All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.
-Leo Tolstoy

Shadow, glow, luminosity, radiance, and silhouette are just a few of the concepts children can explore as they learn about the element of light. Shadow play in the classroom is a great way to capture children’s attention and spark their imagination and creativity. Whether you choose to utilize a light table or let children use flashlights to explore light concepts, children will have a fun time manipulating the light and shadows.

The authors of Inspiring Spaces for Young Children share the following tips on helping children explore light: “Illuminate your space to encourage children’s interactions and dramatic experiences. Invite children to experiment with light tables and projectors. Encourage them to express their imaginations freely and explore the different qualities of light. They might discover that some materials work better on the light table while others make unique shadows as the light shines through them.” The authors also suggest that you have a variety of shadow play props available for children to use, including the following:

Ideas for Shadow Play Props

  • Hats
  • Figurines
  • Costumes
  • Puppets
  • Plants
  • Nature items
  • Store-bought feathers
  • Transparent items
  • Mirrors
  • Yarn
  • Twine
  • Recycled materials
  • Netting
  • Tissue paper
  • Jewels
  • Tubes
  • Textiles
  • Plexiglass


Related Activity: Inside Shadows

Explore how light can create different sizes and shapes of shadows inside the classroom by using flashlights!

What’s Needed

  • Crayons or markers (to draw shadow patterns)
  • Flashlight(s)
  • Paper
  • Pen or marker
  • Plastic toy animals, small stuffed animals, or other toys (at least 3” or 4” tall)

How to Do It

  1. Place one of your small objects on a piece of paper on a table.
  2. Turn on the flashlight, and make a shadow of the object on the paper.
  3. Draw the outline of the shadow on the paper with your pen or marker.
  4. Move the light, and see what happens to the shadow. Move the flashlight several times. Each time make a drawing of the new shadow on the same piece of paper. Can you make a long or short shadow? Is the shadow always the same shape as the object?
  5. Try using different objects to make shadows.
  6. Can you make the shadow of an object smaller than the actual object? Can you make it bigger?

Source: Where Does My Shadow Sleep?

You could also tape paper onto a classroom wall and have children trace one of their hands or help each other trace their silhouettes. For more information on how light changes the way we perceive our environment and the types of lighting you can use in the classroom, read Inspiring Spaces for Young Children. Be sure to also check out the following items: