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Curriculum Overview

Curriculum Overview

In this three-week curriculum, children explore the science of shadows:

          Week 1: Outdoor Shadows
          Discover shadows made with the sun’s light.

          Week 2: Indoor Shadows
          Explore and create shadows indoors using lamps

          Week 3: Shadow Theater
          Use shadows to create characters and tell a story.

Note: Most of Week 1 activities take place outside; most of Week 2 activities take place inside. If it’s raining or too cloudy outside, you can substitute some of the outdoor activities with indoor activities.

Roughly one to two hours (70–110 minutes) of science exploration is offered throughout a day. The day is broken into four segments:

          Morning Circle (25–35 min.)
          Read a story or watch a PEEP video (15–20 min.). 
          Then do a short, hands-on activity (10–15 min.).

          Learning Centers (15–30 min.)  
          Give children time for free exploration at 4–6
          different learning centers.

          Guided Activity (20–30 min.)
          Guide children through a longer, hands-on activity.

          Closing Circle (10–15 min.)
          Get together and share the day’s discoveries.

Learning Goals

Learning Goals

Science Concepts 

As children explore shadows, they will begin to understand the following key science concepts:

  • A shadow is made when an object blocks the light.
  • You can make shadows with your body and other objects.
  • A shadow can show the shape of an object, but it can’t show colors or details (such as a smile or a frown).
  • You can change the shape of a shadow by moving and turning your body or the object or by moving the light source.
  • You can combine shadows to make different shadow shapes.
  • Each light source directed at an object will create a shadow.
  • As you move a light source around an object, the object’s shadow moves and its length and shape may change.
  • Indoors, you can change the size of a shadow by moving your body or the object closer to or farther from the light. (Shadows grow bigger and fuzzier as the object moves closer to the light source, and smaller and sharper as the object moves farther away.)
  • Outdoors, a shadow’s shape, size, and position change over the course of the day as the position of the sun changes.

Children will practice scientific skills as they learn about shadows. They will:

  • Observe, describe, draw, and compare shadows.
  • Predict, measure, and record changes in size.
  • Do simple experiments, talk about cause and effect, and share ideas.

Language and Literacy 


Through hands-on experiences and discussions, children will become familiar with words such as shadow, light, bigger, smaller, closer, and farther.

Print Awareness

Children will see their words written on charts. They’ll listen and “read” along as the words are read back to them.

Book Experiences

Children will listen to read-aloud books about shadows and explore books independently.

Emergent Writing

Children will record their own shadow observations through drawing, tracing, and “writing.”

Early Math

Children will describe, measure, record, and compare the shape and size of shadows.



Below is a list of all the materials you’ll need for the activities and learning centers.

Outdoor Shadows

  different colored chalk

  crayons or markers

  large sheets of paper

  clipboard, paper, pencil

  camera and/or video (optional)

  sheets of chart paper

Lamp Shadows

  one or more desk lamps with 100-watt bulb, slide projector, or overhead projector

  interesting objects for making shadows (comb, toy truck, blocks, etc.)

  table or surface to support lamp, slide projector, or overhead projector


  chart paper


  paper plates


  wax paper

Flashlight Shadows


  interesting small and medium-sized objects for making shadows (large-toothed comb, toy truck, blocks, etc.)

  drawing/tracing material


Mini Shadow Theater

  shoeboxes (or other cardboard boxes)

  wax paper (or white paper)




  small objects with interesting shapes

  tall, flat surface to place theaters on (desk, table, etc.)


Large Shadow Theater

  large white bed sheet

  4 binder clips or tape

  2 chairs

  desk lamp with 100-watt bulb, slide projector, or overhead projector

Art Center

  art supplies (pencils, crayons, markers, paper, and clipboards)

  printer paper and construction paper


  glue, paste, and tape

  desk lamp(s)


  popsicle sticks or straws



Videos: PEEP Episodes

These animated videos about shadows are used in the curriculum.

Shadow Play (9:00)

Peep, Quack, and Chirp discover their shadows—then use them to teach Tom (that trouble-making cat!) a lesson.

Night Light (9:00)

Afraid that the sun has forgotten to rise, Peep and Quack are relieved when they discover a flashlight.

Bringing Spring (9:00)

It’s February, which means it’s cold and bleagh and dreary. But things start to cheer up when the birds help a young groundhog find her shadow.

Videos: PEEP Live-Action

These live-action videos about shadows are used in the curriculum.

