Help children to discover how shadows are made and to investigate what happens when we shine light through different materials.
Early Learning Goal links
Understanding the World ELG: Past and Present – Talk about the lives of the people around them and their roles in society;
Understanding the World ELG: People, Culture and Communities – Describe their immediate environment using knowledge from observation, discussion, stories, non-fiction texts and maps;
Understanding the World ELG: The Natural World – Understand some important processes and changes in the natural world around them, including the seasons and changing states of matter.
Expressive Arts and Design ELG: Creating with Materials
– Safely use and explore a variety of materials, tools and techniques, experimenting with colour, design, texture, form and function;
– Share their creations, explaining the process they have used;
STEM vocabulary to introduce
Light, dark, shadow, source, block, change, shape, travel, long, short, big, small, straight, solid (opaque), see-through (transparent), translucent (you can see light through it but not clear shapes)
Before you start
Show the children the lighting technician poster and tell the children that they are going to be lighting technicians for this activity.
Ask the children if they know what a lighting technician does. Lighting technicians design the way lights are used in television programmes, films, concerts, and in the theatre, or plan how to light up buildings, statues or bridges from the outside.
Tell the children about the attributes. Lighting technicians are:
Observant and look carefully at light and shadows
Creative in the way they use lights to make people feel happy, sad, frightened or excited
Collaborative when they work in a team to set up lights for shows, filming and events
Tell the children that they will be lighting technicians and will be observing the effects they can create with light and shadows.
To assess how much the children already know about light and shadows, you could ask:
- Where does light come from?
- What do you think it is?
- What is a shadow?
- How do you make a shadow?
What to do
Give the children a torch each and ask them to turn it on. Shine the light from the torches on the walls, floor, ceiling and other surfaces. Get the children to try to touch or catch each other’s lights as they shine on the different surfaces.
You could ask:
- What can you see?
- What is coming out of the torch?
- Where is it shining?
- How do you get your light to shine on the ceiling/floor/wall?
- How did you get your light to catch your friend’s light?
Explain to the children that light always travels in straight lines. Show the children how this works by shining your torch through the tube.
After testing, you could ask:
- Where is the light coming out of?
- Can it travel around the sides of the tube?
- Does it come out of the sides of the tube?
Ask the children to shine their torches onto a wall, floor or ceiling, then put their hand in front of their torches.
You could ask:
- What has happened to the light?
- How did you make that shadow?
- Can you make the shadow bigger (by moving your hand towards the light)?
- Can you make the shadow smaller (by moving your hand away from the light)?
Explain to the children that a shadow is formed when something solid blocks the light. Ask the children to choose an object and predict whether it will make a shadow if they put it in front of the torch.
You could ask:
What shape shadow do you think this will make?
Investigate making shadows with different objects. Try to include some transparent and translucent objects.
You could ask:
- Do all our objects make shadows?
- Which ones don’t?
- Can you make a shadow bigger, smaller, taller, shorter, wider or narrower?
- How did you do this?
Other things to try
Stick paper to the wall at floor level. Ask the children to place their torches on the floor, shining on the paper. Ask them to place an object in front of the light to create a shadow on the paper. Draw around the shapes of the shadow.
Try our shadow puppets provocation. Investigate how to make the shadow bigger and smaller, like the Black Rabbit in the story!
The science of light and shadows
We have put together some useful information about the science of light and shadows to accompany this activity. Don’t worry, this is for your information only and to help you answer any questions children may have. We don’t expect you to explain this to the children in your setting!
How do you make shadows?
Shadows are made by blocking light. Light rays travel from a light source in straight lines. You can model this in the activity (step 3) by shining light through the tube and observing it coming out of the other end. If an opaque (solid) object gets in the way, it stops light rays from travelling through it. An opaque material absorbs the light. This results in an area of darkness appearing behind the object. This is a shadow!
What does opaque mean?
Opaque objects absorb all the light coming from a light source so that no light can get through. Hands, thick card, solid toys are all opaque. It describes any object you can’t see through.
What does translucent mean?
Translucent materials absorb part of the light but allow part of the light through. The light that travels through the material is scattered so that you cannot see clearly through the material. Examples are tissue paper and frosted glass.
What does transparent mean?
Some objects let all the light through, like windows, water, lenses or clear plastic. These are called transparent.
How do I make shadows bigger and smaller?
To make a shadow grow bigger, move the object you are using closer to the light source. It will get fuzzier in appearance too. To make a shadow grow smaller and sharper, move the object further away from the light source.
What you’ll need
- A darkened room
- Torches- one per child
- Toilet roll or other tube
- A selection of familiar objects from around your setting. Try to include some transparent and translucent objects.
- The lighting technician poster
10 minutesLighting technician poster