The Shadow Shows

the shadow showsTeachers, parents, and librarians, lend me your ears! Today, I present Shadow Puppets Theater by Creativity for Kids, the one stop shop for hours of imaginative narration and story building. Get thee hence and acquire one!

shadow puppets theater by creativity for kidsThe kit retails for around $20, and is intended for ages “6 to 96.” It contains a theater, a detachable chalkboard marquee, 1 piece of yellow chalk, stickers, rhinestones, 10 felt animal puppets, 2 felt people puppets with accessories, 15 metal brads for the jointed puppets, 12 puppet holders, 8 puppet sticks, and 2 LED lights (batteries included!).

shadow puppet theater kit contentsOne of the frustrating things about toy puppet theaters is how flimsy the stage is, and how the slightest nudge will send it tumbling. Not this one! It’s made out of very sturdy cardboard. A few basic folds, and the stage is ready to go, anchored in place with some very helpful velcro fasteners.

back of shadow puppet theaterThere’s also a detachable chalkboard marquee for the top, which is super cute. Also, unlike some of the cheaper cardboard chalkboards, the chalk wipes off cleanly and easily with a dry paper towel.

shadow puppet theater marqueeAlso included are some terrific stickers and clear rhinestones (yes!) to decorate the front of the theater. They are easily removable, so you can change your theater’s look. The stage’s screen is thick, high quality, and securely mounted (because there’s nothing sadder then your screen buckling, tearing or falling off during a performance).

But best of all is the lighting. The sturdy LED lights have flexible necks and are attached to clips. So you can attach them to the top of the theater OR…and I really, really, loved this. They can balance on their clips and act as footlights. Genius.

Their illumination power is fantastic. No matter what configuration we put the lights in, we got great shadows and and a well-lit screen.

illuminated shadow puppet theater screenThe puppets? They totally rock. Look at them! The mouse! The owl! The happy pig!

animal shadow puppets

The kit comes with foam blocks that self-adhere to the back of each puppet. Simply stick the block to the back of the puppet, inset the puppet stick in the pre-drilled hole, and you’re ready to go!

shadow mouse puppet

There were also 2 jointed puppets, which consisted of a main body piece and some interesting accessories to attach (hair, hats, skirts, pants, etc.). Note to grown-ups: the metal brads used to hinge the puppets joints are tiny. Younger kids are definitely going to need help with them.

jointed shadow puppetsI only have one quibble with this puppet theater kit. There are 12 puppets in the kit, but only 8 sticks! The instructions say to swap out the sticks during the show, but that somewhat breaks the flow. I made a couple extra out of a balloon stick. But this is the only problem I have with the awesome puppet kit.

How did our kid testers (ages 6 and 9) like the theater? They LOVED it! They loved how the screen lit up, all the different choices of puppets, and how they could move the lighting around for different effects. The stage stood up to an HOUR LONG continuous narrative with no breaks. Yes, that was 60 minutes of total concentration that only stopped because it was time to leave the office.

For $20, the Creativity for Kids Shadow Puppets Theater is a fabulous gift, activity, or program resource that will be throughly enjoyed. It’s packed with fun things, the puppets are great, it’s definitely tough enough to be use by scores of enthusiastic amatuer puppeteers. Bonus! The LED lights also work as clip-on mini lamps for late night reading. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Five out of five stars!

This Castle’s a Keeper

illuminated castle tissue boxOn the market for some truly radiant real estate? Perhaps this elegant castle votive will do! This simple, but way cool project was part of To Be Continued, our story time for kids ages 6-8.

We read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon (Puffin, 2015). Castle Hangnail isn’t the most ideal evil castle. For starters, it’s situated on grassy hills peppered with flowers (as opposed to, say, a wind-blasted cliff or a lonely moor). But an ever bigger issue is that currently, it doesn’t have a resident Evil Master or Mistress. Soon, it will be magically decommissioned and shut down for good. Desperate, the castle’s faithful minions send out a final round of invitations. They get just one response. A 12 year-old Wicked Witch named Eudaimonia. Or at least the girl says her name is Eudaimonia. In reality, her name is Molly, and she is a maybe-not-so-wicked witch who has told some whopper lies to her parents in order to fill the castle’s vacancy. Molly quickly falls in love with Hangnail Castle and the minions. In fact, everything appears to be working out beautifully – until the real Eudaimonia shows up. Will Molly and her friends be able to win Castle Hangnail back from the Evil Sorceress?

