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Mini Shadow Theater

Create a mini shadow theater and put on a play.

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 the Shadow Play:

  • flashlights, one per pair of children
  • small objects to use to make shadows (plastic toys, blocks, Popsicle sticks, utensils, pom-poms, etc.)
  • tall, flat surface to place theaters on (desk, table, etc.)
  • camera

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 shows the shape of an object, but it doesn’t show colors or many other details.
  • 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.
  • You can combine shadows to make different shadow shapes.


Continue to encourage children to use words like theater, shadow, light, lamp, shine, outline, shape, solid, dark, move, and rotate. Emphasize science process words like describe, compare, notice, and observe.


Tell children that they will tell a story using their mini shadow theater.

  1. Have children work in pairs. Give each pair a shadow theater, a flashlight, and an assortment of small objects they can use to make shadows.
  2. Have one child make a shadow with an object while the partner watches from the other side. Encourage children to move their object around and hold it in different positions or combine objects to make a single shadow. They can tell the story aloud, or have their characters talk. They can also make sound effects.  
  3. Then, have the pairs switch roles, so that each child has the chance to put on a short performance while their partner watches from the other side.  
  4. Take photos of the shadows that the children make as well as photos of what they use to make them.

Reflect and Share

Gather children to discuss their experiences playing with the mini shadow theaters. Ask, Can you explain how this mini shadow theater works? How are the shadows made? Why do we put the objects between the light and the wax paper screen?

Then ask about the plays they put on:  

  • What story did you tell?
  • Who were the characters in your story? What objects did you use for your characters? 

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