Looking for an indoor activity for kids that doesn’t involve an electronic screen? Build a shadow puppet theater with Cricut clip art and your Cricut Maker – set up a theater in your home for kids to imaginatively play, or act out stories from books they own. Once the “Theater” is built, it’s endless entertainment made with cheap card stock for the kids.
This post is sponsored by Cricut. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
While it looks way complicated, making a shadow puppet theater with your Cricut Maker machine only takes a few minutes, but is going to be long on play for the little ones in your house.
Take any story they love–fairy tale or otherwise–and use Cricut Design Access to find images to cut on your Cricut Maker and make shadow puppets.
Paper, some bamboo skewers, a little tape and a backlight are all you need to make this indoor activity for kids!
Use what you have! You can build your shadow puppet theater in any size. Here’s a smaller shadow puppet theater.
Create a frame
Your shadow puppet theater can be made as large or small as your materials allow. I happened into a really big cardboard box about the time i was putting this together, but if I didn't have the free cardboard, I definitely would have used a sheet of black foam core to get my frame made.
Find your cutting mat, craft knife and a steel ruler to get started. The larger your piece of cardboard/foam core, the larger the sides of your frame will need to be. In the case of the two I created, the small frame had two inch sides and the large had five inch sides.
Measure and mark two to five inches from the edge all the way around the cardboard rectangle and cut out the center using your steel ruler and craft knife.
Here's where the kids can start helping. If your frame is small enough, you can use a sheet of letter paper or parchment paper, but if not, you'll need a roll of white craft paper to cut a piece wide enough to cover the hole in the middle of your frame. Tape the paper to the frame.
You can totally stop here on the theater construction if that's all you have in you. IT'S OK--it's perfectly fine how it is and the kids will still get hours of indoor enjoyment out of the project.
how to be "extra"
If you're extra like I am, your theater needs a few more minutes of work to make it fancy. Really--it only took a few minutes after the design was done to cut the decorations out and glue them on!
Here's where you'll really start to see the benefits of a Design Access subscription. Click here to go to my project file for the shadow puppet theater. I found all the clipart within Design Space and adjusted them for my needs here.
Resize the curtains, masks and lettering to fit your cardboard frame. On my smaller frame, I left the lettering out altogether, and it looks fantastic. Cut the curtains from the red cardstock and the masks and lettering from the glitter vinyl. If your frame is huge, you'll want to grab a few sheets of Cricut's 12x24 paper and a long mat for the curtains.
You can use a paper cutter to cut strips of black cardstock the width of your frames sides. I didn't feel like dragging mine downstairs, so the ruler and craft knife did the job quickly.
Glue the black card stock to the frame with a glue stick, then add on the curtains.
If you're using the masks, put the gold glitter mask onto its corresponding red cardstock backing.
If you want to put the lettering directly on the frame, that's great! I put it on a smaller piece of black lined cardboard to give the sign some dimension.
Choosing Shadow Puppets
I made a few generic shapes for our puppet theater. Knights, princes, princesses and dragons and a monkey. All the makings of a good story, really. If you hunt through Design Space, you've got literally thousands of images to choose from, and there is bound to be something there the kids will want to create a play with. After you've chosen your images in Design Space, be sure to resize them to fit the theater screen opening! Cut these from kraft board on your Cricut Maker. This weight of paper is really stiff and makes great, sturdy puppets.
You can create scenery for your play by cutting trees, castles, flowers, grass or whatever else tickles your kids' fancy with your Maker. This is their indoor activity! Lightly tape the scenery to the theater paper.
Making Functional Shadow Puppets.
When you place the light behind the puppets, from the front you'll notice that the closer the puppet is to the paper, the crisper the image becomes. In order to make just the image appear against the screen instead of the the stick (and possible the hand of the holder), the puppets need a bit of creative engineering.
First, you'll need to cut a few small rectangles out that are sized to fit on the back of your puppets. Fold the rectangles in half.
Tape one side of the folded halves to the back of your shadow puppet shape.
Tape a bamboo skewer to the the other folded paper half. This creates a hinge of sorts that allows the stick to be perpindicular to the cut out shape.
With the stick out of the way, just the shape will be shadowed on the screen!
Setting up the Shadow Puppet Screen
Since this is a kids' indoor activity and not a professional production, use what you have on hand to prop up the screen. For my large screen, I taped a few Amazon boxes to to the bottoms and put a few water bottles on top of them for weight to hold them down. If you've got smaller kids, you might want to put the water bottles in the box before you tape them to the frame.
With the smaller frame, I used the leftover cardboard from the frame center to make feet for the frame. Cut the leftover piece in half, then create a slit in the middle. The edges were tapered just to make them look nicer. I'd make one foot, then trace it onto the remaining half to cut out.
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Tips on lights for your theater
I used an clamp light with a reflector here in these photos to backlight the shadow puppet theater…it’s the lighting I use to take pictures of tutorials with here on the blog. You can go buy one of these (they’re awesome work lights) or you can take the shade off a lamp and set it close to the screen. Or use a big flashlight. No need to go get super fancy, you just need functional.
Shadow Puppet suggestions
So where do you start choosing what puppets to make??? Hopefully, your kids are involved at this point, but if their (and your) creativity needs a little boost, I’ve set up a few files in Cricut Design Space for you to use if you have a subscription:
More indoor activities for kids
Looking for more indoor activities for kids to fill your days with fun? Here area few other ideas from around the blog!