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It was an idyllic lazy autumn Sunday afternoon but after 6 awake hours stuck in the house, I was itching to get outdoors into the crisp clean air and beneath the still-warm October sun. Usually, I take my runs and walks alone, with earbuds in and a podcast on, but I longed for a bit of company on this weekend day so I promised my youngest daughter a stroll around the toy store if she’d come out for a walk with me…and off we went.

On the way home after about 2 miles of walking, my little Queen of Random abruptly asked, “Daddy, do you know how shadows work?” I said that yes, I think I do, and she replied in kind but seemed slightly dejected. I quickly realized that she was hoping for the chance to explain shadows to me and so I asked her to teach me — you know, just in case I didn’t have it all straight. What followed from the brain and mouth of my science-loving 3rd grader soon became this activity.

What You’ll Need

  • Sunlight
  • Open Space
  • Sidewalk Chalk
  • Camera
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How to Set Up This Shadow Activity:

  1. Find a big open space, one without tall trees around to block the sun.
  2. Choose two fixed points, one for your child to stand and one for you to stand, observe and document her shadow.
  3. Have your child use sidewalk chalk to draw circles around both points and shade those circles in to make them darker in case a light rain comes and washes some of the chalk away.
  4. Return to your exact spots throughout the day.
  5. Take photos of your child and their shadow as it moves.
  6. Talk about how shadows work and why their shadow was in different spots throughout the day.
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How Shadows Work

Here’s what my 8-year-old daughter taught me about how shadows work:

Light travels in straight lines and shadows are caused by something blocking light from going straight. Your shadow is longest in the early morning after the sun rises and just before it sets at night because more of your body is blocking the light.

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You’ll see the smallest shadow in the middle of the day (the closest you get to Noon) because the sun is right over top of you and your shadow will be under you.

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An afternoon rain washed away our circles and I didn’t anticipate a bank of trees causing us problems as the sun set so we moved up in the parking lot a little bit to capture one more shadow, the longest one of the day, just before dusk (scroll back up to the first photo above to see just how long a shadow my little girl cast in the dying light of an October Sunday).

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And don’t forget to have some shadow fun too through the day…because shadows are pretty awesome.

And now, thanks to my daughter, you and your kiddo (and I) know how shadows work!

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More Adventures in Learning

About Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad who writes humorously about parenting and All Things Childhood on his site Out With The Kids. He is married to an adorable redheaded gal and has two lovely little ladies 12 and under who provide him with countless hours of humorous in-home entertainment, and who get to hear, see, and play with more cool stuff than you can possibly imagine.

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