In today’s increasingly complex world, sometimes the greatest joys can come from the simplest of places. Children are amazing at turning everyday experiences into magic — we adults can definitely stand to learn a few lessons from little ones’ natural sense of wonderment and curiosity.

Ask yourself this: How many times in life have you noticed your shadow in passing and thought nothing of it? The number is probably pretty high. As adults, we understand our shadows originate from our bodies blocking the light, and that they follow us wherever we go. So, it’s easy to write off your shadow as no big deal — or disregard it altogether a so mundane you don’t even notice.

But to kids, shadows can be endlessly entertaining and a way to learn about the natural world. All that’s needed to explore this phenomenon is a body and some light, which makes it possible to explore anywhere for free.

Here are four shadow games and activities preschool-aged children will love.

Shadow Puppet Theatre

Perhaps the most classic iteration of playing with shadows involves using our bodies to mimic animals and objects, known as shadow puppets. All you really need is a blank wall, a light source opposite your canvas, and an information source on how to make various shapes: dogs, rabbits, cows, butterflies, swans and many more.

Another twist on shadow puppets is to have preschoolers cut out shapes in paper and attach them to sticks, which can then be used to play shadow puppet theater — perhaps even complete with a shoebox stage.

Having preschoolers use their hands, either to make shadows or to cut out paper, is a great way to build fine motor skills. Little ones can also practice their creativity by giving voices and animation to the puppets, be it their hands or their cutouts.

Paint the Shadows

With a piece of paper, some paints and a desk lamp, kids can enjoy the artsy activity of painting shadows cast by either toys or paper shapes. Note: Preschoolers will probably find it helpful to trace an outline of the shape before painting and may need some help doing so while they work on building their fine motor skills. You can adapt this activity for outdoors on nice days by having kids chalk shadow shapes on the sidewalk.

“What Shadows Can Do”

Want to get the kiddos up and moving? Try having a play-date with their shadows.

Start by asking the young learners to simply find their shadows on the ground, and to wiggle around to get used to how their shadows move. Then start asking a series of questions, like:

  • Can your shadow jump/wave/march?
  • Can your shadow get really big? Can it get really small?
  • Can your shadow join the other shadows to make a star?
  • Can your shadow turn into a creature like a lion?

As Tinkergarten notes, shadow activities for preschoolers like these encourage kids to develop their gross motor skills by activating the large muscle groups in their bodies. It also hones preschoolers’ sense of self control and focus as they work to make their shadows fit a variety of prompts. The sky is really the limit on this activity because you can incorporate new movements and ideas every time you play. 

Play Musical Shadows

Remember playing musical chairs at parties? As soon as the music stopped, everyone would rush to find a chair. Well, try a less-cumbersome and more inclusive spin with your preschool learners — no chairs needed.

Ask the kiddos to dance as long as the music is playing. When it shuts off, say “Freeze!” with the goal being for kids to hold whatever positions they’re in until the music starts back up. There are a lot of fun variations on musical shadows to try. These shadow activities are a great way for preschoolers to use their bodies and their imaginations to play and learn simultaneously.