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The Wonder of Light and Shadow

Provided by nature or made by man, children explore light in many ways, interacting with excitement and joy.

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

Harnessing children’s love of light

Provided by nature or made by man, it seems that wherever they find it, from the biggest to the smallest of places, children explore it in many ways, interacting with excitement and joy. Something as simple as following a shadow in the sunlight can be an opportunity to explore shape, dimension and distortion through movement and action.  


Light is continually changing

As light changes to reflect the time of day, ideas are sparked for further discovery. Walking in your local area or even in your backyard at intervals throughout the year presents countless opportunities to witness the changes as trees lose and regain their leaves, flowers blossom and wilt, and trunks and stems are revealed and covered again.

Light brings colours to life, and there are many references to colour in our world. Beyond nature, colour is often used in art and music to help us express our feelings and moods in visual, audible and meaningful ways. While colours are prevalent in our everyday environment, it can be that they are not truly recognised until they are intentionally set out or highlighted with either natural or artificial light.

Colour theory is as emotional as it is scientific

Early theorists mused that light was made up of particles, a theory that was later justified by science and experimentation. They determined that each colour also had specific emotions or feelings associated with it - such as yellow feeling bright and bold like the sun or red signalling danger.

This is still true today, with many colours holding universally shared values, but at the same time, there is an element of emotion and connection to colour. Colours can be sentimental, based on experiences and connections made.

Light concepts such as contrast, warmth and brightness can be made simpler to marvel at with well-placed items added to play spaces. From experimenting with art materials at the craft table to arranging leaves to make self-portraits on the ground during outdoor play, light can provide inspiration where creativity and imagination are encouraged.


Exploring our invisible links to light

Our bodies’ intelligence system is structured around our circadian rhythms, operating just like an automated internal 24-hour clock to keep us alive. The term comes from the phrase ‘Circa diem’, Latin for ‘around a day’.

The various biological systems of the body are governed by a ‘master clock’ in our brain, which is most responsive to light. Cycles are linked to the level of light, which exists in all living beings. In the natural world, this design ensures that flowers and animals respond in appropriate ways to protect themselves from predators and ensure their survival.

For humans, circadian rhythms regulate hormonal systems that signal appetite, rest, and energy production. Light has the greatest impact on all of these, indicating the general level of overall wellbeing.

Incorporating light as part of daily routines

While aspiring to live in harmony with nature, one of the most magical qualities of light is the ability to maximize its influence. There is an opportunity to set a mood, tone or feeling by adding to it.

It is easy to understand why so many children experience comfort and safety by having a night light or lamp to reassure them when they are having trouble going to or staying asleep, or the pleasure of adorning cozy spaces with fairy lights to inspire magic and fantasy.

Helping children play with light

Children can become scientists with their kaleidoscopes, studying the prisms that naturally form inside the frame. Simple activities like decorating and hanging old CDs or DVDs in a sunny spot on the trees to get a similar effect can lead to exploring shadows on the footpath or against a wooden fence.

Children can find ways to test their theories about light and related concepts in play, led largely by intuition. Watching a sunrise or sunset may spark curiosity about where the sun goes at night or how it knows when to reappear again.

Any weather is ideal for enjoying light play – with countless opportunities to observe weather and light patterns that change dramatically from one moment to the next. 


Connecting to the world is in direct relationship to our wellbeing

As we live and respond to the seasons of the year and all that comes with them, our sense of well-being can be challenged. This can be linked to the amount of light that is available and can affect our moods in various ways. For example, many people enjoy longer days and shorter nights in Summer, and others find it difficult to cope with the reverse.

Marking the key dates of Summer and Winter Solstice is important to different world cultures, reminding us of the awesome power of the natural cycles of life, which are inextricably linked to our daily vitality.

Encouraging children to enjoy and understand the principles of light can support them to become more in tune with nature and ultimately drive their thinking towards kindness and compassion to be in harmony with it. This is integral in helping to shape future generations of children and the world they will live in.

To read more about practical ways to explore light play and its benefits to learning and development, please visit our website at

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