The following is a post from contributing writer, Julianna, of Petunia June.
These dark and cold winter nights just beg for some old fashioned fun — snacking on popcorn near a crackling fire, reading stories while sipping hot cider, or hovering over a jigsaw puzzle to press in that final piece. As the winter wears on, however, you might find that you’ve exhausted your resources and could use a new diversion. Why not try a shadow puppet show?
When I was in high school, I was delighted to be invited to the home of some younger friends to see a special performance. I can still vividly picture the white sheet hung in the family room with a shadeless lamp placed behind it. As their mother read a story, the children played out the drama behind the sheet. It was absolutely charming (and hilarious), and I couldn’t wait for the day when I would be able do the same with my own “someday children.”
My “someday children” are now here, and (bless their hearts) they’ve even grown accustomed to humoring me in my dramatic dreams. We often put on a shadow puppet show for Thanksgiving, with our cardboard figures acting out poems such as Over the River and Through the Woods or The First Thanksgiving of All.
These shows are not limited to the Thanksgiving holiday, however. My daughter is currently working on pulling together cut-outs for a brand new feature based on a Little Golden Book story, The Four Kittens. It ties in with a lapbook she’s working on which features animals, and it gives her a chance to interact with the story in a fun and different way.
Now, the word “show” may make this activity sound like a big undertaking. But it doesn’t have to be a huge production!
Here’s how your family can pull together your own shadow puppet show:
1. Choose a poem, song or story to act out. You can really let your imaginations go anywhere on this one. Run with your kids’ latest interests, focus on a historical character or unit that you’re studying in school, or let an older child write the script.
2. Make the puppets. Read through the story to find the characters and props that will be featured. Look for simple black-line drawings online that can be printed (clip art works well). Include some setting pieces to add to the look, such as a tree or a house.
The puppets should be printed or mounted on card stock in order to hold their shape. Cut out the shapes and attach some sort of holder to the back. We usually use chopsticks or rulers taped to the backs of the cut-outs. (It also works to have the kids themselves be the actors. Use fun hats and props to distinguish the characters.)
3. Create the stage. A solid, light-colored sheet draped over a rod or chairs creates an instant stage. Place a light behind the sheet so that the shadows can be cast onto the sheet. In order for your puppeteers to be hidden, consider placing a table, bench or blanket-covered chairs as a barricade between the sheet and the light.
4. Practice your show. It takes just a bit of practice to get used to the placement when using these puppets. Your children will enjoy experimenting with this! The closer they hold the image to the sheet, the smaller and more crisp it becomes. As they pull it away from the sheet toward the light, it becomes much larger and more blurry. (If your children are acting themselves instead of using puppets, remind them to stand so their profile is always visible.)
This is a great time to practice projecting voices, too, for those who will be reading or reciting aloud. You may even want to include music or pull together materials for sound effects!
5. Gather an audience and . . . action! Assemble the family for your show. It can be as simple as your immediate family or as involved as inviting extended family or neighbors for a special occasion. Just make sure that it’s comfortable and fun for your kids. Now, turn off all of the lights in the house except for the spotlight, and be prepared for lots of giggles and whispers and laughs along the way. The hearty applause that follows will assure your children that they’ve done a super job with their shadow puppet show!
When not cutting out kitten shapes, draping sheets or assembling audiences, Julianna can be found at Petunia June where she writes about family, faith and the fullness of joy.
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