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How To Make Shadow Puppets!

Updated on September 29, 2014
Shadow of Eagle Puppet during our shadow puppet play
Shadow of Eagle Puppet during our shadow puppet play | Source

How To Put On A Shadow Puppet Play!

Shadow puppets can be so much fun for kids! Our homeschool co-op put on a shadow puppet play for our end-of-the-school-year program a couple of years ago. We had such a great time!

On this page, I'll explain with illustrated step by step directions how you can make your own shadow puppets, set up your stage, and put on a play for your friends and family or maybe your school, scouting troop, or church!

Here's what we did.

1, First the kids in our homeschool co-op selected a story to act out. The story we selected had birds and other animals in it. The birds and other animals were having an argument and decided to settle it with a game. Our puppet show story was based on a book that we'd read earlier in the year about a Native American tradition.

2. After deciding upon the story we would use, each child designed a puppet for one of the characters in the play. The birds we made had wings that could flap, and most of the other animals had mouths that could open and close. A few animals also had a movable tail. In addition, there was a ball puppet, and two goal posts puppets. We even had tiny little rackets that could be put on and taken off the puppets during the performance, as needed!



What you need to make your own shadow puppets

Collect the following materials to use for your shadow puppets and the stage

For the Puppets

posterboard

clear contact paper

scissors

pencil

thick, yet bendable, wire

duct tape

wire clippers

needle nose pliers

hot glue gun and glue sticks

hobby knife

brad clips - if you want your puppet to have 1 or more movable parts

For the Stage

a white sheet (to project the shadows on)

one or two bright lights

thumb tacks or push pins

A place to attach the sheet - such as a corner of a room or a frame of some sort

Stanley 89-870 8.5-Inch Long Nose Plier with Cutter
Stanley 89-870 8.5-Inch Long Nose Plier with Cutter

Needle Nose Pliers are great for bending the wire for your puppets!

 
Duck Brand 392873 White Color Duct Tape, 1.88-Inch by 20 Yards, Single Roll
Duck Brand 392873 White Color Duct Tape, 1.88-Inch by 20 Yards, Single Roll

Use a white or light gray duct tape so it doesn't show through the cardboard.

 
Adhesive Technologies Two-Temp Glue Gun
Adhesive Technologies Two-Temp Glue Gun

A glue gun is useful for attaching the wire to the back of your puppets.

 

Some of the things you'll need for making shadow puppets

Xacto X5282 Basic Knife Set
Xacto X5282 Basic Knife Set

An xacto knife is much easier to use than scissors for cutting out eye holes. It's also an excellent tool for creating a small hole in the puppet where you'll attach a moveable part.

 

Tip 1 On Making Shadow Puppets

Before you begin to create your puppets, why not select a favorite book or write a story to act out? That will give you an idea as to what types of puppets you need, and what you need them to be able to do!

Will this be your first time making shadow puppets?

See results
Fox puppet
Fox puppet | Source
Fox Puppet - before the movable mouth was attached with a brad clip.
Fox Puppet - before the movable mouth was attached with a brad clip. | Source
Movable wing for Eagle puppet
Movable wing for Eagle puppet | Source

How to create your shadow puppets

Step by step instructions

1. Draw the puppet's outline.

Draw the outline of your puppet on a piece of posterboard. Make your puppet large, so it can easily be seen from a distance! All you really need is the basic outline of your puppet. There's no need to draw a lot of details inside your puppet since those details won't be seen by the audience anyway, but you can include a hole for an eye (or eyes) and other things like that, if you'd like.

2. Create movable parts, if desired.

If you'd like for your puppet to have a movable part, such as a mouth that opens and closes, wings that flaps, or a tail that wags, you'll need to draw, and cut out, that part separately, and later attach it with a brad clip. I recommend only creating one movable part per puppet, at least for the first several puppets you make. Having several movable parts on a single puppet makes it harder to maneuver the puppet and takes more skill.

Eagle holding removable racket. During part of the play, the characters needed to be holding rackets, so we attached the rackets with a small ball of tape rolled sticky side out.
Eagle holding removable racket. During part of the play, the characters needed to be holding rackets, so we attached the rackets with a small ball of tape rolled sticky side out. | Source
Shadow made by Eagle puppet during the performance
Shadow made by Eagle puppet during the performance | Source

3. Cut out your shadow puppet.

4. Give your puppet a double layer of poster board.

Place your shadow puppet on top of another piece of poster board. Draw around it and cut that out too. Then glue the two together. This not only makes a studier puppet that will last longer, it also makes it easier to keep all parts of the puppet touching the sheet during the performance, and allows less light to shine though, thus creating a darker shadow.

5. Cover both sides of your puppet (and any small parts too) with clear contact paper.

6. Attach any movable parts.

Use the hobby knife (with adult supervision!) to make a tiny hole in the puppet, and another one in the movable part, then connect them with a brad clip. Make sure the hole is large enough to allow the brad clip to to turn easily.

7. Cut and bend the wires.

Cut a piece of wire about a foot and a half long. Use the needle nose pliers to bend the end of the wire into a curved hook, and then bend the curved hook so that it's perpendicular to the rest of the wire.



First, bend the wire into a small hook.




Second, bend the small hook perpendicular to the rest of the wire.

8. Attach the wires.

Hot glue the curved and bent hook to the back of the puppet. After the glue has hardened, cover it with duct tape to hold the wire in place even more securely.

If your puppet has a movable part, you'll need to also attach a curved, bent wire to the movable part. (Very small movable parts often don't work for this reason. They must be big enough to allow room for the wire!)

Notice that both the body of the puppet, plus his movable mouth, have wires attached.
Notice that both the body of the puppet, plus his movable mouth, have wires attached. | Source

9. Make a handle.

Make a handle at the place where your hand will hold the puppet by wrapping duct tape around the wire. You can also bend the wire some (as shown below), if it makes it easier to manage the puppet.

10. Now practice working your puppet some!

Get use to the motions needed to move your puppet's mouth, tail, etc. Sometimes it's necessarily to remove the wires and reposition them in a new way in order to get the best control of your puppet.

Note: The shadow puppets shown here were all made by children in our homeschool co-op!

Set Up The Shadow Puppet Stage!

1.The Support.

Our homeschool group had two large movable pegboards on stands that we were able to stretch a sheet between for our stage. It worked perfectly for our needs!

If you happen to have a puppet stage, that works too - just cover the opening with a small sheet or other piece of white fabric.

We've also just stretched a sheet across a corner of a room before, securing it on each wall with a few pushpins.

2. The Sheet.

No matter what you use to support the sheet, you want the sheet or fabric to be thick enough that the puppeteers won't be seen, but thin enough that the puppets will!

Also, try to pull the sheet fairly taunt. The puppets won't show up as well if there are lots of wrinkles and folds in the fabric.

3. The Light.

Set up a light on the same side of the sheet that the puppeteers will stand. If possible, place the light between the puppets and the puppeteers so that only the puppets will make shadows on the sheet. You may find that two lights, both behind the sheet but one each side of the stage, may produce better shadows.

Tip 2: Working the Puppets

For best visibility, the puppets should actually just barely touch the sheet during the play. (Any part not touching might not be visible to the audience.)

If you want a puppet to go "off stage," just pull your puppet away from the sheet a few inches.

The kids in our homeschool co-op rehearsed their shadow puppet play for several days prior to putting it on during the end-of-the-year program.
The kids in our homeschool co-op rehearsed their shadow puppet play for several days prior to putting it on during the end-of-the-year program. | Source

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

In the photo above, the children are rehearsing their play. The sheet is stretched between two large wooden pegboard structures that we had in the room. At the moment, the sheet is not really pulled taunt enough.

As they rehearsed, one of the homeschool moms teaching them stood on the other side of the sheet from the kids, watching their rehearsal and offering tips, such as "Remember to make your puppets lightly touch the sheet, or they won't be visible to the audience!"

The Performance

If you want to impress your audience, rehearse your puppet show several times following your script, before you invite your audience to watch! When saying your lines, remember to speak extra loudly, as your voice must travel through the sheet! If you'd like, have a narrator stand on the same side of the sheet as the audience, and tell the story as the puppets act it out.

A few scenes from our shadow puppet play

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Eagle Flying Between Two Goal Postsa scene from the performanceBird Shadow PuppetEagle Shadow PuppetRacket - used on puppets during part of the show
Eagle Flying Between Two Goal Posts
Eagle Flying Between Two Goal Posts
a scene from the performance
a scene from the performance
Bird Shadow Puppet
Bird Shadow Puppet
Eagle Shadow Puppet
Eagle Shadow Puppet
Racket - used on puppets during part of the show
Racket - used on puppets during part of the show

Remember to come out from behind the stage and take your bow! - The youth are holding their shadow puppets.

Puppets, from left to right: Boar, Eagle, Alligator, Bat, Crane.

(Note: There were several others children and puppets in our performance too.)

Want to make more complicated puppets?

The youth in our co-op ranged in age from first grade up to fifth grade at the time they did their shadow puppet performance, and this was their first exposure to making shadow puppets, so we opted to "keep it simple."

If you have older youth, or if your youth have already had some practice with shadow puppets, you may like to try some more complicated puppets. You can see some in the youtube videos below!

Shadow Puppet Tutorial

How to make the screen and move the puppets

© 2009 JanieceTobey

Thanks for visiting my Shadow Puppets site!Comments? Questions? You don't have to be a member of Squidoo to leave a comment here!

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    • ArtByLinda profile image

      Linda Hoxie 3 years ago from Idaho

      This is a very cool lens, love shadow puppets. I remember me and my mom making them as a kid. Great lens!

    • BigsteveC profile image

      BigsteveC 4 years ago

      hey janiece - i was checking out another of your lenses and i saw this one and had to stop by - i've already sent it off to my sister in law who has young kids and i'll also send it to one of my fellow teachers at the local middle school - she's the art teacher and is always looking for fun projects for the kids - it also brings back memories long forgotten of some puppet shows i did as a kid - we weren't very professional but we sure had a lot of fun - on another note - his current problems notwithstanding - this is how kevin clash got started as a puppeteer - he's the elmo creator on sesame street

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      it is very informative....... some more illustration of fixing the rods.

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 4 years ago

      As a former children's librarian, I love all kinds of puppets. These are truly splendid ones that kids can make themselves. Super. Just super.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks for a great lens on shadow puppets. I've always liked this type of theatre, and I taught a few sessions of shadow puppet theatre once at a summer camp. It was tons of fun! Maybe I'll put up a lens about it sometime!

    • JuneNash profile image

      June Nash 5 years ago

      Such a wonderful idea! Great lens!

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 5 years ago from California

      I had done some research on Shadow Puppets for an idea I had, and reading this and watching how the kids did it was perfect. Shadow Puppets look like a fun way to share a story as evidenced by the smiling cast members in your photo. *Blessed*

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 5 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      I love it! I'm going to suggest this as something my boyfriend and I can do with his niece and nephew. What a creative idea and a wonderful lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wow! This is very creative indeed!

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont

      Stopping back to enjoy this creative shadow puppet craft lens once again.

    • mariaamoroso profile image

      irenemaria 5 years ago from Sweden

      I just love this lens. Personal with photos and guidance for us to try. Blessings!

    • profile image

      Terrie_Schultz 5 years ago

      Very cool!

    • bolsen19 profile image

      bolsen19 5 years ago

      Sounds like such a fun idea.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 5 years ago from New Zealand

      Great lens on how to make shadow puppets. Blessed. Added to By Kids 4 Kids.

    • Stacy Birch profile image

      Stacy Birch 5 years ago

      Nice job on the lens, great ideas.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I remembered as a child, we had so much fun inventing some of the stories.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      Fabulous! I love shadow puppets! They are so much fun to make and play.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      This looks like so much fun. Great instructions.

    • tiff0315 profile image

      tiff0315 6 years ago

      My kids would absolutely love this! Thanks for the ideas

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is such a funny activity for kids. I love the idea and the kids look like they are having fun too.

    • ArtByLinda profile image

      Linda Hoxie 6 years ago from Idaho

      Oh what great fun for kids and adults alike. We used to love to make hand shadow animals on the wall of our tent when we were camping. Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I am simply enchanted with your shadow puppets and love the behind the scenes look at your crew! Great step by step for amazing and creative fun!

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 6 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      This is incredible! We did shadow puppets on a much smaller scale.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I liked the article on the shadow play. It gives me another idea on how to do them. I have some acrylic vinyl that I want to try ouut as well (smaller stage - raised up).

    • profile image

      How2BooksandVideos 7 years ago

      I always like the finger shadow puppets we made as kids--can you show some of those sometime?

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      this is the best idea ever for shadow puppets .

      mMy students do it every friday at the end of the day.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 7 years ago from Vermont

      Wonderfully creative play ideas - shadow puppets are my new favorite paper toy!

    • WiseWoman1 profile image

      WiseWoman1 7 years ago

      This is one of the best lenses I have seen. Its such a great idea to make shadow puppets and you give all the instructions so clearly. Well done!

    • daoine lm profile image

      daoine lm 7 years ago

      Oh what fun! I made one of these when I was a child - I will definitely have to give it another go.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I just love puppets and puppet shows. This is a wonderful educational lens showing How To Make Shadow Puppets!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Very nice! We did have a lot of fun with that:) Thanks for sharing

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is a very creative way to engage kids and get them to work together. I really like the detailed, step-by-step approach you took and used pictures to make it even easier to understand...very well done!

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 7 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      Excellent how with great picture and text directions. Totally not what I expected.

    • profile image

      bdkz 7 years ago

      Very informative lens!

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 7 years ago from Massachusetts

      I haven't done this since I was a kid. Mine were nowhere near this sophisticated though. Very cool!

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 7 years ago from Western Mass

      cool! syna will love this

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 7 years ago from USA

      how cute is this? wonderful!

    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 7 years ago

      OMG goosebumps...love stuff like this that is from the heart. The pictorial and show was marvelous!

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