Lights, Camera, Shadow Puppets!

Shadow puppets have a long history, dating back to China over 2,000 years ago. Their unique technique, called “shadow play,” involved intricate puppets which were moved between a screen and a light using sticks, regional folk music, and theatrical lighting (for more information, view the Chinese Shadow Puppetry documentary on YouTube, 10:07). Though the technique is still used today in its original form, people all over the world have entertained themselves through manipulating shadows with creative silhouettes. This activity uses both digital and non-digital design tools to explore line, shape, and contrast through the creation of shadow puppets that can perform on a stage.
hand shadow puppet OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Materials needed:

  • black cardstock paper (or other dark colored paper)
  • sticks (i.e. craft sticks, chop sticks, wooden skewers, sticks, etc.)
  • paper fastener brads
  • white copier paper or tissue paper
  • cereal box (or small cardboard box)
  • scissors
  • tape and/or glue
  • table lamp
  • Silhouette Studio software (optional)
  • Silhouette Cameo machine (optional)
  • video camera (optional)


  1. Begin with the end in mind. Consider how you want to construct the puppet. This decision will impact the way you create your silhouettes. Also, consider where you will perform. What light source will you use? Where will your “stage” be?
    1. Do you want it to be a solid piece that easily glues to a stick and has static movement?
    2. Do you want to more options for controlling the puppet’s movement through the use of interconnected joints using paper fastener brads and sticks?
  2. Skeleton Shadow Puppet DesignCreate the puppets. This can be done by drawing by hand on cardstock paper then using scissors to carefully cut out the shapes, or this can be done by creating digital designs in Silhouette Studio software and then trimming the designs out of cardstock paper on a Silhouette Cameo machine. Either way, the silhouettes must have a strong sense of line to provide contrast. Affix puppet pieces using chosen materials (i.e. sticks, paper fastener brads, etc.)
  3. Build the stage. Stages for shadow puppets and shadow play can be constructed out of anything. Whether you cleverly use the sunlight to cast shadows on the ground or you build a high-tech stage for formal performances, the key to success is a strong light source (i.e. sun, lamp, projector, etc.) and an area to cast shadows (i.e. ground, white paper, white bed sheet, etc.). Check out this easy upcylcled cereal box stage. Or if you want a real challenge, check out this high-tech fancy stage idea.
  4. Put on an awesome show. If you don’t already have an awesome story in mind, try out a story generator to get started. Once you have your idea, you can formally write a script or improv your way to a great performance. Don’t forget to invite others to share in your awesomeness and add in a simple video recording so you can share your performance with the world.

WANT MORE? View the Shadow Puppet Lesson, which is focused on 3rd grade English Language Arts and Visual Arts. In the activity, students will create an original video that will highlight their own story, music, shadow puppets, and stage design. Students will begin by writing a short story in response to book or a prompt. They will consider mood through the creation of original music using found objects to accompany the short story. They will then explore line, shape, and contrast as they create shadow puppets and a stage. The performance can then be performed in front of an audience of other classes and parents or video recorded to share with others beyond the school community. This activity can me managed and modified to take under an hour or be spread over multiple class meetings.

Multidisciplinary connections:

Additional resources:

Modular Paper Sculpture

Inspired by the mathematical sculpture of George Hart, these paper sculptures consists of a series of flat two-dimensional shapes that hook together to create a three-dimensional form. This particular design is based on the Loomi Globe Lampshade, which can be connected in a variety of configurations.



Just like the BrushBot, this DrawingBot can alternate between stippling and beautiful thick strokes of lines to create fantastic drawings. Just let it rest against your hand and watch it create!






  • plastic base (cups and/or plastic containers)
  • scissors
  • vibrating motor (tiny pager motor)
  • 3v battery (CR2032 coin size)
  • drawing tools: pens, pencils, and/or markers
  • rubberband
  • tape
  • craft materials (pipe cleaners, foam strips, paper, etc.)


  1. Attach the motor to the battery (align + and – sides).
  2. Attach motor/battery combo to plastic base with rubberband.
  3. Attach drawing tools to make the base “stand up” on its own.
  4. Decorate the DrawingBot.


  • Observe the Drawingbots race inside a box.
  • Watch DrawingBots create art together.


  • What happens when you use a different type of base?
  • What other recyclable materials could you use for the base?
  • Can you create an on/off switch to save the battery?
  • What happens when you move the placement of the motor/battery?
  • How does the placement of the drawing tools impact its drawing?
  • How can you adjust the DrawingBot to draw circles? dots? straight lines? curves? dashes?



What do you get when you tape together a toothbrush head, a watch battery, and a cell phone motor? You get a brushbot that paints with a mind of it’s own. BrushBots are easy  and fun way to introduce kids of all ages to the fundamentals of simple electronics using inexpensive materials. With endless possibilities, what will you design your BrushBot to do?


  • toothbrush head (flat head works best)
  • scissors or pliers (have an adult help)
  • vibrating motor (tiny pager motor)
  • 3v battery (CR2032 coin size)
  • twist tie or rubberband
  • craft materials (pipe cleaners, foam strips, paper, etc.)


  1. Cut the toothbrush head with scissors or pliers.
  2. Attach the motor to the battery (align + and – sides).
  3. Attach motor/battery combo to brush with twist tie.
  4. Decorate the BrushBot.


  • Observe the Brushbots race.
  • Dip them in paint and watch BrushBots create art.
  • Tie a leash on them and take them for a walk.
  • Imagine where they would “live” and create them a habitat.


  • What happens if you add “legs?”
  • How can you control the path of the BrushBot?
  • Can you create an on/off switch to save the battery?
  • What happens when you use a different type of brush?


Family Engineering resources:
family-engineering-artistic-robots (PDF file in English and Spanish)