The Wonder of Shadow Play

Ginger Carlson
February 2, 2016

Legend has it that if on February 2nd, the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, the groundhog appears from his burrow and sees his shadow, we are in for another six weeks of wintry weather.  

Shadows have long been weather forecasters, storytellers, weaved into folklore, and a source of good old-fashioned fun. They are at the same time simple, exciting, and ever changing playthings. They require no clean up at all. Best of all, they help us to recognize patterns, think creatively and use imagination.

Playing with Shadows

A creative climate, one that has a true relationship with creative behavior and imagination, is one in which humor, play, and discovery are active and evident. Luckily, shadow play is an easy way to help all of those things bubble to the surface while imploring some true critical thinking

Tell Shadow Stories

With origins in Indonesia and China, shadow puppetry has long been a means of passing down religious and cultural stories and simply having fun.  Whether you use a flashlight and your hands, or set up a more elaborate shadow theater, have fun telling stories with shadows. How many different animals can you make? Can they stick out their tongues? Wag their tails? In what ways can you make them leap, fly, or waddle?  Add music for ambience or puppet dancing.

Shadow Time

Before we had Timex, we had shadows. With even small amounts of sun, you too can chart the progress of a day, and even make an accurate timepiece. Begin exploring time with shadows by tracing your shadows with chalk. Come back to the same spot every hour or later in the day to see if your shadow has moved, grown or shrunk, and then discuss why. For the truly scientific, use a Pole-to-Dial converter calculator (available widely on the Internet), which will allow you to customize your sundial to your location for added accuracy. Check out for instructions on how to build a sundial of your own.

Chase a Shadow

A safe, non-contact and fun game to play:  the chase is on when it comes to shadows. Can your shadows jump over each other? Tag one another? How small can your shadow be? See if you can get your shadow to climb on the shoulders of your friend. Can your shadows play leap frog? 

Whether or not we are looking at six more weeks of cold and stormy weather, embrace your shadow and give it a big warm mid-winter hug. After all, even though it likes to move around a bit, your shadow is a friend who will never leave your side.

Make a Shadow Puppet Theater


  1. Drape a sheet over a table or use wax paper to cover a hole in a large box.
  2. Trace and cut out desired figures using cardboard or heavy stock. 
  3. Tape a drinking straw or tongue depressor to the back of your puppets. Use a hole punch and brads if you want your puppets to have moveable parts.  Add an extra straw to each moveable part.
  4. Use a desk lamp or flashlight to shine light from the back of the sheet or wax paper.


Books about Shadows and Shadow Play

The Boy with Two Shadows by Margaret Mahy

Hand Shadows and More Hand Shadows by Henry Bursill

Shadow Play by Paul Fleischman

Did you know...

  • Whenever light is blocked, a shadow is made.
  • A shadow starts where the light is blocked so your shadow starts at your feet.
  • Light only travels in a straight line.  Since it cannot bend around an object, a shadow is made.
  • When the sun is directly above you there is little to no shadow because the light from the sun is hitting all the area around you.
Originally published in 2010.

From the Parents

Similar Articles

The Savvy Library

From the educational to the whimsical, our Savvy editors help you explore your world. You can search our 1974 articles by keyword, subject, or date.

Notable Selection

Below you'll find some of the more popular selections from the Savvy Library: