Light, shadow, and literacy: Stories inspired by shadow play

Materials thoughtfully provided or set up by teachers often inspires children’s open exploration of a phenomenon. Much learning happens during this period of using their senses and tools to make observations of what intrigues them as they try things out, following up on their ideas and trying new things rather than making observations based on a teacher’s instruction. Specific activities and further focused exploration build from this beginning, as teachers hear or identify children’s questions, pose others, and additional materials may be provided. The Young Scientist series teacher resource books on nature, water, and building structures are a good starting point for developing science explorations.

In this class at the Clarendon Child Care Center, an open exploration of shadow using a wall and a lamp on the flloor opened up a stream of stories as children built on outdoor imaginative play where their shadows “ate each other.” Some of these marvelous stories expressed beginning scientific ideas about light and shadow. With a teacher nearby, the four and five year olds were careful with the light and had their stories recorded by teachers Sarah Abu-El-Hawa and Carly Gertler. Allowing the action to be child-led revealed their understanding of both the science of shadows and the structure of stories.

Further explorations were planned after asking questions such as, “How do shadows happen?” and “How do shadows come alive?” to help children reflect on their experiences. The class’s work continues. Documentation panels share the work with families and help children remember and think about their work thus far. 

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