Lessons in light can make learning fun

March 28, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Spring is here, and the beautiful sunshine is a real spirit-booster.

A long, tough winter is over.

Light seems to provide hope. It plays a vital role in everything from art to science to everyday life.

My children and I have been learning about how light travels, what happens to light when it cannot pass through objects and how shadows change size and location, depending on the time of day.

Some of our experiments and projects have fostered cries of, "Let's do it again, Mommy!"

As a parent and as an educator, I know how precious those words are. If you can make learning fun, they'll come back for more.

Here are some basic concepts about light that we've had fun exploring.

Concept No. 1: We see an object only when light is reflected from it - when light bounces from the object to our eyes or when light bounces from the object to a mirror to our eyes. Even though light cannot bend, mirrors can make it bounce.


Here's a fun guessing game to play: Give your child a hand-held mirror and tell him to sit under the kitchen table. Prop a mirror on another table or chair behind him. Place an object on the table he's under. Ask him to use the two mirrors to determine what the mystery object is. By looking into the hand-held mirror and aiming it toward the other mirror, a child can see the top of the table he's under and then identify the object.

My children played this game with a friend. They went on and on trying to stump each other with various objects while experimenting with different mirror angles. This was definitely a hit.

My 8-year-old also enjoyed a sources of light memory matching game.

I wrote these words on pairs of index cards: Sun, moon, stars, lightning, fireworks, candle, flashlight, desk lamp, bonfire, lightning bug, streetlight, night-light, car light, oil lantern, Christmas tree lights. The cards were numbered on the back from 1 to 30 in random order.

After they were taped on the board with the number side showing, my children tried to find two cards with the same word printed on them. (The cards could also be lined up in rows on the floor.)

Concept No. 2: Shadows occur when something or somebody blocks light.

We played a shadow matching game that my 4-year-old especially enjoyed. On a sunny day, I lined up objects of various shapes and sizes on blacktop and traced around the shadow of each object with sidewalk chalk. After the objects were moved away from their shadows and put in one big group, the children had to match an object with its shadow outline. (This could also be done inside with a flashlight and paper.)

We also made shadow silhouettes.

Here's how to do it: Tape a large sheet of drawing paper to the wall. Ask your child to sit sideways so the shadow of a profile appears on the paper when you shine a film projector's light on him. Trace the child's profile on the drawing paper. Cut out the drawing and use it as a pattern to trace the shape onto black paper. Cut out the black silhouette and mount it onto white paper.

Concept No. 3: Shadows move, shrink and grow because sunlight comes from different directions throughout the day.

A child can stand, with his back to the sun, in a sunny place in the morning. A friend can draw around the shadow with sidewalk chalk. By standing in the same place and having the shadow traced at lunchtime and in the afternoon, sizes and shapes of the shadows can be compared. (To help the child remember where he was standing initially, trace around his feet during the first tracing.)

These ideas came from The Usborne Book of Science Activities, Volume 3, and BJU Press Science 2 curriculum.

I hope you have fun trying them and playing in the light with your children.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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