Blogger Amy Koester

Preschool Shadow Science

Shadows. We see them every day, inside and outside, but unless we’ve been reading Peter Pan, we probably don’t give them much thought. That makes shadows a perfect subject for a preschool science STEM storytime. We take something that children encounter every day, learn about it, and then experiment with it to create deeper understanding. Here’s what we did with shadows.

Shadows Books
Photo by Amy Koester.

First, we shared some books that include shadows. I opened the program with M. Christina Butler’s The Dark, Dark Night. The story follows frog and his friends as they try to get across the water at nighttime with only a lantern for light–but a monster keeps blocking their way. The monster turns out to be the shadows of frog and his friends. I followed up with a non-fiction title, What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Robert Bulla. The narrative explores what has a shadow, how shadows are made, and other aspects of shadows that add context to children’s understanding.

Next, we talked about the science of shadows. I asked children where they had seen shadows before, and they supplied plenty of examples. We talked about sitting in the shade of a tree, which is sitting in a shadow. We also talked about whether our shadows can ever become disconnected from us; after a minute or two of contorting our bodies to see if we could sever our shadows, we had our answer.

Photo by Amy Koester.
Photo by Amy Koester.

We explored hands-on activities to further explore how shadows work and to solidify our learning. My strategy for these preschool science programs, where kids range in age from 2-7, is to give multiple opportunities for hands-on activity exploration with the assistance of a caregiver. Kids are then free to move about stations as they please, which works very well for the large age range. Younger children may zoom through the stations, while older children have more attention and interest to give to each activity. It’s self-paced, and I meander the room asking questions and lending assistance. We had four activity stations to explore shadows:

  • Exploring Shadow Size – I cut basic shapes out of cardstock and set them on a table next to a projector that was turned on and facing a wall in our program room. Children were invited to choose a shape and make a shadow with it on the wall. Then they were to move the shape closer to the wall and further from the wall to see how the shadow’s size changes. One talking point for caregivers was how an object close to a light makes a bigger shadow. Bonus activity: For the children who were particularly involved in this station, I gave an additional task. I asked them to see if they could create the shadow of a house or a person using the shapes, and the resulting problem-solving was excellent.
  • Telling a Shadow Story – Die cut ducks and popsicle sticks were available for children to make their own duck puppets, and the information for caregivers included a prompt to figure out how to make their stick puppets into shadow puppets using a projector turned on facing a wall. The kids figured out how to make shadow puppets pretty quickly, so I invited them to work together to tell the story of “Five Little Ducks.”
  • Experimenting with Light through Objects – Supplies for this station included an empty cardboard box, some flashlights, and an assortment of objects through which to try to shine light. Children set an object (colander, water bottle, clear plastic jar, etc.) on the box set sideways, and then they shined the flashlight on the object into the box to see what would happen. Lots of experimenting with angle and distance of the flashlight to the object was happening here.
  • Matching Shadows – I printed out a few copies of a winter object shadow matching game I found online, and I set out the tiles on a table to allow the kids to practice their matching skills. This activity was excellent for vocabulary in addition to its shadow (science) and matching (math) benefits, as children were naming the objects on the tiles while they went about their work.
Photo by Amy Koester.
Photo by Amy Koester.

Everyone got to take something home to continue the learning about shadows. In addition to a variety of books about shadows, both fiction and non-fiction, that were available for check-out after the program, I set out a take-home activity sheet with additional shadow activities. One activity was to experiment outside with how the sun makes shadows, including at different times of day. The second activity was to draw silhouettes of family members using a light, a flat wall, blank paper, and a pencil. I alway leave extra handouts near the check-out desk so families who couldn’t attend the program can still try these activities at home.

I’m not the only librarian who has offered preschoolers time to explore shadows: check out other shadow program plans on Read Sing Play and WonderWorks. And if you’ve offered shadow programs or activities, feel free to share in the comments!

Don’t forget to check out the other Preschool Science programs I’ve shared here on the ALSC Blog: Observation ScienceGravity ScienceWater ScienceBody ScienceColor ScienceWeather Science, and Strength and Materials Science.


  1. Denise @ Kinder-Touch

    This are nice activities on exploring Science. There is much to learn about shadows so nice topic to discuss about with the kids. I am sure they’d enjoyed the activity.

  2. Renee Perron

    Thank you so much for this detailed story time lesson plan. I will be borrowing it this summer. I like how you have shadow stations that kids and caregivers can move around to. That style can accomodate large groups of kids which I normally get during the summer months. A few other books that came to my mind when exploring shadows include:

    -Shadow by Suzy Lee
    -Whose shadow is this? : a look at animal shapes-round, long, and pointy by Claire Berge ; illustrated by Derrick Alderman and Denise Shea
    -Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch
    -Shadows and Reflections by Tana Hoban

    Thanks again. This is getting me excited about what I can try this summer!

  3. cen

    The Author practices what she preaches, too. Please see Amy Koester’s use of a crocodile puppet at Opening Minds 2014.

    1. cen

      oops- it didn’t like my embeded link: Please see Amy’s Crocodile 

  4. Dana

    I just did a shadow science program as well and included two shadow puppet shows and an activity where kids could make their own shadow puppet theaters and puppets:
    I love your stations and will definitely use some of these the next time I do another shadow programs.

    1. Amy

      What a great shadow puppet theater, Dana!

  5. Pingback: Magnets and Magnetism: A Preschool Science Program | ALSC Blog

  6. Pingback: Visit the Science Playground - ALSC BlogALSC Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *