Light, Shadows + Rainbows Unit

Our activities this week are full of bright ideas! 💡 We will learn about light, the shadows that are created when it is blocked, and the beautiful colors that are seen when we send it through a prism. 🌈 As you move through the lessons, look for opportunities to make great connections to previous units, too, like the Outer Space Unit (the sun and the moon), the Weather Unit (water droplets causing rainbows), and the Native Peoples Unit (where we first learned about the Aurora Borealis). Track your progress along the way with our printable tracking document, available here.

Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional reading:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

Let your light shine today! ☀️ Today is all about light. All light comes from an energy source, either natural or man-made. The light we get from the sun is natural light; the light we get from a lamp is man-made. Begin by reading from the book Light: Shadows, Mirrors, and Rainbows. Read the first section only, entitled Delighted Light on page 4 of this book. You will be reviewing Earth’s natural light sources like the sun, other stars in the night sky, or lightning, and also discussing other sources of light, such as light bulbs. Next, read the book Day Light, Night Light to explore this topic in more detail. Help your child to see the important connection between light and energy.

Activity 1: Light grab. Play with your child (you can also include younger siblings, and even a pet!) with a flashlight. Talk about how the light from your flashlight can be pointed toward an object to shine light to a specific spot. Use the flashlight in a well lit room and then in a dark space like a closet. Make observations together and point out to your child that:

  • Light can shine.
  • Light travels in a straight line.
  • It can be blocked with your hand or other objects.
  • It can’t be grabbed.

(+) While you have the flashlight out, grab a mirror and try this light play activity to discuss how light reacts to mirrored glass.

Activity 2: Print out 2-5 sheets of this light bulb template. On each bulb, write whatever you are currently working on with your child, whether it be letters, numbers, sight words, shapes, or colors. (If possible, laminate the bulbs first and write on them with dry erase markers so you can reuse later.) Cut out the light bulbs and spread them out on the floor (make sure you put them at least a foot away from each other). Give your child a flashlight. Call out what’s on the bulbs, and ask your child to point the light towards the correct lightbulb. 

Activity 3: Light scavenger hunt and journal. Find as many light sources in your home and have your child journal them (draw them) on a sheet of paper. Examples to look for: flashlights, lamps, light fixtures, lava lamps, clock light, computer screen, cell phone screen, smart watches, toys that light up, the tv screen, etc. If your child writes freely, have them label each drawing. If not, you can act as they scribe while they watch you write the words.

Activity 4: Want to know more about man made harnessed energy? This short video about Thomas Edison tells us about the invention of the light bulb. 

Bonus activity: You can review everything we learned today with this episode of Sid the Science Kid.

Lesson 2:

Where there is light…there will be shadows! Today, we’re focusing on the darker side of light. Let’s start by reading My Shadow or Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow. You can also review the pages about shadows in in the book Light, Shadows, Mirrors and Rainbows or the book What Makes a Shadow?

Activity 1: Make your own shadows. Prepare to do this activity at 9 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. to best see your shadows move throughout the day. Using chalk, stand on the sidewalk or driveway and ask your child to draw your outline. If they aren’t able to trace your shadow, ask them to stand still and you outline their shadow. (This is also a great activity to do with siblings!) Use a measuring tape, measure the length of the shadow. As you draw your first shadow in the morning, ask your child to make predictions about what the shadow will be likewhen you come out again at lunchtime. Will it be in the same place? Will it be the same length? Once you have all three shadows on the ground, discuss their differences. 
(+) This is also a good time to discuss what a shadow shows us and what it doesn’t. If you raise your hands, does your shadow change? What happens when you smile? What if you stick out your tongue? Make observations and discuss them.

Activity 2: Japanese shadow art. Take a look at the images by Kumi Yamashita with your child. Yamashita is an artist that is fascinated with shadows. Scroll down to the image of a head silhouette with numbers. Ask your child what they see. Ask them to point to the numbers they see and name them if possible. What do you think the artist is trying to tell us with this photograph?

And, yes, photography is art! This blogger writes: “In my opinion, what makes photography art is the imagination, dedication, and time that you pour into your work….Many photographers agree that what makes photography art is something anyone would want to exhibit in a gallery. It’s a work of art that would make almost anyone feel something.”

