How to Make a Shadow Puppet Theater

Updated on January 23, 2017

Making shadow puppets with your hands has been a pastime since the earliest of times as men sat around an open fire. Dress it up a bit by designing a small puppet theater and cardboard shadow puppets. Then dim the lights and treat your family and friends to some entertaining performances.

Making a shadow puppet theater is an inexpensive family time activity that will build memories. It could also be used to narrate back something read for homeschool or for a book report presentation.

Items You'll Need

All you need is:

  • A cardboard box (a cereal box works very well),
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Thin white paper or wax paper
  • Either straws, craft sticks, or skewers
  • A desk lamp works well for the light source.
  • Oh, and you need some imagination because there are stories to be told!

Shadow Puppet Theater

This is my daughter, soon to be 10 years old, posing with her newly created shadow puppets and puppet theater. This craft was so easy to make! We started with a cereal box, rescued from the recycling pile.


  • Tape the box up well so that it's sturdy and closed.
  • Then trace about 1 - 1 1/2 inches away from the edges of the large faces of the box. Do this on both sides. These are your marking lines.
  • Next cut out the large rectangles you just drew. We used a utility knife for this. Wait! Save the cardboard you just cut away! You can use that for making puppets.
  • If you need to add more tape to the inside of the box to make it more sturdy, go ahead and do that now.
  • Find a sheet of fairly thin white or light colored paper. Tracing paper or wax paper would work well too. We just used plain old copy paper.
  • Tape that over the hole on one side only. That side with the paper faces your audience. The other side is where you, the puppetmaster will work your magic.

If you want to decorate your puppet theater, you can. But remember, it will be dark as you give your show, so the audience really won't see a lot of what you design on it. So keep it simple. The image to the right is an example of a possible border around your theater. Click it to find the original image.

Below are the puppets -- simply shapes cut from cardboard with sticks taped on. We used bamboo skewers, but you can use craft sticks or straws as well. To make your puppets more lifelike, cut out legs, jaws, or arms separately from the body parts and attach them with paper fasteners (brads). Be sure to attach a stick on each part so you can move both pieces. Sprite made her shark have a hinged mouth! Very scary!

Setting It up and Giving a Shadow Puppet Show

Now you've made your puppet theater and your puppets. All you need now is a darkened room, a lamp, and an audience to watch your brilliant performances!

Set up your room like this with the audience on one side of the theater and the lamp on the other. You need to be between the lamp and the theater but not blocking the light, of course!

Now here is my daughter Sprite testing the set up.

It works! So now, on with the show!!

Printable Shadow Puppet Templates

Really, any shaped outline will do, so visit your favorite coloring page websites and find some nice outlines of animals, people, or objects. Here are some of my favorites: Edupics and Coloring Castle.

To make hinged puppets, cut the legs (or other parts) separately, leaving room for overlap on both sides. Then use paper fasteners (brads) to affix them.

Jack and the Beanstalk Shadow Puppet Show

This is amazingly realistic. You tend to forget that this action is created with shadow puppets. Watch this for inspiration and show your children that this craft is actually an art form!

How About You?

What is your experience with making shadow puppets?

See results

Hand Shadows

Hand Shadows and More Hand Shadows (Dover Children's Activity Books)
Hand Shadows and More Hand Shadows (Dover Children's Activity Books)

I had this book as a child and spent a lot of boring evenings trying to mold my hands into the shapes indicated.


Others Who've Played with Shadow Puppets

Making Shadow Puppets

This video does give some good tips. I like his method of forming a hinge for the sticks on the puppets.

Worlds of Shadows - Teaching with Shadow Puppetry

This book is so interesting! Even if you don't buy it (it's quite expensive), please go to Google Books and check out the preview! You're sure to get some great ideas for making shadow puppets! I did.

Academic Connections

the science of light and shadow

pioneer lifestyles

here is a lined notebooking page about shadow puppets

A Pioneer Sampler - a great living book

This book is actually the inspiration for our making a shadow puppet theater! In the book, the Robertsons spend a cold winter's evening around the fire watching to Granny cast shadows on the wall as she tells a silly story about hobgoblins.

This is such a wonderful way to learn about the American pioneers. The book centers around the Robertsons, a backwoods family of nine. Engaging stories about their lives teach about the lifestyle of our American forefathers and mothers. Interspersed among the stories are factual pages with beautiful line drawings and activity suggestions. A fascinating book!

A Pioneer Sampler: The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840
A Pioneer Sampler: The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840

Look at this book through Google Books for a full preview! Starting on p. 190 is the information about pioneers using shadow puppets for entertainment.


Thanks for visiting. I hope that your puppet theater is a grand success!


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    • profile image

      Inventors of Tomorrow series 12 months ago

      Thank you for this post! Lots of great ideas. We used this as an arts extension to pair with all our day's experiments for a STEM enrichment class on light and shadows:

    • profile image

      fcinternetmarketing 4 years ago

      Fantastic lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      hahaha. love this! so fun.

    • tfsherman lm profile image

      tfsherman lm 4 years ago

      What a beautiful lens and a great resource for me! Thanks, I really needed this info and am very happy to find you. I'm adding you to my cat storytime lens a la Boris and the Wrong Shadow.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Doesn't get much better than this when it comes to Squidoo lenses: personal story, step by step instruction, great concept. Facebook liked and pinned to my board :Fun for Kids and Adults who Think like Kids - and blessings of course. Great mothering, homeschooling or not.

    • profile image

      sheezie77 5 years ago

      Fantastic lens, nicely done! Squidlike

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      WANTED: Someone to represent SHADOW PUPPETRY on our new social network for puppeteers and puppet makers.

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 5 years ago

      This is a great idea, I thought shadow puppets were a lost art, of course this one is with cutouts and not hand signals.

    • profile image

      KarenCookieJar 6 years ago

      These look fantastic!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Just stopping by to let you know that I have featured your project on Fun Family Crafts! You can see it here

      If you have other kid friendly crafts, I'd love it if you would submit them :) If you would like to display a featured button on your site, you can grab one from the right side bar of your post above.

    • profile image

      Sanam 6 years ago

      What a cute lens

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 6 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Very nice lens and cute project. I may have to try something like it in one of my art classes this year. thanks

    • eclecticeducati1 profile image

      eclecticeducati1 6 years ago

      How cute! Blessed by a Squid Angel.

    • TeacherRenee profile image

      TeacherRenee 6 years ago

      You really go beyond the expected with this lens -- fantastic!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      I've always loved making hand shadow puppets - this looks like a lot of fun, as well!

    • profile image

      moonlitta 6 years ago

      Another wonderfully creative idea, thank you Jimmie:) Sending also love to your daughter who I got used to seeing on your pages...:)Angel blessed!

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

      This brings back a few memories! Nice to know somebody still makes these!

    • Stacy Birch profile image

      Stacy Birch 6 years ago

      This is a truly cute lens, good work.

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 6 years ago from Chicago area

      This looks so fun! My kids would probably like to create a Simpsons puppet theatre as this point ;) Your daughter's so cute. Nice work.

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 6 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Great instructions and the photos are terrific!

    • Philippians468 profile image

      Philippians468 6 years ago

      i love the idea of using scrap materials to make a 'stage' for the puppets! lovely lens! cheers

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      I think children would love to do this, and you have explained it all very clearly.Here's a Cupid Kiss from a Squid Angel for Valentine's Day

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      I love this It looks like a lot of fun now I need is some kids. :) Really charming.

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Delightful. Blessed by a squid angel.

    • sheilamarie78 profile image

      sheilamarie78 7 years ago

      I love this lens! I've loved puppets for most of my life and have created many with my own kids and in the classroom. What is especially nice about your lens is the way you've included pictures of your daughter doing the activities.

      Great job!

    • emmaklarkins profile image

      emmaklarkins 7 years ago

      Great idea, and amazing pictures! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel!

    • PatrioticTees profile image

      PatrioticTees 7 years ago

      So cute, great idea for a lens. I will try this one out!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Fantastic! Such a fun idea. I can see kids being amused for hours with these.

    • TriviaChamp profile image

      TriviaChamp 7 years ago

      What an awesome activity for the kids. I'm looking forward to getting them started. Kudos on a great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      My son's Speech therapist made one to use in his practice to help draw language from the kids, we made one for our sons as soon as we came home! Love it!!!!! I am also going to use it in a college class I'm taking where we need to develop a classroom curriculum for little kids. Thanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      my kids are going to love it!!!

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 8 years ago

      This is a very smart craft to make and in case I get back to work in schools, I will pick the idea and apply with the kids as after school interesting activity!

      Squidangel blessings to Shadow Puppet Theater!

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

      Shadow puppets look like great fun!

    • andreaberrios lm profile image

      andreaberrios lm 8 years ago

      Thank you so much for this! My kids are going to love this! Great job here! 5*

    • momto4 lm profile image

      momto4 lm 8 years ago

      What a great idea for and inexpensive way to entertain kids. My kids are 6, 4, 3, and 1 so they are just old enough (except the 1yr old) to enjoy this. Especially my six year old. He loves making things! Great lens!

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      Fantastic. We used this one to incorporate into our Jack and the Beanstalk tales. Great idea.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      i think this is coo, and im like 12 i love this idea thanx!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Very creative. Many thanks for the great idea. My daughter loved it!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens as always - glad to say I can finally return the favor: blessed by a squidangel :)

    • profile image

      gods_grace_notes 8 years ago

      What a fun project! You always do such a great job with showing us how to create all of these great ideas. Yet another great lens, Jimmie!


      : )

    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 8 years ago

      What a wonderful share! So creative and encourages children to use their imagination. Will remember this one when I have little grandkiddies to entertain :)

    • nightbear lm profile image

      nightbear lm 8 years ago

      How innovative, I love the creativity and imagination usage for the kids. Great lens, it is very useful and beautiful.

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 8 years ago from England

      Sprite, well done on keeping Mum busy for a while! It looks like you had a really good time with this :)

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 8 years ago from Royalton

      We have always used an old sheet but I love the idea of using a cereal box for the Shadow Box Puppet Theatre. Thank you so much for sharing and for joining the Unit Studies: Fun, Creative Hands-On Leaning Group.

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      Wonderful! I just know my kids will love this:)