Shadow Puppets

Shadow puppet theater is an ancient artform that originated in Asia in the 1st millennium BCE. Shadow plays spread throughout Europe by the end of the seventeenth century. They became especially popular in Italy, Germany, France and England, and later made their way to America. Eliza Jumel would have surely seen a shadow puppet play on one of her trips to France, or perhaps at a theater in New York city. Shadow puppetry is a similar artform to silhouette portraiture.

Suggested Grade/Age level:

This project can be made by children ages 6-11

Curriculum Connections:

Shadow puppets can also work for Language Arts. For instance, the children can make puppets to go along with a classic play they are studying, or they can write their own short stories for original plays.

Suggested Materials:

  • Cardboard from cereal or cracker boxes (or thick card stock)
  • Semi-transparent white paper such as printer paper
  • Tape
  • Flashlight or other light source
  • Scissors
  • Bendable straws (or skewers + tape or pipe cleaner or wire)
  • Optional: glue stick construction paper, tissue paper, plastic, permanent markers. You may ask an adult to help you with details using a hobby knife.

Activity Instructions:

  1. Print out your templates and then glue them to the cardboard from your cracker box or cardstock. You can also draw directly onto the cardboard or cardstock.
  2. Cut shapes out using scissors. (Get a grownup to help you with a hobby knife for intricate details.) 
  3. Cut out legs and arms separately for jointed puppets. 
  4. Make holes with a small hole punch for arms, legs, and bodies. Then join them together with brass fasteners. If you do not have a hole punch, ask a grownup to help you make holes with a hobby knife or a skewer. 
  5. Attach controllers to the puppets. The easiest way is to use a bendy straw. Snip it to the right size and tape it to your puppet. To make a better controller use skewers and masking tape. Attach a piece of tape to the tip of a skewer and double it over on itself so that there is a flap at the end. Use a second piece of tape to attach the flap to the back of the puppet and trim off excess. If you don’t have skewers or straws, you can substitute pipe cleaners or wire. (I always snip the point off my skewers with a nail clipper before I use it as a controller.)
  6. If you would like to make a colorful shadow puppet, grab plastic food containers, and permanent markers. Trace your drawing onto the plastic and cut it out with scissors. Use clear tape to attach your controller. You can also use colorful tissue paper to make colorful props and puppet details.

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