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),
- 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.
- Martha Stewart's Shadow Puppets
Gorgeous shadow puppet templates with an underwater theme -- mermaid, shark, seahorse, fish, and a crab. For a muskox and a polar bear try this link.
Jamboree shares a free template for enacting the Billy Goat's Gruff story.
- Tilo the Mermaid
A beautiful hinged puppet template. Directions are here.
- PaperDali Historic Paperdolls
Paper Dali has a long list of printables. Try these for narrating back your history lessons!
- Hula Dancer
Complete with hinged legs and arms!
- The Rowdy Pea
Their shadow puppet theater gets frequent use. In this blog entry, the writer shares a fun guessing game, using their shadow puppet theater.
- Portable Puppet Theater
Here is another puppet theater design made from repurposed cardboard boxes.
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.
the science of light and shadow
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!
Thanks for visiting. I hope that your puppet theater is a grand success!
How About You?
RoadMonkey on August 25, 2019:
Great idea for fun and education for children.
Christal on July 11, 2018:
What is the secret code
Inventors of Tomorrow series on January 10, 2017:
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: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2017/01/09/light-a...
fcinternetmarketing on July 19, 2013:
anonymous on March 06, 2013:
hahaha. love this! so fun.
tfsherman lm on March 03, 2013:
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.
Rose Jones on September 03, 2012:
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.
sheezie77 on June 28, 2012:
Fantastic lens, nicely done! Squidlike
anonymous on June 23, 2012:
WANTED: Someone to represent SHADOW PUPPETRY on our new social network for puppeteers and puppet makers. http://www.puppetweb.com
jimmyworldstar on February 06, 2012:
This is a great idea, I thought shadow puppets were a lost art, of course this one is with cutouts and not hand signals.
KarenCookieJar on November 23, 2011:
These look fantastic!
anonymous on October 14, 2011:
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.
Sanam on October 04, 2011:
What a cute lens
Loraine Brummer from Hartington, Nebraska on August 07, 2011:
Very nice lens and cute project. I may have to try something like it in one of my art classes this year. thanks
eclecticeducati1 on July 31, 2011:
How cute! Blessed by a Squid Angel.
TeacherRenee on July 17, 2011:
You really go beyond the expected with this lens -- fantastic!
JoshK47 on June 22, 2011:
I've always loved making hand shadow puppets - this looks like a lot of fun, as well!
moonlitta on June 14, 2011:
Another wonderfully creative idea, thank you Jimmie:) Sending also love to your daughter who I got used to seeing on your pages...:)Angel blessed!
SandyPeaks on June 10, 2011:
This brings back a few memories! Nice to know somebody still makes these!
Stacy Birch on May 12, 2011:
This is a truly cute lens, good work.
Mary from Chicago area on May 11, 2011:
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.
Shelly Sellers from Midwest U.S.A. on May 09, 2011:
Great instructions and the photos are terrific!
Philippians468 on April 14, 2011:
i love the idea of using scrap materials to make a 'stage' for the puppets! lovely lens! cheers
Diana Grant from United Kingdom on February 14, 2011:
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
Mona from Iowa on January 04, 2011:
I love this It looks like a lot of fun now I need is some kids. :) Really charming.
Liz Mackay from United Kingdom on December 09, 2010:
Delightful. Blessed by a squid angel.
Sheilamarie from British Columbia on November 18, 2010:
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.
emmaklarkins on October 19, 2010:
Great idea, and amazing pictures! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel!
PatrioticTees on October 13, 2010:
So cute, great idea for a lens. I will try this one out!
Indigo Janson from UK on September 14, 2010:
Fantastic! Such a fun idea. I can see kids being amused for hours with these.
TriviaChamp on September 13, 2010:
What an awesome activity for the kids. I'm looking forward to getting them started. Kudos on a great lens.
anonymous on August 10, 2010:
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
anonymous on March 18, 2010:
my kids are going to love it!!!
justholidays on January 13, 2010:
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 on December 04, 2009:
Shadow puppets look like great fun!
andreaberrios lm on September 30, 2009:
Thank you so much for this! My kids are going to love this! Great job here! 5*
momto4 lm on September 24, 2009:
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!
anonymous on June 21, 2009:
Fantastic. We used this one to incorporate into our Jack and the Beanstalk tales. Great idea.
anonymous on June 08, 2009:
i think this is coo, and im like 12 i love this idea thanx!!!
anonymous on May 22, 2009:
Very creative. Many thanks for the great idea. My daughter loved it!
religions7 on April 06, 2009:
Great lens as always - glad to say I can finally return the favor: blessed by a squidangel :)
gods_grace_notes on March 22, 2009:
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 on March 15, 2009:
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 on February 23, 2009:
How innovative, I love the creativity and imagination usage for the kids. Great lens, it is very useful and beautiful.
Debbie from England on February 21, 2009:
Sprite, well done on keeping Mum busy for a while! It looks like you had a really good time with this :)
Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on February 21, 2009:
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.
anonymous on February 21, 2009:
Wonderful! I just know my kids will love this:)