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Saturday Science Experiment: Exploring Shadows and the Groundhog

Soon it will be Groundhog Day when the "prognosticator of prognosticators", Punxsutawney Phil, will be removed from his from his hole to make a prediction about the remainder of the winter season. Groundhog Day is another great opportunity to explore science concepts in a fun way. Good ole' Phil brings up more than just the 6 more weeks of winter or an early spring question. How do we predict the weather? What happens with the changing seasons? Can groundhogs really predict what the weather will do? Some of my favorites to explore with children are: What makes a shadow? How can we make shadows?

By Reinhard Kraasch (Own work (selbst fotografiert)) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The beauty of exploring shadows is that you can do it outdoors or inside. If it is cold where you live right now, this can be a great way to spend a cozy afternoon. What do you need to make a shadow? A light source, something that blocks the light and a surface for the shadow to land on. Shadow puppets are always a fun way to understand shadows. Using a flashlight or a lamp in a darkened room you can experiment with the size and darkness of the shadows you make. What makes a shadow grow? What makes it become more dim? How does moving the light source change the shadow? For some ideas on how to play with shadows check out this link from Peep and the Big Wide World.  You might also want to try out this colored shadow activity from the Exploratorium.

Outdoor shadows change throughout the course of the day. Creating an outdoor sundial by marking shadows throughout the day can be a great activity for children, particularly if it is in your own yard where they can check on it often. Here's a fun idea for a human body sundial from the "Create With Your Hands" blog.
shadows people science of shadows
By √ėyvind Holmstad (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

One of my favorite shadow activities to share with my younger science students is the Shadow Race. This is best done on a sunny day outside. Before exploring their own shadows outside we read Shel Silverstein's poem: 

"Shadow Race"
Every time I've raced my shadow
When the sun was at my back,
It always ran ahead of me,
Always got the best of me.
But every time I've raced my shadow
When my face was toward the sun,
I won.

We then go outside and see if the poem makes sense- can we race our shadow? Where is our shadow when the sun is behind us? Who wins the race when we face the sun? Further exploration of the other shadows outside reveals the same idea: shadows change direction depending on their light source. The kids love it and it is truly active learning. I got the idea for this activity several years ago from ReadWriteThink a website by the International Reading Association. There are several more activities, including this one, that integrate shadows and literacy here.

If you live in the northeast and there are frigid temps and snow on the ground, the chance of a groundhog (aka woodchuck) being seen this time of year are slim to none. These large relatives of squirrels are true hibernators,  meaning their metabolism slows so much that even the Groundhog Club's Inner Circle of Gobbler's Knob couldn't wake them. However, although it isn't probable, this fun tradition does give us a chance to consider the possibility of warmer weather and another opportunity to investigate science. For some great picture book ideas and other activities to do with children, check out Little Miss Hypothesis, Edventures with Children and Growing With Science for posts on Groundhog Day.

I'd love to hear about your adventures with shadows! Comment below or e-mail me at:

And just for fun...

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