Outdoor Shadows (1:30)

Kids do shadow play outside with NATURAL light, using full bodies, on different surfaces (ground, wall, broken wall).

Shifting Shadows (1:30)

The kids are tracing the shadows of things on the playground and themselves, but the shadows seem to move and stretch with the passage of time.

Shadow Tracing (1:30)

The kids trace shadows inside on paper and outside on the driveway to make pictures.

Shadow Puppets (1:30)

The kids make shadow puppets with construction paper and put on a show.





Read-Aloud Books

These books are used in the curriculum. They are available in bookstores or from the library.

Tompert, Ann. Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow. HMH Books for Young Readers,
1988. Rabbit tries to prove to Woodchuck that he can get rid of his shadow.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. My Shadow. Putnam Publishing Group, 1996. Watch children around the world discover their shadows.

Swinburne, Stephen R. Guess Whose Shadow? Boyds Mills Press, 1999. Play a shadow-guessing game.

Ring, Susan. Light and Shadow. Yellow Umbrella Books, 2003. Learn all about light and how it can create shadows of all kinds.

Bulla, Clyde Robert. What Makes a Shadow? Harper Collins, 1994.
Find out how shadows are made and learn how fun making your own shadows can be.

Silverman, Buffy. Me and My Shadow: A Book about Light. Rourke Publishing, 2011. Discover how light creates shadows and why their shapes and sizes are different throughout the day.

Gore, Sheila. My Shadow. Doubleday, 1990. Watch how your shadow can change when you play with it.

Additional Books (Optional)

You may want also want to share these books with children.

Lee, Suzy. Shadow. Chronicle Books, 2010. A simple light bulb causes a shadowy adventure.

Keats, Ezra Jack. Dreams. Penguin, 2000. The shadow of a paper mouse becomes a hero.


Handouts for Parents

Handouts for Parents

In the first week of the Explore Shadows curriculum, print this letter and send it home with children’s parents or guardians. The activities in the letter give families and children ways they can enjoy science together. The letter also gives book and Web site recommendations. During the Morning Circle, invite children to share their at-home science discoveries with the group.

Each letter is provided in English and Spanish:

Explore Shadows with Your Child

Explora las sombras con el niño (PDF)

For parents new to PEEP, there’s also a handout with tips for:

Exploring Science with Children (PDF)

Exploremos las ciencias (PDF)


Educator Reflection

Educator Reflection

These questions may help you think about the successes and challenges of the Explore Shadows unit.

  1. What was the most satisfying part of the Explore Shadows unit for you and your students? Outdoor shadow play? Experimenting with flashlights? Something else? What made it so satisfying?
  2. As you watched and listened to your children explore, what things surprised you? (For example, certain questions or observations about shadows, unusual ways children used the materials, special things that fascinated them.)
  3. What activities would you change or extend the next time you use the Explore Shadows unit? What would you keep the same? How could you build on your children’s particular interests and enthusiasm to make it an even richer science learning experience?


Educator Close-Up

Educator Close-Up

I’ve never been a “science person.” At first, I thought, if learning science is too much for me, how could I ever teach it to my kids? But it was important to experiment with shadows myself, using the same materials that the kids would use. By playing, I learned how to make a shadow grow long or short, fuzzy or sharp, or just disappear. And I learned about the joy of discovery. I also learned a lot about the importance of being a kid-watcher. I used to think that in order to teach I’d have to tell kids things, bombard them with questions, directions, and information. I’m not quite sure when I made the discovery that I had to be a better listener. Maybe it was by watching too many activities fall flat and wondering, “Why aren’t they interested in this?” Then it came to me. Maybe it was because three seconds after kids started exploring, I’d ask them to do something else! I didn’t give them enough time to just explore before I’d throw something new at them.

So I’ve learned to step back, to slow down, and really listen and watch for what kids are interested in. For example, a couple of days ago, kids in the Shadow Center were having a “shadow dance party,” dancing and watching their shadows dance on the wall. Rafael started to play around, standing behind Calder to make a combined shadow with extra arms.

“Look at this. It looks like I have four arms!” Calder said.

“Hey everybody,” called Rafael. “We’re having a monster dance!”

The other kids in the center watched and laughed and tried it out, too. They were having fun with make-believe and drama, but they were also deepening their understanding of how shadows work. Watching how the kids spontaneously combined dramatic play and science exploration was really inspiring. So next week, Erica and I are planning to set up a shadow theater.

