As part of the Tiny Chinese Homeschool Dragon Boat Festival Virtual Celebration, we are sharing a free activity you can do at home with your kids. Shadow puppets were a traditional way to tell stories in ancient China. My first exposure to it was watching “To Live” by Zhang Yimou. It seemed like something that looked simple but took a lot of skill. Here is an example you can see from the movie (you’ll need to skip to 25:18 and just watch 1 minute of it):
I wanted my kids to try it out, so I made a simplified version of it so they could control the little puppet with just two hands and chopsticks. And guess what? They loved it! My daughter found it fascinating to manipulate the hands and body. She made up her own stories or reenacted Chinese stories I had told her. I hope you can try it out too!
You will need:
- cardstock paper
- parchment paper
- Print out the free printable below. Cut out the man and body parts.
- Use brads to connect the hands to the arms and the arms to the body. Make sure to refer to the colored circles to know which part connects to which part. Use a brad to connect the legs to the body. You need to make this brad loose so the legs can swing freely as the body wiggles.
- Take the square cut out and curl up the white part so it makes a cylinder just big enough to fit a chopstick or pencil. Tape it closed. Then use the colored tab at the end of the square as a flat point to connect it to the puppet with tape. Again, make sure to match the colored rectangles to affix it.
- Now you can take a pair of chopsticks and stick them in the cylinders. You may need to pinch down the opening of the cylinder so it fits more snug around the chopstick. You can now move your puppet!
- Use parchment paper make a screen where the puppets can show flat against. I used two benches and placed them on top of one another to make a stage. Tape the sides of the parchment paper firmly so it will not move when the puppets press against it. As long as you have a light or a bright window behind your stage, you are ready to go!
I hope you will have a lot of fun with your puppet! And once you get the basic idea, you can experiment with your own designs or even cut our eyes in the faces!
My kids and I used these shadow puppets to create a video that tells the story behind the Dragon Boat Festival. I hope you check back next week to see it–it will be a real treat!