Exploring light and dark with toddlers

Dark, cosy evenings; pretty, coloured lights. The winter months have been the perfect time to explore the topic of light and dark as a very loose theme for my activities with ToddlerGirl. Of course, ToddlerGirl is only two, so this has not been a proper study by any means. Rather an excuse to group together some activity ideas around these two areas and give her a vague idea of the concepts.

Exploring light and dark with toddlers - activity ideas and book list

I found that a lot of my activity ideas for the autumn and winter were naturally incorporating light and dark anyway, so it was easy to tweak these to emphasise the two concepts more than maybe I would have done if I wasn’t consciously thinking about the theme. It’s also inspired a few additional activity ideas, which is always helpful!

This is what we have been doing, with links to any activities that I have written separate blog posts on. Of course, this topic doesn’t have to be confined to the dark winter months, many of the ideas could be used all year round!

Here’s how we have been thinking about DARK

1. Creating indoor dens and forts
We love making dens and they are perfect for getting cosy in and exploring the dark in a fun way. I made sure we shut out any residue light and brought down torches and various different nightlights to shine inside!

2. Turning off the lights in the living room
This was a simple activity that ToddlerGirl really enjoyed. We explored the darkness with a number of different lighting options: by shining torches, projecting nightlights onto the ceiling, watching my (very retro!) lava lamp. See my blog post Turning off the lights for more details.

3. Looking at glow in the dark objects
We’ve been experimenting (with varying success!) with using glow in the dark paint in our art time. ToddlerGirl was fascinated that we could see our creations glowing when we turned the lights off! This tied in really well with reading the Shark in the Dark book (see below).

4. Talking about night time and the fact that it is getting darker outside
This has been a good activity during dinner, as ToddlerGirl has been able to notice that it is getting dark outside. We’ve talked about how it gets dark at night and that is when everything goes to sleep, including the little birdies outside!

5. Wrapping up warmly and going outside after teatime to look at the night sky
This was particularly exciting for ToddlerGirl, as she doesn’t normally get to be outdoors after dark. We pointed out the stars and the moon in our backgarden and enjoyed fireworks on Bonfire Night.

6. Playing in the dark
We played a few games of hide and seek in the dark with torches, with the aim of creating an interesting sensory game and also to help alleviate any fears of nighttime and the dark.

Ten ways to explore light and dark with toddlers

Here’s how we’ve been thinking about LIGHT:

1. Looking at the way light shines through different objects
We’ve done this in a few different ways: our autumn leaves sticky window collage was perfect for talking about how the sunshine was shining through the leaves and the effect this had. We’ve also shined torchlight through some transparent coloured blocks we have and other interesting objects, commenting on what effect this has on the colour of the light.

2. Creating a DIY light box
This was very easy to put together and a great tool for showing how the light shines through some things but not others. See my post on Making a homemade lightbox for more details.

3. Looking at shadows
There have been lots of ways to explore shadows: our own shadows (e.g. at the park in the late afternoon sunshine); using torches to create shadow finger puppets on our living room walls; making a shadow box with stick puppets to play with. See my post on Making shadow puppets for more.

Our light and dark booklist

Books for toddlers exploring light, dark and shadows

Alongside our activities, we’ve been reading a few different books that fit the light and dark theme, including:

1. Shark in the Dark
Nick Sharratt

This is a great fun book to read aloud. We were already familiar with Shark in the Park and this second installment carries on the theme. Timothy Pope is examining the world through his telescope and keeps on mistaking various objects for a great white shark. The humour in the text is simple enough for a toddler to understand and ToddlerGirl enjoys both books hugely. This one moves the action to the nighttime, with glow in the dark items on the pages adding an additional point of interest. We did some glow in the dark painting to go along with this book.

2. Night Monkey, Day Monkey
Julia Donaldson and Lucy Richards

Day Monkey stays awake one night to play with her friend and finds that the world after dark is a whole different place, with new sights to explore and animals to meet. Night Monkey returns the favour the next day and is amazed at the brightly coloured parrots and butterflies she sees and confused by her shadow. In the end, the monkeys overcome their different worlds by arranging to meet at sunrise and share bananas – an early breakfast for one, a late tea for the other! This is a sweet story which introduces aspects of night and day effectively for little ones, providing a good starting point to talk about the topic.

3. Wow, Said the Owl
Tim Hopgood

This is a beautiful book, exploring our colourful world through the eyes of a little owl who is usually asleep through the day and awake at night. One day, he decides to stay up to see what happens during the day and is rewarded by amazing bursts of colour: the dawn sky, a field of flowers, fluttering butterflies, a rainbow after a storm. Just as he is thinking that he is missing out, he catches sight of the night sky above him, filled with hundreds of twinkling stars, and realises how beautiful the night time is too. This is a lovely way to introduce colours and we have also been using it to talk about the differences between day time and night time for our light and dark topic.

4. The Gruffalo’s Child
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

This story follows on from the Gruffalo, introducing us to his little girl. Like so many children, she wants to head off and explore, so the Gruffalo tells her about the Big Bad Mouse to keep her close. Instead, this fires her imagination and she heads off to find it, meeting the familiar characters from The Gruffalo along the way. The end of the book provides a good introduction to the concept of shadows, as the little mouse uses his huge shadow to convince the Gruffalo’s Child that the Big Bad Mouse really does exist and is just around the corner.

We’ve had a lot of fun with this topic and focusing on the concepts deliberately has definitely helped ToddlerGirl’s understanding of light and dark, day and night.

(NB: This post contains affiliate links.)

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