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Shadow Theater: Animal Shadows

Create a large shadow theater and make animal shadows.

Materials and Preparation

For Large Shadow Theater:

  • desk lamp with a 100-watt bulb (or either a slide projector or an overhead projector)
  • a large white sheet
  • 2 chairs 
  • 4 large binder clips or tape

For Animal Shadow Puppets:

  • art supplies: construction paper, cardboard, crayons, markers, scissors, tape, Popsicle sticks or straws
  • camera

Prepare large shadow theater ahead of time:

Set up the large shadow theater by draping a sheet across two chairs that are a few feet apart. Use binder clips or tape to attach the corners of the sheet to the top and bottom of each chair and make sure that the sheet is stretched tightly. Place the lamp behind the theater so that it shines through the sheet.

Key Science Concepts

  • You can make shadows with your body and other objects.
  • 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.


Encourage children to use vocabulary related to shadows, such as shadow, light, shine, outline, blocking, shape, move, and direction. Emphasize science process words like describe, compare, notice, and observe.


Tell children that they will make animal shadow puppets and put on a play.

  1. Have children draw an animal on construction paper, and then cut it out. If children aren’t sure what to make, suggest a simple shape, such as a fish or a bird.
  2. Help them tape a Popsicle stick or straw to the back of their puppet: this will become the handle. Show them how to hold the handle and move their puppet.
  3. Have children test the shadows their puppets cast. This may give children new ideas for modifying or changing their puppets. Ask, Is this how you wanted your puppet to look? What could you do to make it look closer to the way you want it to look?   
  4. As children complete their puppets, have them give short performances behind the large shadow theater. Have children switch between performing and sitting in the audience to see what others’ puppets look like in the theater.

Reflect and Share  

After everyone has had a chance to perform with their puppet and watch others perform, ask,

  • Describe your animal puppet and what you like about it.
  • What would happen if you had drawn eyes on your puppet with a marker? Would you be able to see the eyes in the shadow theater? Why not?  How could you make eyes so that you could see them?
  • Did anyone try moving his or her puppet closer to the light? What happened? What about moving it farther away from the light? How did that change the puppet?
  • Did anyone turn the thin side of their puppet to the light? What happened?



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