Ideas for Using Natural Light in Play

Natural Light Catchers
Natural Light Catchers

Welcome back to The Treasure Baskets!

Some wonderful ideas for using natural light in play cost absolutely nothing, and can support incredible learning opportunities for young children.

Use of light is a greatly underestimated resource and provides so many wonderful ways to explore and discover the world in different and meaningful ways.

I would like to take some time today to explore a few of these ideas, and share some personal experiences of my own while working with young preschool aged children.

Shadows of People on Grass
Shadows of People on Grass


Children love to be outdoors, and this is one of the best classrooms a child could ever have. Nature teaches us so many important things if we are watching, listening and interacting.

There are also the benefits of fresh air,sunshine and lots of space!


Experimenting with shadow play

Shadow puppets using hands or bodies against walls or across open grass spaces outside are not only fun, but help children to learn about how they use their bodies through space and movement.

Looking at shapes and sizes and the difference between tall, long,  short and wide are important for children to learn perspective.

Shadow Play
Shadow Play


  • Have a child stand in one place and draw a chalk line around their shadow.
  • Write the time inside the shadow.
  • Return every hour to stand in the same place and repeat the same action.

By the end of the day, the shadows represent the time on a clock face and each shadow will be a different size.

This is such a visual learning opportunity for children and this is where they can begin to understand the concept of time and the role of the sun and the earths movement in simple measures at this age.

This can lead into exploring seasons and planets and solar systems. These are all early science concepts for preschool aged children.

Light Through Autumn Leaves
Light Through Autumn Leaves

Exploring shapes and movement in and through shadows in nature 

Through observing rays of light from beneath a forest canopy, children will be delighted with all they can discover in this simple experience.

From being able to see the shadows of tall trees stretched out across the forest floor, to watching how the breeze creates light and movement in the leaves, while they also experience the warmth of the sun and the feel of the wind on their skin, the smell of pine needles and dry leaves crackling under foot.

A sensory experience in nature that would be entirely missed in a classroom.

I have discovered that often after this type of experience children will recreate the experience by representing it through forms of art.

They begin to produce the most amazing creations that are inspired by nature and capture the beauty of the natural experience through painting, drawing sculpting and even dance and movement.

I have seen children with little or no verbal communication express themselves in the most imaginative ways through their exposure to natural elements and the outdoors.

Mirror Image on Wate
Mirror Image on Water


Reflections and Mirror Images

There is something so peaceful and serene about light causing reflections on water. When it is very still it creates beautiful mirror images.

Observing movement, ripples caused by wind and changes in colour and light on water can be therapeutic for all ages.

I have ovserved the behaviour of young children over time that are engaged in this type of activity, and noticed how they are more calm and relaxed and open to learning.

While children are looking at the way natural elements such as water are affected by light, wind and clouds moving across the water causing changes in colour and movement, they are developing an understanding of the causes of natural affects on their physical environment.

Wood Slice Light Catchers
Wood Slice Light Catchers

Light Catchers


Use of resources that are able to capture light and colour can be a fun way of exploring natural light for children. Being able to view light through different sources outdoors is something we have all done in the past.

Did anyone else ever try the old cardboard tube with coloured cellophane tied on the end with a rubber band as a telescope? I loved this as a young child and so did my own children.

I decided to develop my own, more permanent and natural version of this and began by using small wood slices which I then inserted marbles or coloured glass pebbles into.

These have been extremely popular and children really seem to enjoy them.

Head over to the treasurebasket@cmaydavies  to view these if you are interested in purchasing, they are made to order.

Available in New Zealand only.

I have also experiment with some hanging driftwood light catchers that capture and reflect light as they spin. I think these are wonderful for infants as they are often at floor level looking up and it captures their attention very well.

Silhouette of Tree Line
Silhouette of Tree Line


I love silhouettes. When the sun is setting and the colour around us begins to fade the remaining light causes the whole world to change, and for a very short time we see the world in a different light. A whole new world view.

This is an amazing time to share with children pointing out shapes of familiar landscapes objects within them and sharing this moment of beauty together.

Providing children with a digital camera or use of your smartphone (I personally  prefer the camera idea as they can be purchased at  great prices now)and encouraging young children to take their own photographs, to capture what they see and find interesting is a great experience that adds value to their discoveries.

They can choose their favourite pictures to download, print and frame them, or they may choose to produce art work of their own, depicting their view and understanding of the experience.

Providing black and white paper for children to cut out and create silhouettes is also a popular activity. You could also experiment with charcoal or dark coloured pastels on white paper.

Person in Fading Light
Person in Fading Light

As the light fades

I would like to leave you with this a challenge. When you are out and about today, take time to really observe your environment.

Where do you see potential for exploring natural light.?

What did you notice that you really hadn’t paid attention to in the past?

How will you find ways to represent light experiences through nature with your children?

How often do you spend time outside with the children and what do ou do with that time?

I am sure you will be viewing the natural world through a totally different lens and finding the learning opportunities available for children.

If you have any questions about this article or would like to contribute to the discussion, please leave a message in the comments box below and I will return to you with an answer.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Cheers Cass

Founder and CEO of the Treasure Baskets





8 Replies to “Ideas for Using Natural Light in Play”

  1. These ideas are great. Shadowplay is really great and fun for children. I remember my younger days. I will make my daughter enjoy these light experience.
    Great post!

  2. My little brother is always asking me to tell him some new games so he can play with his friends outdoor. And also nowadays he is just always on PS4. I think he is  going to love all these games I just read in this article. Especially the shadow one. Thank you for finding these type of games and sharing it with us.

    1. Sujandar, it is so nice of you to stop by and comment. I hope your little brother has lts of fun exploring outdoors with you. Thanks for dropping in and feel free to stop by anytime. Cass

  3. These are  some great ideas! I have a preschool aged son and he is very recently into shadows and experimenting with light. You bring up a good point about how educational this is for him. It is so heartwarming to think about how so many of the things we take for granted every day are miraculous for these young minds.

    1. Hi there Holly, yes it is an amazing journey for children and we can easily miss these simple lessons in life. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing. Cass

  4. I love your post.  You have a lot of great ideas on how to increase perceptive abilities and creativity by putting youngsters in environments that allow access. 

    From my own experience as an educator I always found that a stimulating environment unlike the standard old style boring lecture hall does a lot to motivate. Enlivening the classroom with all sorts of audiovisual stimulation, particularly with something the students participated in creating engages them more.  Field trips, outdoor experiences and functional activities using all the senses are the best ways to learn. 

    In the future I will try to incorporate some of your ideas.


    1. Thank you so much for commenting, and as a fellow educator too.:) It is true that environments impact on the learners ability to engage. When working with preschool ages it is imperative that we install in them a love of learning so that they become confident and competent learners in the future.

      Thank you for stopping by, Cass

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