Create a Shadow Box Theater Space

Child makes shadows in a shadow box theater.

Design a theater space to put on shadow shows. How do you make big and small shadows?

10–20 minutes


Get Ready

Materials you will need:

  • Flashlight or lamp with an LED light bulb
  • Medium-sized cardboard box
  • Shadow surface material (such as white paper or wax paper)
  • Small toys, animals, or blocks for making shadows
  • Scissors or box cutter (for parent use)
  • Tape

Things to do before the activity:

  • Create a shadow box theater: Use a medium-sized cardboard box. Cut a rectangle out of the bottom, leaving an edge around the opening. Tape a sheet of white paper or wax paper over the opening. This is the shadow surface.
  • Note: You can prepare the shadow box theater on your own or with your child.

A character with a speech bubble and bat with a thought bubble.

Let's use our theater to put on a fun shadow show!

I'm excited to see our different shadow creations!


Step 1.

Talk about why you want a shadow box theater space. Encourage excitement about performing shadow shows, making shadow show videos, or other ways to use a shadow box theater together.

Step 2.

Look at the shadow box theater you prepared earlier. Talk about how you will make shadows in the box theater.

  • How do you make a shadow?

Step 3.

Brainstorm how to create a space for your shadow theater. Think about different materials or objects you can use. Notice the space around the shadow box. Talk about how the space can be used to put on a shadow show. Things to consider might be:

  • How to keep the light focused on the shadow surface
  • Where the person making the shadows will stand
  • What will the audience sit on? (chairs, the rug, and so on)

Step 4.

Plan the theater space design. Use the ideas you brainstormed. Draw a sketch or write down the ideas as you and your child plan how to position different parts of the theater space. Think about:

  • Where the puppeteer will stand, and the audience will sit
  • Where we will place the light

Step 5.

Build the shadow theater space. Use your sketch and list of ideas to create the theater space together. Then try out your design! Shine the light in the theater box. Make a shadow on the surface that an audience can see.

  • Notice the object is between the light and the theater surface. It is blocking the light.
  • Move the light farther from the object to make a smaller shadow. How can you make a bigger shadow?

Step 6.

Improve your design. If the theater space does not work, try something different. Change one thing at a time. Then test it again. Continue until your theater space works and the audience can see the shadow show!

  • Do you need to move the light, the object, or the shadow box?
  • Does the audience need to sit closer or farther away in order to see the shadows?


Start the shadow show! Take turns making and viewing shadow shows.

  • Discuss shadows. How did you make the shadow? How did you make it smaller? Bigger?
  • Point out something you did to improve your design. How did you make the shadows easier to see?