Shadow outlines

What: Drawing around our shadows to see the way the sun moves – and how silly it looks when our shadows stretch or shrink!

Long Midwinter’s Day shadows, parallel like sunbeams.

How: You need a space long enough to do the shadows, that gets some direct sun. Our driveway is our preferred spot. Also, chalk. Then, it’s just a matter of when you do it. This week’s drawing was in honour of the winter solstice, done not long after dawn, so the shadows are at their longest for the year. On other occasions we’ve repeated the activity at noon or in the afternoon, so that you can see how the shadows point the same direction at a given time (they’re parallel) but point the other way later, or how they are much shorter at noon than they are early or late.

Extras: There’s so much to play with here, in the themes of astronomy, seasons, time and change. Winter and summer shadows are quite different in direction and size. If you do this activity every couple of months the kids may remember what it was like the last time (mine didn’t!) – or take photos to assist the comparison. You could stand on one spot and repeat the outline every hour or two to overlay a series of shadows for that day (older kids could talk more specifically about angles or measure lengths). There’s plenty to talk about how the sun moves, how it’s lower in the sky or higher with the seasons, how dawn is late in winter but very early in summer (if you’re getting up to do a dawn drawing!). My preference is to not talk much about it, but to try and do the exercise often enough that the kids themselves realise that something is changing and start the conversation themselves. Though more often they’ve gotten distracted by the presence of chalk and begun colouring in their own pictures and adding details – and that’s just fine too. At some point I will probably use this activity as a foundation exercise before we play with sundials – both the normal fixed kind and the kind where you use yourself as the gnomon. I’d love to build one of these in the garden with stepping stones! And of course there’s the survival skill of using the movement of shadows to find north, which is easier understood if you’ve spent time thinking about the idea that your shadow isn’t fixed or constant.

Immiscible glitterable bottleable

What: a (well-sealed) bottle that shakes up and separates out

How: You need a leftover plastic soft drink or sports drink type bottle, around the 600ml size-ish makes for good handling, with a lid that can be glued shut. (This isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary… oh, who am I kidding. Glue or tape that f@!#!@ker down good and tight once you’re done.) Fill about a quarter of the bottle with oil, add a capful of food colouring, a guinea pig’s fart’s worth of loose glitter (I don’t know how much that is exactly, but I’m told quite sincerely it’s correct), and then top up with water leaving a small airspace at the top.

Mostly separated pre-shaking. The glitter usually collects at the base of the oil, but some always sticks to the bottle sides.

This was a baby toy I made for Kid 1 after seeing something similar at an open playgroup-in-the-park in Darwin. The idea is that they can shake it up, roll it around, try and crawl towards it or grab it, fiddle with the textures on the bottle (if your bottle has textures), all depending on age. And, of course, they can watch what happens as the oil and water mix and then separate out again. I found that the glitter tends to stay in the oil, and the colouring stays in the water. I suspect it might be possible to get oil-based colourings that would colour the oil as well so you’d have two quite different colours. I just used craft glitter, but if you were concerned about it being swallowed then edible glitter’s available at cake stores and should work fine for this too. I’ve never bothered trying to explain the oil and water thing to the kids, to me this is just a foundational activity, the sort of thing the kids add to their memory banks of “how the world works” that later on they can pull out and say “Oh, is *that* what that was about”. Such as when a grandparent says knowingly “Like oil and water, dearie” and the kids are all “Like what now?”.

Extras: Really, there’s not a lot more to this, it’s pretty much what it says on the box (but maybe with less syllables than I like to use). There is one modification I’ve seen that could be useful though – using the bottle as a timer. Go to your room, and you can come back out when the bottle’s cleared again. Gives them something to watch, and a known amount of time to spend calming down or getting themselves together or just getting over it (whatever “it” is). My bottle only takes a minute or so to clear, but I think there are recipes online using glitter glue that separate out a little more slowly so you can tweak the timing.

Review: Grandfather Twilight

Grandfather Twilight, by Barbara Berger


About: A slow, very peaceful story that poetically describes the slow change from end of day to beginning of night, sometimes with words and sometimes just with pictures. The illustrations are magical, with house, forest, stream, ocean and sky blending and shifting. This was often one of our bedtime books, beloved by Kids 2-5. It’s got a few flaws in the science, but if you consider it poetry and metaphor you’re fine.

Good things:

  • Describes the change from day to night
  • Metaphor for the settling and going to sleep process
  • Peaceful and poetic
  • Beautiful illustrations
  • Encourages stillness, listening, looking, just being present.
One of several pages with no text at all, emphasising stillness, listening and looking.


Poster of the Month

What: A group-drawn-and-designed, parent-led poster that features seasonal things about the month we’re in.

How: A big sheet of butcher’s paper, or a leftover page from an A2 visual diary, whatever works – plus a big black marker, and textas or crayons as suits. I laid the paper out on the floor and we talked about the month – what the name of the month was, what happened in it. That included

  • festivals or special events or birthdays,
  • trees that flowered or flowers we found in the garden or fruit that was in season,
  • what the weather was going to be like and what would change,
  • relative lengths of days and nights.

Kid 3 had no idea about any of this, but was pretty clued up on the idea of birthdays and excited to hear about coming festivals. Kid 1 was only mildly interested. The main point of the activity was to start giving a sense of time passing and repeating, putting markers and waypoints into the endless Now, and kid 1 wasn’t ready for that but kid 3 was.

Once we’d identified the things that were important about the month – and I was very flexible and child-led about this – I drew some very generic pictures and kid 3 and kid 1 coloured them in. Kid 3 added some of their own pictures too along the way, when so inspired. The conversation helped to steer that so that the pictures were related and not totally random.

The posters were pretty random and very simple. Plus things like yellow flowers got added even though they aren’t in bloom til October, because, well, Endless Now. All parts of time get drawn simultaneously.

Extras: It helps that I have a detailed knowledge of the local seasons, so I could lead on ideas like the equinox or solstices, or predict which trees we’d see flowering. If you’re Australian, there are websites and now even apps with local Indigenous knowledge for your area that you can tap into for this, and garden centres and clubs will often have “what to plant” or “what to harvest” or similar lists that you can use as well. My being steeped in Druidry meant I always included the sun’s path, the solstices and equinoxes, when relevant, and also acknowledged the local Aboriginal seasons (which are way more accurate than the “official” ones), but whatever floats your boat.

Other activities that relate to this would be anything that works with the months of the year, or just working with the idea of what a month is – thirty days is an uncountable number at this age! – or more specific seasonal activities.

Another related activity is that around the same time I tried introducing a day-to-a-page nature journal, where we wrote down the weather and any birds or animals or flowers we saw that day and which could be used in multiple years so you’d see what you wrote down last year on the same page. But that was a bit much for the kids at that age so it got dropped pretty quickly. It would be worth reintroducing now they’re older and observing and writing or drawing independently.