Could a statue's shadow move?
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TRY IT OUT: If it’s sunny where you are, you can try the same experiment. Put a paper gnome in the sun. Tape paper underneath the gnome and outline the shadow. Write down the time. You’ll come back later to check on your experiment.

Gnome Statue at Window

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Below are ideas for extending this topic beyond the activity & exploration you just completed.
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These Common-Core-aligned readings are free with registration on ReadWorks. All readings include comprehension questions.

  • Me and My Shadow— A girl learns about making shadows in the sun. (Kindergarten)
  • Maria Makes a Snake— Two friends make shadows with a flashlight. (Grade 1)
  • Light— A reading about light and how it makes shadows. (Grade 1)
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Read Aloud Books

For a simple, well-illustrated explanation that introduces students to the fun of making shadows of their own, read What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Robert Bulla.

For an entertaining tale of a rabbit who bets a woodchuck that he can outrun his shadow, read Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow by Ann Tompert. You might want to ask your students if they think the rabbit will win.

To encourage students to think about how their own shadows change, read My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson. Ask students if their shadow has ever been taller than they are.

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Activity: Where's the Shadow?

For this activity, you'll need:

  • an outdoor area with blacktop or pavement
  • a sunny day
  • sidewalk chalk

Have students choose the shadow of a wall or building that makes a straight line. Mark that line with chalk.

Ask students to guess where the shadow will be in fifteen minutes & mark their prediction with chalk.

While waiting for 15 minutes to pass, try the "Shadow Partners" activity.

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Activity: Shadow Partners

When you are outdoors on a sunny day, have students work with a partner to answer these questions.

  • Can you touch your partner’s shadow without touching your partner? Can you make your shadow touch your partner’s shadow?

  • Can you and your partner make a shadow that looks like a person with four arms?

  • What’s the most interesting shadow you can find? Do all the shadows you find look like the objects that cast them?

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Image & Video Credits

Mystery Science respects the intellectual property rights of the owners of visual assets. We make every effort to use images and videos under appropriate licenses from the owner or by reaching out to the owner to get explicit permission. If you are the owner of a visual and believe we are using it without permission, please contact us—we will reply promptly and make things right.

girl discovering her shadow by The Hills
dog chasing his shadow by Rumble Viral
boy running away from his shadows by berge95
shaddow puppet hands by Unripe Content , used under CC BY
lighthouse shadow on the beach by Janx , used under Public Domain
shadow of a fence by Phil Kalina , used under CC BY
Ira Hayes memorial by Marine 69-71 , used under CC BY-SA
timelapse of tree shadows by TimeLAPSE
door shadows timelapse by Mick Abdou
sunrise timelapse by Beachfront B-Roll: Free Stock Footage , used under CC BY
sunset timelapse by Visual Uplift , used under CC BY
sun in the sky by Image used under license from Pakhnyushchy
decorative gnomes in the backyard by Image used under license from Olgysha
Print Prep
Activity Prep

In this Mystery, students investigate what it takes to make a stationary object’s shadow move. In the activity, Moving Shadows, students use flashlights and paper gnomes to explore how moving the position of a light makes shadows move. Students relate these observations to shadows changing throughout the day and the Sun’s position moving across the sky.

Preview activity

COVID-19 Adaptations
Teacher demo recommended

Students at home
Set up the activity and demonstrate over video conference while your students make observations. If students have flashlights, they can also explore other shadows in their homes.
Students at school
We suggest setting up stations for students to explore. Each station needs a flashlight, a gnome cutout and one of the shadow patterns. Sanitize stations after each use.
Number of students:
Paper Gnomes printout 1 per class
Shadow Patterns printout 1 per class
Blank Paper (8.5 x 11")
1 sheet per class
1 marker per class
Scotch Tape
Any tape will work.
1 roll per class
LED Flashlights
7 flashlights per class
Prep Instructions

You will need to do this activity in the dark with the lights off. We provide seven different Shadow Patterns, so we recommend setting up seven stations. You can choose to set up fewer stations depending on your space or the number of flashlights that you have available.

Set Up Activity Stations

For each station:

  • Cut out one of the paper gnomes. Fold on the solid lines at his feet and the tip of his hat.
  • Overlap the flaps at the gnome’s feet and tape him to the rectangle on one of the Shadow Patterns.
  • Tape the Shadow Pattern down to a table or desk.
  • Put a flashlight beside the gnome.

Find a Sunny Spot (Recommended)

If it’s sunny, you can watch how a shadow cast by the Sun changes over time—just by marking a shadow early in the lesson and checking on it later.

For this extension:

  • Cut out one paper gnome. Fold on the solid lines at his feet and the tip of his hat.
  • Overlap the flaps at the gnome’s feet and tape him to a blank sheet of paper.
  • Tape the blank sheet of paper down to a table or desk that will be in the Sun for the whole time you are teaching the Mystery.
  • Outline the gnome’s shadow with a marker and write down the time in the center of the outline.

If it’s cloudy when you teach, don’t worry. We show the experiment in the video. You can watch the video and try the experiment yourself on a day when the Sun is out.

Download this Lesson to your device so you can play it offline: