Shadow Puppet Crafts

by Erica Loop
Create a playful puppet theater.

Create a playful puppet theater.

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

For centuries people of all ages and cultures have created shadow puppets that inspire the imagination and delight the senses. From simple shapely shadow puppet projects that preschoolers can make to more elaborate designs for older students and adults, these paper crafts are the perfect way to spend a day packed with dramatic play.


Shadow puppets first made their appearance several centuries ago in Asia. Legend has it that in 120 B.C. a magician tried to trick a woeful Chinese emperor into believing that his departed wife had risen by creating a puppet version of her that he moved behind a silken screen. Although this account may be more fiction than fact, China is credited with being the home to this artful craft. First made from paper and later from donkey hides, shadow puppets eventually gained popularity worldwide. From imaginatively made masterpieces to modern projects for kids and novice crafters, these creations have become a staple of contemporary puppetry.

Craft Materials

Modern shadow puppets are made from relatively few materials. Kids and more mature crafters alike can construct these imaginative creations using paper, tape and a wooden dowel or similar item. A large or thick craft stick, plastic straw or even twig can be a simple substitute for the dowel. Additionally, you will need a pencil or piece of chalk to draw your puppet pattern, tape to attach the paper to the stick, scissors to cut the paper and possibly brass fasteners if you choose to make a movable puppet. Choose a thick or rigid paper such as card stock or poster board to use. This will help your puppet keep its structure and stand up straight.

Puppet Making

Making a shadow puppet craft can range from simple to complex depending on the designer's age and ability. Young children in preschool and early elementary school can create basic puppets using shapes that join together to form one image or object. These can be static or made movable by using brass fasteners as hinges. For example, a circle on top of a rectangle with four slim rectangles from each corner of the main rectangle can look like a person. Older students and adults can draw more intricately shaped puppets such as a flourish-filled peacock or a delicate swan. After drawing and cutting out the basic puppet shape, attach it to a stick-type object with a few pieces of masking tape.

Puppet Theater

A key element of shadow puppet play is the ability for the puppet to cast its dark shadow amidst a glowing light source. To do this you will need a suitable puppet theater. The puppet theater may be a simple stage made from a white sheet hung to walls with tape or a more elaborate creation. A more finished looking stage can be set by cutting open a large packing box and folding it into thirds. Use the two end folds to help the box stand and cut a large rectangular window into the center. Tape or glue a white sheet to the interior of the window. Use a flashlight from behind to illuminate the puppets.

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