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Shadow Theater Mystery

Guess what object is making a shadow.

Materials and Preparation

For Mini Shadow Theater:

  • shoeboxes (or other cardboard boxes), so that there’s one shadow theater for every two children
  • wax paper or white paper
  • tape
  • scissors

For Shadow Mystery Game:

  • flashlights, one per pair of children
  • tall, flat surface to place theaters on (desk, table, etc.)
  • small objects to use to make shadows (toys, bracelets, pine cone, pens, tissues, small flags, etc.)

Prepare mini shadow theater ahead of time:  

  • Using the bottom of a shoebox, cut out a large rectangle from the bottom panel, leaving about a 1½-inch border around the edges. Cover the opening you made with wax paper (or white paper) and secure it with tape. This is your theater.
  • From the other, open end, you’ll prop or hold a flashlight inside the box and shine the light on the paper. 
  • Place an object between the flashlight and the paper and see its shadow projected on the outside of the theater.

Key Science Concepts

  • A shadow is made when an object blocks the light.
  • You can change the shape of a shadow by moving and turning your body or the object making the shadow or by moving the light source.


Tell children that you are going to play a guessing game using this mini shadow theater.    

  1. Ask children what they know about theaters and plays. Ask, What happens in the theater? What do you see? Have you ever seen a play? Who is in a play?
  2. Show children the mini shadow theater, and explain how the theater works by placing an object between the flashlight and the paper and showing how its shadow is projected on the outside of the theater.
  3. Invite a child to hold a “mystery object” inside the box (maybe a pine cone or a large-toothed comb), and cast its shadow on the wax paper.
  4. Ask children to view the shadow from the opposite side and guess what object is making the shadow.  

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