Expert Articles

STEM Exploration for Infants and Toddlers: Light and Shadow

Author: Ms Ruoyu Wen,
Lecturer at Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education

Infants and toddlers are often exposed to light and shadows from birth. They become aware of the significance of light and are curious about how light affects their bodies and the presence of shadows. Therefore, parents can support infants and toddlers in exploring natural light and shadows, sparking their curiosity about light sources and appreciating the beauty of light and shadow changes in nature.

What can infants and toddlers learn from exploring light and shadows?
  1. For young infants, adults can use light and shadows as visual stimuli to develop their tracking skills. For example, using a handkerchief to cover a flashlight and slowly moving it in front of the infant, you will notice that the infant’s gaze follows the movement of the light source.
  2. Infants and toddlers can perceive the effects of light and discover the differences between natural light (such as the sun) and artificial light sources (such as lamps or desk lights).
  3. Through exploring shadows, infants and toddlers can contemplate how shadows are formed and experience how shadows change with their body movements.
  4. Infants and toddlers can learn to use basic tools for exploring light and shadows, such as flashlights, magnifying glasses, or candlelight
How can parents explore light and shadows with infants and toddlers?

1. For infants aged 4-12 months:

  • Provide transparent or translucent containers with artificial light sources, such as fairy lights or colored candles placed inside clear boxes.
  • Prepare a large box that infants can crawl into and place-colored lights or decorative lights inside. Encourage infants to explore the changes in light and shadows by entering the box. You can also create holes in the box to observe the paths of light beams entering the box.
  • Take infants outside on sunny days to observe shadows created by sunlight and describe the characteristics and differences of shadows.

2. For toddlers aged 12-24 months:

  • Adjust the lighting using curtains or blackout cloth to allow toddlers to observe the changes in sunlight throughout the day.
  • Introduce different natural and artificial light sources to toddlers, such as the sun, flashlights, or streetlights.
  • Place familiar toys on a light table and observe how common objects change under different lighting conditions.
  • Take toddlers outside at night and use flashlights to search for creatures hidden in the darkness, such as insects, birds, or small animals.

3. For preschoolers aged 24-36 months:

  • Use a projector to project block structures created by preschoolers onto the wall.
  • Encourage preschoolers to observe their shadows on sunny days or use a paintbrush to depict the shadows of objects under sunlight.
  • Create shadow puppet theaters together: Cut out hand puppets from cardboard in different shapes and use a projector or flashlight in a dark room to project the puppets onto a white cloth or wall. Let’s create and tell stories together!
What is the connection between exploring light and shadows and STEM?

S (Science) – Developing a preliminary understanding of the differences between natural and artificial light, as well as the conditions and relationships that produce light and shadows.

T (Technology) – Using tools such as projectors and flashlights for exploring light and shadows.

E (Engineering) – Conducting repeated experiments to understand how to create specific shadows.

M (Mathematics) – Comparing the differences between artificial and natural light, and perceiving changes in orientation.


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STEM Exploration for Infants and Toddlers: Light and Shadow