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Learn The Science of Shadows While Having Fun

Shadows are created when light hits an object. The object blocks the light, and darkness appears on the other side of the object. This dark spot is called a shadow.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Shadows capture our imagination and rouse our fascination with darkness and the unknown. Shadows can also be useful and fun.

Shadows Are Useful

If a shadow is cast by a large object, like a tree or a building, we call the large shadow shade. Sometimes, especially in the summertime, there is nothing more glorious than shade. Stepping into the shade can change your experience from steamy, sweaty, sizzling, sun-burn-y heat to cool, breezy and beautiful. Just like that!

A shadow can also help you tell direction. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so shadows travel in the opposite direction. As the sun moves across the sky, shadows change shape and direction. They begin very long and stretched out, pointing to the west. Slowly, as the sun moves across the sky, they get shorter and shorter moving to the east.

For a brief moment, when the sun is exactly above, a shadow is directly under an object. Then, as the sun moves into the western skies, shadows begin to get longer and longer, until finally it is stretched out pointing to the east as the sun disappears along the western horizon.

You can see this yourself by selecting and object and tracing it at intervals through-out the day. Here’s how.

1. Pick a spot in your yard that is in the sun for the longest.

2. Move a table there and tape some sheets of paper together. Tape your large, shadow-catching paper to the table. You want the page to be longest from east to west. You can draw a compass rose on your paper.

3. Pick an object to trace. Trace the base of the object on the center of the page. If your object is not symmetrical, make a marker so you place your object facing the same direction every time.

(Photo by Angela Rafac)

4. Start tracing the object’s shadow. Set a timer for an hour or any amount of time you choose, then trace again when the timer goes off. Repeat all day, as long as the sun stays shining. Mark the time on your sheet each time you trace.

(Photo by Angela Rafac)

Shadows Are Fun

Did you know it is impossible to step on your own shadow’s head? However, you can step on another person’s shadow’s head.

Look again at how your shadow shrinks and stretches during the day. You can play a safe and socially distanced game of tag if it is the right time of day (meaning your shadow is long enough). When you are it, your goal is to step on your opponents’ shadows’ heads.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

You can also have fun with learning how to make hand shadows. Google, YouTube and Pinterest are all great resources to learn how to contort your fingers to make cool, recognizable shadows. Or try cutting out silhouettes and taping them to a pencil to make shadow puppets. You can make up a play to share with your family.

Notice shadows around you. Be creative. Stand one person in front of the other to make a four-armed person! Add a sibling to make a six-armed person. Dance around and watch how your shadow moves with you! Go for a walk in the woods and watch how the shadows and light dance with each other as the wind blows!


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