, we were able to catch this amazing moment. We noticed Amelia sitting on the carpet looking back at what we thought was the wall. When getting down on her level, we were able to see she had found her shadow in a different dimension, away from the light, away from the white wall. As she looked back, the teachers wondered where else do the children notice their shadows? Do they notice shadows on the playground? In the car? At home? In order to continue our investigation, we want to know what they know or want to know about shadows.

girl looking back at her shadow

In order to continue this investigation and the learning process, we are going to take the investigation outside, as well as, allow the children to create their own shadows. We will do this in the garden, on the playground, and bring flashlights into the classroom and gross motor room to observe what the children see or create.


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