Guide to Shadow Art for Kids: Creative Drawing Idea using Leaves

Leaves hung up by string casting a shadow on to paper

Laura @inspiremyplay

Founder of @inspiremyplay, Early Years teacher for 11 years and mummy to three gorgeous girls. I'm passionate about about the benefits of play in early childhood.

Drawing with light and shadow is such a simple, fun activity for kids of all ages and works well at home, outdoors or in the classroom! We created a little set up using some leaves from the back garden which you can read about in this blog. Kids will love creating and recreating shadows on paper with this activity!

But there are many ways you can do shadow drawing. All you need is the sun, some paper (or another surface you’re happy to have drawn on!), an object to draw, and something to draw with. So, next time there's a sunny day, grab some chalk or pencils and paper and let the kiddies experiment with shadow art.

What is Shadow Art?

It's all about using the dark shapes (shadows) created by light shining on objects. Imagine holding up a toy or an object in sunlight, and then drawing around its shadow on the ground. That's basically what shadow drawing is! When kids play with shadows, they can learn how light travels and see how objects block the light to make different shadow shapes. Here's a little insight into how it all works:  

  • Light goes in one direction until it meets something;
  • If something stands in the way of light, the light hitting the object is obstructed, while the remaining light continues;  
  • The obstructed section forms a shadow on a different surface. 

Shadow Drawing for Kids

Shadow drawing for kids doesn't have to be complicated! You don’t need lots of different materials to get creative. All you need is a source of light and some objects to create shadows to trace around. This offers a great chance for you to make learning captivating for your little one, whilst also sparking their curiosity. You could experiment with different shapes and sizes of objects as well as different locations on the page. You could ask them some simple questions:  

  • What happens if you move your object around?
  • Does the shadow of your object appear bigger, the same size, or smaller than the actual object?  
  • Does the shadow of your object stay the same at different times of the day?
  • How does the shadow of your object change as the sun moves?

What is the Best Time of Day to Make Shadow Art?

Shadow art is a fantastic way for little ones to understand how the sun moves during the day. They might see that the shadow of their object moves as the angle of the sun does. If they draw shadows at different times, they'll notice that shadows change, growing long in the morning and evening, and shorter at noon. It can be done at any point in the day when shadows are present. By seeing these changes, they get a hands-on lesson about light and how the Earth moves.

Shadow Drawing with Leaves

I set this activity up by pegging leaves on some string hung between two chairs. Underneath I rolled out a big piece of paper and we traced around the shadows created by the leaves. As well as being a great conversation starter to talk about shadows, this was also a great fine motor challenge and good for concentration and observational skills. Mine enjoyed colouring them afterwards and adding details to their leaves. Here is how you do it step by step:

You have to try this shadow drawing idea
  • Step 1: Tie leaves to a long piece of string;
  • Step 2: Tie the string at both ends to something strong enough to keep them suspended in the air (we used 2 chairs);
  • Step 3: Place a piece of paper underneath so that the angle of the sun casts the shadows of the leaves on top of the paper;
  • Step 4: Once the shadow on the paper appears, using a pencil, get them to trace their shadow shapes. Afterwards you can colour in the shapes, or get creative in other ways.