A shadow spell plays an important role in the book, so I wanted to do a project that involved castles, light, and shadow. Also, we had only 20 minutes at the program to complete the project, so I needed something simple. This castle votive project fit the bill perfectly!

illuminated castleYou’ll need:

  • 2 castle template pages (more on this below), printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • An x-acto knife
  • A small box with a window in the lid – the top of a small tissue box works great!
  • 1 large square of tin foil (mine was 12″ x12″)
  • 2 castle borders template pages, printed on 8.5″ x 14″ paper
  • Scissors and glue for construction
  • Metallic markers (optional)
  • 1 LED votive
  • Hot glue

Usually, I draw the project templates myself. But while researching the project, Marissa discovered this beautiful little castle votive by artist Lova Blåvarg. Lova’s castle is in color, but we thought it looked more Gothic when we printed it in black and white. The template and instructions for making Lova’s castle can be found here.

castle template finished

Castle by Lova Blåvarg for Sweet Paul magazine

The most time consuming part of the project is cutting all the little castle windows out with an x-acto knife. Marissa, the champion of all things x-acto, printed, cut, and hot glued 16 castles in preparation for the program. That’s 64 castle panels and 640 tiny little windows! Daaaaang.

You could make the castle, drop in the LED votive, and stop there. But I wanted to add a base to give the project a little more heft. I used these window boxes from Discount School Supply. The boxes are nice and sturdy, but a set of 12 costs $17, which can get pricey.

window boxA cheaper option is to use the top of a small tissue box. Cut approximately 2.5″ off the bottom of the box. If you don’t like the pattern, cover it with your choice of construction paper. Remove any plastic from around the mouth of the box, and your base is ready to go!

cut tissue boxLine the inside of the box with a square of tin foil (if you’re using a tissue box, you’ll need to secure the tin foil in place with tape and peel it back from the mouth of the box).

foil inside boxNext, print the castle borders template and select your favorites. Glue the borders to the sides of the box, Then hot glue the castle to the top of the box. Done! Here’s the finished window box version:

finished castle window boxAnd here’s the finished tissue box version:

finished castle tissue boxWe offered the kids metallic markers for additional decorating, but this step is totally optional. Finally, drop an LED votive into the box and bask in the glow! Here’s the illuminated window box version:

illuminated castle window boxAnd here’s the tissue box version! The halo of light coming out of the bottom is rather cool, don’t you think? In fact, I believe I like the tissue box version better than the more expensive window box version.

illuminated castle tissue boxAnd speaking of glowing, when we did the project for the program, I darkened the gallery, turned out the lights, and had the kids create by “candlelight.” The effect was very cozy actually. Ah, home sweet castle!

working on castle

Shadow Stories

shadow storiesMake a shadow puppet bird, then fly through a story as your narrative appears on the big screen!

We read Shadows, written by April Pulley Sayre, and illustrated by Harvey Stevenson (Henry Holt, 2002). This beautifully illustrated non-fiction rhyming book examines the various shadows two children find at places like the beach, tall grass, a baseball game, and a creek. The rhymes are lovely and lyrical. One of my favorites is “Dragonfly shadows zip and pop / Running horse shadows never stop.” Lovely!

You’ll need:

shadow puppet bird

The construction of the bird is very simple (in fact, if you want to make a smaller version, check out this post). Trace and cut the bird and bird wing templates onto white poster board. Use a hole punch to create an eye for the bird.

Next, decorate your bird (we busted out the Bling Bin and markers for this purpose). To create textures around the edges of the puppet, we also offered craft ties, small feathers, fabric flowers, and paper tissue squares. Twist two pipe cleaners into bird feet, and tape them to the back of the bird’s body.

Tab and hot glue the wing to the bird’s body, then tape the short end of a bendy straw to the underside of the wing. The straw is the “stick” that will allow you to flap the bird’s wing up and down.

shadow puppet bird wingUse packing tape to attach a 12″ piece of PVC pipe to the back of the bird (regular tape isn’t quite strong enough). We wrapped our PVC pipes with color masking tape, but that’s definitely optional. Your bird is done!

shadow puppeteerAll we need now is a shadow puppet show set! We made our set on an old overhead projector. Oh how do I love thee overhead projector? Let me count the ways

overhead projector setTo build the set, Marissa cut a tree, a nest, a lake, and a birdhouse out of black poster board. Making the sun was a little more challenging – our initial attempts looked like a giant spider or a vicious super nova. Marissa solved the problem by hot gluing sun rays to a piece of archival mylar (clear cellophane works too). She also used a scrap of mylar to make a sprinkling of birdseed on the ground.

shadow setDuring the shadow puppet story, a storm rolls in, so Marissa also made a cloud, mylar rain, and a thunderbolt.

shadow raincloudShe mounted all the moving set pieces on bits of balloon stick (pencils work too).

shadow puppet set piecesAt story time, we lowered the shades, turned out the lights, and fired up the projector! One by one, kids stepped up to the screen. Then, as I narrated, they flew their birds through the story! Hmmm…we might have made that birdhouse a little too tall…

puppeteer in actionHere’s our lovely puppeteer in action! Ready for a show?