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Long and Short Shadows

Observe how shadows change size throughout the day.


  • chalk (if you can draw on the ground)
  • crayons or markers (if you can’t draw on the ground)
  • large sheets of paper (if you can’t draw on the ground)
  • camera (if you use chalk)

Key Science Concepts

  • Outside, the shape, size, and position of a shadow change over the course of the day as the sun’s position changes.


Introduce the concepts of length and height and the words high, low, shorter, longer, shortest, and longest. Continue to encourage children to use words like sun, light, position, rotate, turn, move, and direction. Emphasize science process words like describe, compare, observe, notice, record, predict, and experiment.


Note: Do this activity at two separate times during the day; ideally in the morning and afternoon. Tell children that, like yesterday, you will be observing shadows outside to see how they change over the course of the day. This time, they’ll be observing their own shadows.

  1. Decide if you’ll have children use chalk to draw on the ground or if you’ll have them use crayons or markers on large sheets of paper spread on the ground.
  2. Bring children outside to an open, sunny space with a smooth surface.
  3. Break children into pairs. Have one child cast their shadow while his or her partner traces it. 
  4. Mark exactly where the child stood with chalk or a small object—children will be making one more tracing from this same spot later in the day.
  5. Repeat the process once more: one child stands in the same spot that the other child stood in, while the partner traces the shadow. If you are using chalk, take a picture of both chalk tracings together.
  6. Return to the spot another time during the day and have the children trace their shadows again. Have them use a different color to trace their new shadows. If you are using chalk, take a picture of both chalk tracings together again.      

Reflect and Share

After all the shadow tracings have been completed, gather as a group. Ask,

  • What’s different about the morning and afternoon shadows?
  • At what time of day did we see the longest shadow? The shortest shadow?
  • Why do you think the shadows changed over the day?   

Add any new insights to the “How a Shadow Changes” chart. When you have finished discussing the shadows, place the tracings or the pictures of the tracings in the Shadow Museum learning center and tell children that they will be available for them to look at.