Activity 3: Now it’s time for you and your child to go on your own shadow scavenger hunt. Take a walk in your neighborhood or around your home and look for shadows that appear to make art. Ask your child to photograph these shadows. You’ll be surprised at what you see in the shadows when you start looking!
(+) Print the photograph and ask your child to write a story about the art they have created. It could be a sentence or a paragraph, and you can scribe for your child if their imaginations are bigger than their writing ability. Remember, this is a creative assignment, not a handwriting one.

Activity 4: Imagination play will light up your day! Create your own shadow puppet story with this activity.

Lesson 3:

Today, we’re combining light and shadows for some scientific play!

Activity 1: Before we had clocks, we used sunlight and some structures on the ground to tell time. This special tool is called a sundial. Today, let’s make a homemade sundial together. Use the sundial all week to help your child know when it’s lunchtime, nap time, snack time, and more!
(+) Does your child love LEGO? Here’s a LEGO version you can make instead.

Ask your child these questions to discuss and review the experiment:

  • Do you think the sundial will work at night?
  • How is a shadow made?
  • How does the shadow of the pencil change throughout the day?

(+) Upgrade this activity with a log sheet to track your observations. Scribe for your child if they are ready to make these observations but not ready to write on their own.

Activity 2: What color is light? Let’s investigate light with the use of a prism.

What is happening here? Kids Britannica explains

Certain objects, such as triangular pieces of glass called prisms, can separate white light into the individual colors. When light travels through a prism, waves of different wavelengths bend by different amounts. The color of each wavelength then appears separately. This effect is called a spectrum.

Activity 3: Let’s now mix the colors of light to make white light with this experiment.You will need three flashlights; colored sharpies in red, blue, and green; tape; a white backdrop; and any little toys that can create shadows. (Free-standing toys work best.)

Activity 4: Shadow play time!

Lesson 4:

What makes a rainbow? Let’s read about them in our book, Light: Shadows, Mirrors, and Rainbows. Focus on the section about rainbows . If you were with us during our Weather Unit, we learned that dust particles in the atmosphere are responsible for clouds and snowflakes. Now, introduce how dust particles and water droplets help create rainbows.

Activity 1: Using your prism from Lesson 3, demonstrate how a rainbow can be made. This time, focus on the colors of the rainbow. (This print out can be helpful in your discussion.) Next, make your own rainbow with this fun craft. Review the colors you will need to make your rainbow an accurate representation of what real rainbow colors are.

Activity 2: Rainbow Numbers. Pick the activity that best meets your child at their level.
(+) Try this upgrade for a little rainbow arithmetic.
(-) Need to modify? Younger children will love this simple rainbow puzzle.

Activity 3: Here’s a simple song that will help your child learn the rainbow colors in order. Repeat it throughout the day and tomorrow until your child memorizes it. Want more music? Here’s one of our favorite songs about rainbows. 🌈

Activity 4: Practice the rainbow song as you work on this rainbow measurement craft.

Lesson 5:

We could never fit all the rainbow fun into one day! Let’s continue with the last day of our week.

Activity 1: Have you heard the story of finding gold at the end of the rainbow? It’s a legend of course, but it’s also the inspiration for our next activity. This money-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow activity will be a fun way to learn about coin values. Use the print-out from that post, but follow the instructions below to complete the activity.

Print out the pot of gold and laminate the print-out. Write in a money amount and have your child find the coins to match that value. For example write: 1ȼ, 5ȼ, 10ȼ, or 25ȼ. Provide your child with a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter and demonstrate how each coin has a value. Repeat the activity until your child can correctly identify the coin value on their own.
(+) Increase the challenge by writing in amounts that will require more than one coin. For example: 50ȼ, 75ȼ, 35ȼ, 45ȼ. Help your child to add coins together.
(-) Not ready for money yet? Instead, print out the first page of this activity link and fill the rainbow with pompoms in the correct colors. 

Activity 2: Rainbow tally marks activity.

Activity 3: R is for Rainbow writing practice.
(+) Try this one for a bit more copy work.

Activity 4: Shaving cream rainbow craft.

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