You are here


Shadow shapes

Makes shadow shapes with your hands, or with pieces of cloth. Either outdoors with the sun, or indoors with a flashlight.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Physics: Light and Sound (1)
Earth/Space: Sun, Moon, Solar System, Universe (1, 4, 6)
Science topic (2005 curriculum connection): 
Earth and Space Science: Surroundings (grade K)
Earth and Space Science: Daily and Seasonal Changes (grade 1)
Earth and Space Science: Stars and Planets (grade 3)
Earth and Space Science: Weather (grade 4)
Physical Science: Light and Sound (grade 4)
Lessons activity is in: 
    For outside:
  • clear sunny day
  • flat area to project shadows on
  • optional: pieces of cloth with various sized holes
  • For inside:

  • a room that is dim with the lights off
  • flashlights
  • white board e.g. foam core sheet, with supports/wall to stand it upright (using supports, both sides may be used)
  • wooden frames e.g. made from jumbo popsicle sticks and white glue
  • fabric pieces and lacy cloth with various sized holes
  • clothes pegs

Allow students to experiment freely with making shadow shapes with their hands and the cloth.
If you are indoors, show students how to pin the cloth tightly around the frame with the clothes pegs then use the free hand to shine the flashlight beam through it onto the board. They will also enjoy making shapes by adding frames together. They will need to work with a partner to make hand shadows, with one student holding the flashlight.
Optional: give them a printed sheet of hand shadows. There are many online e.g.

Ask them to notice, and record on a worksheet if you like, where the light comes from and how the shadows are made.
Give them a challenge: make the shadows taller or shorter.

Discuss as a group what they found and guide students in understanding the principals of light they are discovering:
If an object blocks light, it will make a shadow in the same shape as the object. Shadows are the lack of light. Light travels in a straight line. Some objects are thin enough to allow some light to pass through them.

Students may have discovered moire patterns. If not, show them how to make them: lay two pieces of sheer cloth with very small holes over each other. Shine the light through them, and if necessary, move the cloth a little, to see new patterns of swirly dark lines which shift and change as the cloth moves. The last photo is an attempt to show this.

Some cultures make hand shadows a high art. There are many on you tube e.g and


Students enjoy joining the frame shapes to make a "house" etc.
Need a solid support for the white board. Heavy wooden blocks work well. Maybe a wooden block with a slot in the centre.

Grades tested: 
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 3
Mari Matsuo
Teaching site: 
General Gordon Elementary Science Club
Simon Fraser Elementary