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This question was inspired by At What age does a baby recognize themself in a mirror? and the memory it brought up for me of the day we were on a family "hike" at a local botanical garden and my daughter (age two?) looked down and started flapping her arms. You could see that she was testing if the gray thing at her feet would also flap and when it did, she giggled with glee and started "running" in that cute almost falling way kids do while flapping her arms and giggling at the fact that her shadow was also flapping away.

Obviously my daughter was walking at this point, but I have video of her discovering her reflection at an age when she was "almost" walking but not quite. I wondered if the discovery generally happens in the same range of time or if they are two distinct "discoveries" in terms of cognitive development.

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Along the same lines, when a child recognizes an echo to be their own. My parents were fortunate enough to have caught me on tape when I discovered my own echo (and the subsequent loud shouts and laughter). – Doc Feb 4 '14 at 16:06
This is intriguing... I don't remember the answer for my own daughter. It is very interesting as she asks questions in an effort to discover the universe around her (sometimes in the not-so-right setting), but I don't recall the shadow or mirror. :) – Jeremy Miller Feb 6 '14 at 7:40

My "educated" guess (based on experience) is that a child will generally recognize their shadow is their own during the younger half of age three (36-42 months) My son is almost four, and we have been playing "shadow games" since the summer, when we traced our shadows with chalk in the driveway. On the other hand, my almost two year old doesn't quite grasp it yet. He is aware of the cause and effect though, so he's well on his way. That's the closest I can narrow it to. I hope that helps!

Oh,and by the way, according to my baby journal, my little one was able to communicate that he recognized his reflection at age 17 months. ( Me: who's that? Baby: "baby! " and points to self. It changed to "Me" at age 21 mos.) although, it's arguable that that's not exactly the same as when he was able to recognize himself. How would one know though without reliable communication, which doesn't come until later?

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Some external references would be nice for this answer. What is your "educated guess" based on? – Dariusz Feb 10 '14 at 10:41
@Dariusz : it's based on having two kids at the age where this milestone is reached. The OP couldn't remember, but I can because it just happened for my child, and is close to happening for my other one. – Jax Feb 10 '14 at 12:22

There is a great difference between "recognize" and "understand". Recognizing one's shadow can happen as early as few months old, as this other answer implies. Then at later age, kids can start playing with their shadows, and other people shadows they see.

However, the real question should be: "when children actually understand the concept of shadows?" and my research brought up surprising results. To sum this up, the answer I found is that the concept of shadows is being truly comprehended only during one's adolescence (!), meaning somewhere around the age of 10-15.

The research I found (PDF) is using several books, here are the relevant quotes:

Three years old

For example, three-year-olds often use their intelligence to reason that their shadows go inside themselves when they cannot see them

Five years old

Five-year-olds often believe their shadows are under their bed or covers at night

(Source for both the above: DeVries, 1986; Piaget, 1929/1960)

Nine years old

Even 9-year-olds do not believe that shadows are transitory. Rather, they are convinced that unseen shadows are still there somewhere

(Source: DeVries, 1986)

And finally:

...children construct their knowledge about shadows over a rather long period from age two through adolescence. Correct ideas about shadows are the result of logical deductions that allow the child to correct erroneous ideas

(emphasis mine)

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My son is 5 months and he just recognized his shadow on the wall... When he seen it he flapped his arm up and down to see if it would move with him again then he did it again and then he laughed...

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