When I was young, my dad used to take me to the office with him on the weekend. It was my, special, alone time with him, where I only shared his attention with his job rather than my two sibs, my mom's honey-do list, and all of the activities of home. I clearly remember listening to him sing the song "Me and My Shadow" as I followed closely behind him through the office! For some reason it always made me feel special that he sang that song for me, even if it was because I wouldn't let him leave my side while I "shadowed" him at work.
To this day, when he and I are doing a project together around my own home, the song plays in my head as I follow him around like that adoring little girl, thankful for the time we spend together, thankful for the activities we share! It goes to show that seemingly insignificant experiences (to the parent) can stick with a child into adulthood and even become a sort of anthem for the relationship.
On the surface, this activity is about taking your child on an exploration of your child's shadow, and how it travels across the ground, as the sun makes its journey through the sky. But it is really more about giving you an opportunity to connect with your child through an experience with nature, allowing your child to feel your attention and to experience a new representation of him or herself through nature. In the interest of full credit where it is due, this activity was initially my daughter's idea. She began setting the chair up and tracing the shadow with chalk and I decided, with her permission, to run with her idea which ended up creating a beautiful experience for both of us. What is amazing about this is that paying attention in the little moments can create the biggest bonding moments.
sunny day on which you plan to be home most of the day, sidewalk chalk (a few different colors make this even more fun), and a little bit of pavement you can return to over and over throughout the day. Another object (such as a chair or favorite outdoor toy) can be used, as well, to make the project more interesting.
Find a spot in your driveway/sidewalk/etc. that is in full sun for the majority of the day and ask your child to stand still while you trace, in one color chalk, the outline of his feet. This will be the placement you use for his feet repeatedly though the day. Then, using another color, trace the rest of his shadow. Next, have your child assist you in drawing a little sun a few feet away in the direction from which the light came and write the time inside the sun. Return every couple of hours, have your child stand in the same "footprint" and trace the outline of his shadow (also drawing the sun a few feet away) as the sun travels through the sky. Every time you do, write the time within the outline of your child's shadow.
Each time you trace your child's shadow, talk to the child about how the sun feels this time, is it warmer, brighter, cooler? Help your child to use the time to explore the notion of time and the sun. Further you can use the time to help your child be creative, make funny poses so that the shadows are all different, or try to stand exactly the same each time…allow your child to help you create the activity as you go. Make it more interesting by returning the next day at approximately the same time as the first day…hopefully rain hasn't washed away your markings! Have your child stand once again, in the original footprints and see if the suns position has changed for the time of day. As an additional study of the sun, we also used an object of her choice (a lawn chair in this case) and left it in place the whole day to watch its shadow travel as well.
The day my daughter and I did this activity was in the waning days of summer. We were astonished to see the difference in the sun's position over a period of 24 hours. This sparked a whole new discussion for us regarding the tilt of the Earth's axis and how its position in relation to the sun can change daily as the seasons change. With older, more interested, children you can draw arcs from sun to sun and add a "compass" showing the directions (N, S, E, W) to help your child understand the path of the sun.
It is fun to watch your child learn, it is great fun to watch them "get it" and it is an amazing feeling to watch your child revel in your attention. While on the surface it may seem this is a science lesson, I hope you and your child will come away feeling more like you had a grand adventure together, like you took a trip around the world with the sun, that you opened the door to your child exploring the world and his or place within it. I hope your children come away with a renewed sense that you are there to be WITH them, to teach them new things, and to pay attention to the things in which they are interested.
I hope you will enjoy the activity and I would love to hear from you about your shared experiences!
Originally printed in Nurture: Australia’s Natural Parenting Magazine, (2012). All Rights Reserved.