—Aziza, preschool educator

Prepare To Teach

Prepare To Teach


  • Print the interactive PDF of the Curriculum Planner to familiarize yourself with all three weeks of the curriculum. (Clicking on the activities in the PDF will open up a page featuring the activity.)
  • Then roll up your sleeves and explore some of the same hands-on activities your children will try during the curriculum.
  • Review the Using Media sections for tips on reading books, watching videos, and playing online games together.

Hands-on Activities

When was the last time you really explored shadows? Now is your chance!

These hands-on activities will help you:

  • learn more about the science of shadows
  • troubleshoot problems that might arise
  • think about ways you can help kids get the most out of shadow explorations

Outdoor Shadows

  1. Walk around the outdoor play area and notice objects that cast interesting shadows (trees, buildings, playground equipment).
    • Are any of these shadows in places where kids can trace or draw them?
    • Are there sheltered areas where children could enjoy shadow play in windy or chilly weather?
  2. Walk and turn in different directions. Watch where your shadow fall and how it changes.
  3. Notice how your shadow looks when it falls on stairs or a wall. How might kids describe this? Think of ways to use tese words as part of a science literacy activity.
  4. Try these shadow “tricks.”
    • Make your shadow hide in someone else’s shadow.
    • Work with a partner to make a shadow with three arms.
    • Stand next to a partner. Try to make your shadows touch hands without your hands actually touching.
    • Give your shadow a tail or antlers, using your arms, a stick, or other prop.
    • Find a rock or leaf on the ground. Make a circle with your hands. Move so that the shadow of your hands forms a circle around the rock or leaf. (You can also do this activity indoors using a lamp.)
    • Which of these “tricks” would be good challenges for your children? How might you introduce and organize the partner activities?

Indoor Shadows with Lamps 

  1. Find a lamp with a bright bulb (100 watts) that can be adjusted so the light shines on a wall. A gooseneck lamp, a hinged desk lamp, a clip-on lamp, an overhead projector, or a slide projector (with a blank slide) are all good choices. Make the room darker. With your partner, take turns making shadows using your hands and small objects.
    • What classroom objects make interesting shadows? What small outdoor objects could you add to the collection?
  2. Turn an object in all directions and watch the shape of the shadow change. When does the shadow’s shape look most like the object? What’s the smallest shadow you can make?
  3. Move your hand closer to the lamp, then farther away. How can you make the shadow of your hand big and fuzzy? How can you make it small and clear? How can you make the shadow disappear?

Using Media: Books

A few tips for reading aloud to your children.

  • Read the book several times before sharing it with children. Mark the places where you would like to pause to ask questions or explain unfamiliar words.
  • Talk about the cover. Point out the title, author, and illustrator. Look at and talk about the art.
  • Ask children to predict what might happen in the story.
  • Read the story with the children once without stopping so children can follow the story. Then read through and ask questions.
  • Read slowly so children can understand and enjoy the rhythm of the words and explore the pictures.
  • Hold the book so that everyone can see it.
  • Add drama to your reading by using different voices and simple props. Don’t be afraid to be silly or dramatic.
  • After reading the story, ask some open-ended questions (questions that don’t have a yes or no answer) that will help children think about, remember, and discuss the story later.

Using Media: Videos

Help children think and talk about what they are watching by encouraging active viewing.

  • Watch the video ahead of time so you’re familiar with it.
  • Before viewing, tell children something about the story to capture their interest and introduce unfamiliar words and ideas.
  • While viewing, show children that you are engaged by focusing intently, laughing, showing amazement or surprise.    

After viewing, ask open-ended questions, such as, How did Peep and Chirp change their shadows? What did they make their shadows look like? When children watch the live-action videos, which feature children exploring science, ask questions comparing their experiences to the children in the video:  Do the children’s experiments with shadows remind you of anything you’ve tried to do with shadows? What have you noticed about how our shadows change outdoors? 

Screen Time for Children

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center state that "technology and interactive media are tools that can promote effective learning and development when they are used intentionally by early childhood educators, within the framework of developmentally appropriate practice to support learning goals established for individual children."

This curriculum uses nine-minute PEEP episodes, one-and-a-half-minute live-action videos, and online science games as a springboard for discussion about science with children. All videos and games were vetted by early childhood education experts and are presented in the context of a lesson plan that promotes active viewing. 

After children have watched the videos, played the games, and discussed both, this media is made available to children in a Learning Center. But reserve the Technology Learning Center for children older than two. NAEYC recommends you "limit any use of technology and interactive media in programs for children younger than two to those that appropriately support responsive interactions between caregivers and children and that strengthen adult-child relationships.”