Ballyowen Meadows Special School Session 3 Explore and Research: Painting with light and shadow play

This week’s session was designed to build on the excitement and pleasure evident in the children when they played and interacted with the overhead projector and my shadow puppets and sets in the introductory sessions. It was also an opportunity for them to explore various materials, colours and textures on the projector and to play with their own shadows within this.

In preparation I put up a blackout curtain on most of the windows, and hung a sheet across the room, using it as a division between audience and performers. Behind the sheet was a table on wheels with the projector and a selection of materials and objects that would create interesting shadows and colours (see list below). We started with the projector table flat up against the screen so we could focus on “painting with light” first, though of course hand shadows played a part from the beginning.

When the children first came in, we sat in a circle to check in first.  We talked about the blackout curtain and I introduced the idea of painting with light and that some of the children would be showing while the others watched and that we would take it in turns until everyone had had a chance.

After everyone had had a go of “painting’ with the coloured acetates, objects etc, we sat around the table again and I said I wanted to show them some pictures to feed their ideas. I had a sheaf of cards featuring lots of interesting places, which I presented to the children in turn, back facing up “pick a card”. They then shared the image they got with the others.

After this I suggested they could each have a turn again at making a place on the projector where their own shadow could visit while the audience watched, and that we would take a photograph of each one. I moved the table back then allowing some space between it and the screen so that once they had created an image, they could walk or play within it. It also allowed for a larger image of course. Some of them remained completely absorbed in creating the images and it took a lot of work to encourage them to create shadows, while others excitedly danced between one and the other, clearly performing and enjoying the applause and appreciation.

The dynamic in each group was very different. The first group worked quietly and slowly. The second group worked very quickly, revellingh in what they were doing. I was intrigued that the coloured permanent markers I had provided had only been used up until now as shadow makers so I encouraged someone to make marks with one and then they were all crazy for it. We had time with this group for each to choose a coloured sheet of acetate and then to spend some time at the table drawing and collaging onto it, and then we looked at these on the projector and screen, and some of the children looked through them at the camera. They were delighted to take these back to the classroom with them as well.

In the next session we will return to some “feeding” images of places and see can we develop the collage and drawings to create more figurative places, while also remaining unconcerned if some scenes are more abstract.

We might attach them together so that their shadows might “walk” or appear from one place to another, and use this as the starting point perhaps the following week to create characters to inhabit these places. Maybe we will create these characters on their own bodies with cardboard as they enjoyed this so much with the Giant puppet from the first week. Some character making already began with one of their drawings on screen this week, which I animated a little (just moving the paper it was on) making it talk.

The 45 minutes seemed a manageable length, although we probably went over time with the second group.

At the end of the second group we managed to make one final group shadow image with everyone holding the piece they had made, and this gave a nice closure to the session.

I am sorry logistics meant that showing the images back to them on the laptop as I had planned, was not possible, but that might be a good starting point for the following week (as we will have one week’s break in between). Alternatively we might see can the school print out some of the images for them instead.

List of materials etc





wools, goat hair etc

Coloured cels / acetate






Pegs, safety pins

objects in the room that create interesting shadows

CD player


Lap top

camera connectors

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