Although your child may notice whether the day is sunny or not, they may not give much thought to what causes the sun to seem to move across the sky, or what changes the shape of the shadows during the day.
These easy sun and shadow experiments for kids don’t require that you remember lots of facts from high school or college science class. Most of these activities focus on observation.
Allow your child to express what they notice during these experiments and point out details they may not notice so they get a better understanding of sun and shadow.
The Sun Moves Across the Sky
Young kids may just see the sun as something that is up in the sky, while older kids many notice its apparent movement across the sky. Here’s a couple of activities, one which will show kids what causes day and night and another which will demonstrate how the sun’s position changes during the day because of the Earth’s movements.
Day and Night – You will need a globe or a ball and a flashlight. Hand the flashlight to your child and tell him or her that he or she is going to be the sun. Hold the globe and allow your child to shine the flashlight on one spot on the ball.
Point out how part of the ball is in the light and part is dark. Can your child see how – even on the bright side of the globe – that one area is brighter than other areas that are just getting some of the light? Next, rotate the globe and explain to your child that the Earth is moving and that this allows the sun’s light to touch different parts of the world.
Your child may then want a try at holding the Earth, which will give them a view of how it is night on the part of the Earth furthest from the sun.
Moving Shadows – You will need a piece of chalk and an area where you can draw on the ground. You will want to repeat this activity a few times, every 30 minutes or so. Have your child stand in one spot. First, trace around her feet, and then trace her shadow. When you return, have your child step into her footprints and trace the new location of her shadow. If you can repeat this three or four times, kids can see how the sun is changing the angle of their shadow as the earth moves.
Science Experiments and Shadow Play
Whenever the sun’s light can’t pass through an object it creates a shadow.
The position of the shadow depends on the location of the sun in relation to the object. (If you’ve had a chance to do “Moving Shadows,” then kids have seen this.)
You can do a few shadow experiments that will focus kids’ attention on shadows.
Changing Shadows – Younger children will enjoy noticing how they can manipulate their shadows. Older kids who already realize this can be more deliberate in creating shadow shapes. Have your child change their shadow by moving their arms and legs in different positions.
What can your child do to make their body look large or small? Have your child try crouching down; what can he or she do so their shadow doesn’t look like a person? You can also give your child oversized clothing or costume hats that will change their shape in unusual ways.
Shadow Walk – Walk inside your home and then outside, looking at how different objects create different shape shadows. Notice how the sunlight passes through windows and drinking glasses. Outside, look at how leaves on the trees create dappled patterns of sun and shadows on the ground.
Shadow Tag – A group of kids can play tag, with “it” trying to step on the shadow of the other players as the way to tag them. If you have one or two children, have them try chasing their own shadow, racing their shadow to different finish lines and noticing when they win the race and when their shadow gets ahead of them.
Shadows, Science, and Kids
Learning to observe is an important skill for kids – and what’s easier for them to look at, and notice, than their own shadow? These activities will give kids a better sense of how the earth moves and how shadows form – and may even inspire them to create their own experiments. Observation and experimentation – that’s the backbone of science.