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What Shadows Can Do

Age: 3 to 8
Time: <30 min
Materials: None required

Shadow Activity for Kids

Maybe you were mad for Peter Pan as a kid, or maybe you learned all of those hand shadow animals by the fire at camp. But, even if you haven’t spent a ton of time contemplating your shadow, there was probably a time when it was pure magic to your eyes, and we think you’ll agree that it’s one of the coolest toys going.

We hadn't realized just how cool it was until we started teaching classes outside. On their own, kids started playing with their shadows during class. As the weeks passed, the play got longer and more sophisticated. To feed this organic shadow play movement, we generated endless ways to ask, “Can your shadow…?”

Parents, enjoy all of the practical joys of shadows: they require no sharing—everyone gets their own; kids neither object to carting them around nor leave them places; and, as long as the sun shines, kids can play and learn with them in unlimited ways.

Keep these ideas in your “bag of tricks” and add one or more of them to a sunny day out. Your kids will develop body, mind and spirit as they move, play and experiment with sunlight and shadows. We are also willing to bet that they’ll play again on their own, when a friend is over, at recess, etc.

The Guide

  1. Get to know your shadows: Before you start, have kids find their shadows, then give time to play around to see how their shadows move and behave. If you are doing it too, they’ll really get into it. Note: shadows are larger and more pronounced at the start or end of the day, so morning or late afternoon are ideal.
  2. Start the game: Ask kids, “Can your shadow__?” Or “I wonder if our shadows can__." Then, start trying! Feel free to grab sticks, branches, leaves and other natural props to help make your shadow transform too. Here are some fun things that we’ve seen shadows do:
  • wave
  • clap
  • jump
  • dance
  • march
  • leap
  • wiggle
  • somersault
  • cartwheel
  • do the running man
  • stand on one foot
  • get really big or small
  • get wide or skinny
  • spell words
  • do the arm wave (if you were breakin’ it back in the day, you still got it)
  • join other shadow(s) to make a shape (circle, heart, square, triangle, etc) or cool designs
  • give a high five or handshake to someone else’s shadow without the two people touching
  • hide inside someone else’s shadow
  • do some yoga (e.g. tree pose)
  • turn into a creature from nature (lions, tigers, spiders, deer, birds...you name it!)
  • turn into a character from imagination (from princesses to warriors to medusa, the possibilities are endless)
  • use sidewalk chalk to trace shadows striking a pose

Why is this activity great for kids?

Playing around with shadows is great for developing gross motor skills and control over the body. To move and hold your shadow into new shapes also requires a decent amount of focus and self control from young kids. This invitation to see what your shadow can do also opens the door to a whole world of imaginative and physical play using a shadow—the super toy that is always there, as long as the sun is shining.

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