How to Make a Shadow Puppet Theater
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!
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?
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
- 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.
- Pink & Green Mama's Puppet Theater
MaryLea applies her creative genius to a puppet theater made from recycled boxes.
- Portable Puppet Theater
Here is another puppet theater design made from repurposed cardboard boxes.
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!
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!