Shadow Puppets

Art Culture Science
Time 1 hour
Age 7 & up
Group Size 4 or more
Tags China, Individual, Light,   more...

Create your own shadow puppets!

As children discover how to express themselves through art, they should learn how to use a variety of materials and media such as crayons, chalk, paint, clay, various kinds of papers, textiles, yarns, etc. It is important for them to also understand how to use these materials to produce different visual effects. Shadow puppets offer children an opportunity to not only develop this knowledge, but also to create artwork in a variety of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional media, to use appropriate vocabulary related to methods, materials and techniques, and to take care of materials and tools and to use them safely.


Set up several “shadow stations” around the room, with clamp lamps attached to chairs, facing the wall, or children in pairs with a flashlight for each pair. Also, set up your “shadow stage” (See the instructions for the Guess My Shadow activity), with a white sheet as the screen and a light source shining behind it.

Make a puppet of your own ahead of time to show to the students during the “Make it Click” discussion. Try to make a puppet that has a head, arms and/or legs that move. You can do this by cutting out your figure (let’s say it’s a soccer player) from a piece of oak tag, then cutting its arms and/or legs off. Using a hole punch, you should then punch holes in the top part of the legs and arms, and on the hip and shoulder section of the body. You can then reattach the arms and legs to the body with the brass fasteners, and now you have a shadow puppet that you can arrange in different poses! The last step is to tape a craft stick or straw to the center of your puppet. It works best if the stick is pointing out, instead of down (see the picture above). You can tape additional sticks or straws to the moveable parts (arms, legs, etc.) so that you have more control over your puppet.

Shadow Puppets

Suggested Materials

  • Oak tag, construction paper or other thick paper
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Hole puncher
  • 1/2″ brass fasteners (100)
  • Straws or craft sticks (100)
  • Flashlights, clamp lamps or an overhead projector

Make it Matter

Opening Discussion

If you have done it, refer to the Guess My Shadow activity, and ask children if there were other objects they might have tried to make shadows with. Make a list of the objects that they name. Or, ask your students if they have ever noticed the shadow of something on a wall or on the ground before. Could they tell what it was? Have they ever noticed their own shadows on the ground?

The Challenge

Make a shadow puppet of a person, animal or character from a story that you like…or make up your own puppet character!


Make it Happen

Doing the Activity

  1. Children can work individually or in pairs for this activity.
  2. Introduce the challenge to your students—they will be making a shadow puppet of a favorite person, animal or character from a story.
  3. To construct their shadow puppets, children can either draw their character on the thick paper and cut it out, print out a picture from a web site, trace an image from a book, etc. The puppets should be 6-10 inches high or wide.

Make it Click

Let’s Talk About It

After 10–20 minutes, when most children have begun cutting out their puppets and started testing their shadows, bring them together to talk about what they’ve done so far. Is it easy or hard to create a puppet that makes a good shadow? Can they make any changes to their puppets to make better shadows? Through this discussion, lead students to thinking about ways that they can make cutouts in their puppets that will make the shadow more interesting (ex. cutting holes for eyes, an open smile with teeth showing, an athlete’s number in the middle of the puppet, spots on the back of a giraffe, etc.); also, show them the puppet that you made, and introduce the option of making moveable parts on their puppets. Offer them the hole punches and brass fasteners as tools to help make this possible.


Make it Better

Build On What They Talked About

Send them back to complete their puppets. As a wrap-up discussion, have volunteers show off their puppets to their classmates, and tell the group that next time they will team up to create a shadow puppet play.


  • Make sure that each child or team is testing their puppets along the way at the shadow stations—these puppets need to create distinct shadows in order to be successful.
  • Make sure that each child or team is satisfied with their puppets. If some are not and would like to make another, give them a chance to do so before moving on to the shadow puppet play.
  • Take this activity a step further by introducing children to Chinese shadow puppets. Chinese shadow puppets are traditionally made of flat pieces of transparent leather carved into shapes of people, animals and scenery. The puppeteers hold the shadow puppets in front of a lamp. The light of the lamp casts the puppets’ shadow on a screen, thus the Chinese name Pi Ying Xi, which means “leather shadow opera”. Written records trace the first shadow puppets back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). Emperor Han Wendi lost his favorite concubine, Madame Li. His sorrow was comforted by a shadow show featuring the likeness of Madame Li, which was an idea by Shao Weng, a Taoist priest. By the time of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Chinese shadow puppets had reached their maturity along with the flourishing of Chinese classic literature and drama. Dyed leather was used to replace paper in making puppets. According to Chinese sources, the spread of the shadow puppets outside of China dates back to the Mongol rule of China, the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Genghis Khan enjoyed watching shadow puppet shows and sent shadow puppet troupes out to the many parts of his vast empire to entertain his army. At the time, the Mongol Empire spread all the way across Central Asia to Persia, Turkey, Arabia and Egypt, and to South and Southeast Asia. Interestingly, the Mongols never conquered Japan, and indeed, there is no shadow puppet tradition in Japan. For more information, search the Internet for “Chinese Shadow Puppets”.
  • Try the Shadow Puppet Play activity and put those puppets to work!
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