Light and Shadows

After a couple big thunderstorms, the children in the Yellow Room processed these dark and rainy days through play. The teachers noticed a connection between the storms and the children’s play with light and shadows.

While in the nook under the stairs, one student held a candle close to the wall and then moved it further away. As she did this several times, she would exclaim,“Little storm, BIG storm. Little storm, BIG storm!”.

To encourage this, we hung a white curtain from the ceiling, near a window where light would reach it and let the children enjoy a little further exploration of light and dark, shadows and silhouettes.

After a little while, the curtain turned more into a game of peek-a-boo, rather than a play on shadows. To help better facilitate the idea of light and shadows, we brought in the overhead projector.

Teacher: What is this thing?
Student: It’s a light!
Teacher: How does the light get on the wall?
Student: It’s from here. (points to projector head)
Teacher: How does the image get on the wall?
Student: I don’t know, it just falls down.

The projector was indeed a very interesting object for the children to explore. So interesting, that it soon became a challenge to manage. It was difficult for some children to step back and let others have a turn placing items on the projector. The space on the rug became crowded and soon the children were overwhelmed with light, shadows and ENERGY.

Luckily, we had one of our Pedagogistas (our curriculum specialists) visiting us on Wednesday morning and she gave us the brilliant idea of turning our beloved loft into our new light atelier. This became the perfect environment for just a small number of children (1-3) at a time to discover and thoroughly investigate the topic of light and shadows at their leisure without over-stimulation from the rest of the happenings in the room.

When one group students entered the light atelier, they were drawn to the projector right away. They quickly and thoroughly began searching for items within the baskets to place upon to projector screen to make shadows. One student found a car and rolled it across the projector moving fast then slow, saying “LOUD, soft, LOUD, soft.”  Shortly after the girls began placing items on the projector, a sneeze happened! We sprayed the toys and the screen to sanitize them, and upon seeing the shadow on the wall, one student exclaimed, “Look, BUBBLES!

In another group of students, the children began to tell a story. “I found a giant ant. He’s eating you. That’s pretty silly. Now I’m swimming in the water and I see a whale. He’s eating me!” Although this was a thrilling story, the student quickly lost interest and chose to leave the atelier. The other student however, spent a great deal of time studying the projector itself. He quietly and inquisitively peered into the lens of the projector, turning the light on and off, wondering aloud, “What’s going on in here?” He did not want to leave the atelier when it was another pair’s turn to explore the space, but he was promised a second turn soon enough.

We asked ourselves, how can we further this investigation?

In thinking about the children’s needs and interests in exploring movement, we decided to add dry erase markers to our little Light Atelier. Our hope and intention was for the children to see their marks and movements come to life as their work projected on the wall.

We encouraged the children to take turns; while one child drew on the projector, the other practiced patience and observation. After each child had a turn, they had the opportunity to explore together.

In one small group, the students were very excited to get up and move with the movements their partner was creating on the wall. One child danced her way through the shadows, only stopping to smile and giggle at a teacher. Her partner was very excited to create marks on the projector while exclaiming “You can draw on the wall! What happened?!” It was pure joy to watch the wonderment in her eyes as she explored with the materials.

In another small group, one student’s eyes lit up as he watched his partner make marks on the projector. He, too, was eager to interact with the shadows.

Student: Hey! Look behind you!
Student: OH! A BIG, SCARY MONSTER! (he swipes at the hand shadow on the wall) I got your market! I got your marker again!

Some students drew on the transparencies nearby. One made some marks on the sheet before testing it out on the projector.

Student: Hey! I draw on the trees!

After exploring light, shadow and movement in the atelier, we took our exploration outside on a shadow walk. We found shadows outside, and traced our shadows with chalk.

“I can see my arms!”
“I see me!” “I see me, too!”

After watching some students trace shadows with the teacher, one student attempts to trace her own shadow. This proves challenging for her, as her shadow moves each time her body moves to make a mark. She tries multiple times and even moves to other areas of the playground. Still she finds that her shadow keeps moving! She says, “It’s pretty tricky!”

Next, we built on our exploration of shadows and shadow tracing by and expanding it to include a new interest in dinosaurs. We began by inviting two children at a time to explore with the materials provided at the table: white paper, dinosaurs, two lights, and a marker.

Initially, we moved the lights around the dinosaurs in many different directions, creating various shadows. Our intention was to include a bit of fine motor work by encouraging the children to trace the shadows with the markers. We quickly found that the children’s interests were solely in the exploration of movement and light.

With one group of students, both girls were initially interested in the light and creating shadows, their interests very clearly shifted to the markers. Both girls ended up tracing the actual dinosaurs instead of the shadows, and quickly pushed them aside to continue drawing their own visions.

Another group was the very opposite. Their interests were not in the markers at all, but rather in the workings of the light itself and making dinosaur noises.

What we loved seeing, was how both children expressed excitement while moving the light closer and further away from the dinosaurs.

“WHOA! It’s getting BIGGER! It’s big, big, big. Wow, that’s BIG!”

It’s important for us to remember that not everything goes according to plan. In order to really capture and maintain the focus and interests of the children, we need to follow their lead.

Reflection by Heather Sanderson and Rachel Davis, Yellow Room Co-Teachers

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