Studying Shadows

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Posted on Sep 28 2012 - 12:00pm by Jill
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Tracing Shadows with PreK-K kids: Tracing shadows at different times of day:
Where is the sun in the morning? Noon? and Evening?

How does the the sun’s location change shadows?
How does the size of a shadow change?
How does the direction of a shadow change?

These are all questions we studied during a shadow tracing activity we recently completed. My 5 year old son and I first had to find a location that would not be blocked by large structures anytime of day. Even though we live in the country, this was harder than I thought. We decided that the end of our driveway away from large trees and buildings was going to be our “lab.”

Procedure for Shadow Tracing Activity

Choose an object to trace (ours was a can of green hair spray…don’t ask). If your child is up for it, have them trace you!
  • Trace the bottom of the object with sidewalk chalk so you can always place it in the same location.
  • Trace the outside of the shadow using sidewalk chalk at varying times of the day.
  • During each tracing session, have your child take note of where the sun is in the sky.
  • In between chalk tracings, make predictions where you think the shadow will move, and what length it will be.
  • Record observations in a science lab notebook.
These are some of the questions we discussed as we traced the shadow. I then recorded his answers in his lab notebook.
  • Where is the sun now? Where do you think it will be later in the day?
  • Is the shadow on the same side as the sun or opposite of the sun?
  • What time of day are shadows the longest?
  • When are shadows the shortest?

Tips for a Successful Shadow Tracing Activity

Here are a few tips for you as you plan for this activity. First, spend some time looking for a location. You’ll need to scope out a place where you can use sidewalk chalk, that isn’t blocked by other shadows, and if possible it should be convenient so you can slip in the observations throughout the day.  Next, check the weather. It needs it to be sunny. I know, that sounds obvious, but even if the sun is behind a puffy white cloud, won’t have a strong enough shadow to trace. However, its not the end of the world if your observations span several days. You’ll notice my son is wearing three different outfits, because weather did dictate our data collection days. My only regret is that we didn’t have all of the shadow tracings to observe at once.

However, that’s why we take photos, right? Next, pick one vantage point from which to take photos. Take the photo from the same spot each time. This allows for a good comparison when looking back at the photos later. Last, record your observations. There’s lots of ways to do this, but I suggest starting a Lab Notebook, even with early childhood students. My son is still learning to write, so he’ll dictate his predictions and observations. Maybe days later, I’ll have photos for him to label using his own handwriting.  For this lab, he labeled shadow, morning, noon, and evening.

Boy Tracing shadows morning, noon, and evening:

The Science Behind Shadows 

Our curricular goals were simple. I wanted him to connect the relationship between the sun and shadows and to learn that the sun is in different places in the sky because the earth is spinning. And as always, we work on making clear, descriptive observations of what we see.
As a (new) homeschooling mom,  I am enjoying the flexibility to extend and reinforce learning throughout the entire day. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities in particular are often time sensitive. For example, in this shadow activity, we were able to go outside and trace a shadow before breakfast, and after dinner, as well as extend the activity several days due to weather limitations.
Additional Shadow Activities 
Besides tracing shadows there are lots of other activities you can do with shadows. Depending on the interest level of your child, you may choose other and/or additional activities to supplement this activity.
Use a person as the object to trace: Trace your child’s feet with chalk, and have them take a photo of their shadow at different times of the day (year) using a digital camera. Don’t forget to take a photo of them taking a photo. You follow?  Performing the activity this way, you’ll be the one doing the tracing.
Take measurements: Sunlight and Shadows: For older students you may want them to take more quantitative measurements such as the area of the shadows, the angle change, or even extend this activity out across the 4 seasons to compare shadows at different times of the year.
Make Shadow puppets: Here’s a video on how to make shadow puppets.

Make a Sundial: Eye on the Sky has a wonderful lesson ideas for Using a Sundial to observe the change in shadows.

Make a Shadow/Silhouette Drawing: Kinder Art has directions on how to make art out of your child’s silhouette.

Read a Book: Moonbear’s Shadow

Dr. Darci–the STEM mom–is a traditionally trained science (and English) high school teacher and college professor having spent 16 years in public education, but is now a new homeschooling mom to her kindergarten son.  Darci’s passion is helping people of all ages learn about the process of science, rather than the facts. In addition to doing science with young kids, she also volunteers at a Christian, all-boys boarding program for troubled teens.  There, she facilitates hands-on inquiry-based STEM labs twice a week. She posts the activities she does with her own kids, and also the labs done with the “older boys” on her blog, STEMmom. Darci is also the author of the NSTA Press book, “STEM Student Research Handbook” which guides students through a long-term STEM research project.  You can connect with Darci on Facebook, Twitter, or Google +.

I always love Darci’s posts!  She always offers such a large range of lessons and activities for a wide range of ages and skill levels. For me personally I am not mathematically or scientifically inclined so I often lean on my husband for guidance and help in these subjects. Darci has given our family a true gift in the many lessons, techniques and ideas that I have been able to implement into our homeschool. If you have not started following her site I highly suggest hopping on over to STEMmom and signing up today!

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