Use these printable shadow puppets to stage a shadow puppet play for children, based on famous nursery rhymes!
First things first, what exactly is a nursery rhyme? Any traditional poem or song for children can be called a nursery rhyme. Most of them date back to the 17th and 18th centuries – some of the earliest recorded children’s literature! That has definitely given them a certain status in the world of children’s literature. Nursery rhymes never go out of print, new versions of nursery rhyme collections get published every year, and as far as literary allusions go, nursery rhymes are at the very top, along with the Bible and Grimm’s fairy-tales.
That beings said, many nursery rhymes sound a little strange to a modern child – or an adult, for that matter. You know what I mean?
Hickory, dickory, dock.
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock.
So I admit – for the first few years of my eldest child’s life, we stayed clear from nursery rhymes and read Gruffalo, Toad and Frog, and Where the Wild Things Are instead. But I wouldn’t have been a professional literature geek (I have a literature degree!) if it didn’t bother me that my son doesn’t recognize nursery rhyme allusions. Even at his age, there are some books that include them – like 1, 2, 3 by Alison Jay or Each Peach Pear Plum by Alan Ahlberg. What if he grows up and never knows what “Mary had a little lamb” means?! So, when my son was about four, we went on a nursery rhyme spree for a while. He found them hilarious! After all, someone is always falling and breaking their heads in nursery rhymes, which is obviously a perfect joke when you’re a four-year-old boy. In no time, he would sing Itsy Bitsy Spider and Jack and Jill at the top of his lungs. The literature geek in me relaxed a little.
I could tell a completely different story about my daughter. She loved singing little songs and was completely enchanted with nursery rhymes as soon as she heard them. She didn’t care very much about what they meant – she just liked the melody that went along and could recite many of them well before turning three!
Watch Our Nursery Rhyme Shadow Play
Why Read Nursery Rhymes with Children
Nursery rhymes may not be my first choice for getting children to love reading in this day and age, but:
- they’re a classical choice that will help children navigate literary allusions in the future
- they include some historical context that can be discussed with older children
- they’re short and easy to memorize, and many have a melody to go along with them
- they’re easily recognizable, and the plots are so simple that it isn’t any stretch for a child to pick up the puppets and start playing roles.
- there are many repeated characters – little girls and boys, spiders, sheep – so you can use them for many nursery rhymes!
On that last point, there are ten characters in our nursery rhyme shadow puppet set, and they can be used to stage at least eleven nursery rhymes!
There are many nursery rhyme collections, and they all have different strong points. If I was asked which ones to recommend, I currently have two favourites. Favourite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose, with illustrations by Scott Gustafson, is a large-format book with gorgeous illustrations that would be great for little children. Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists is my second choice. As the title suggests, all the nursery rhymes are presented in a comic format, and made even more interesting by comparing the styles of 50 artists. It’s a great addition to the library, especially if you’re studying nursery rhymes with older children.
About the Nursery Rhyme Shadow Puppet Set
Our shadow puppet set (printable and physical) includes the silhouettes of a man, a woman, a boy, a girl, a sheep, a chicken, a spider, a fish, and three mice. In addition to that, there are silhouettes of a meadow, a branch, a clock, a knife, a bowl, a waterspout, a candle, a cloud and the sun. They can be used as scenery (attached right to the screen) or accessories (attached to the shadow puppet actors with a double-sided tape).
On the picture above, the fish is attached to the boy with a dot of double-sided tape, so that the boy could participate both in Jack and Jill (without the fish) and in One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Once I Caught a Fish Alive (with the fish).
Actually, if you prefer the girl to be in One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Once I Caught a Fish Alive, attach the fish to the girl shadow puppet instead!
The most famous rhymes and songs that can be staged with the set are:
- Itsy-Bitsy Spider
- Little Miss Muffet
- Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
- Mary Had a Little Lamb
- Little Bo Peep
- Jack, Be Nimble
- Jack and Jill
- Hickory Dickory Dock
- Hickety, Pickety, My Black Hen
- Three Blind Mice
- One Two Three Four Five Once I Caught a Fish Alive.
How to make a shadow puppet play with children? It’s fairly simple!
Little setup is required, and that makes it perfect for busy life with kids. A flashlight is enough for a relaxed shadow play before bedtime. Just point the flashlight at the puppet and let it cast shadows on the walls.
Add a simple cardboard puppet theatre or invest some time into building a sturdy vintage-inspired theatre from wood, and you can run spectacular performances at home for friends and family behind a screen of parchment paper.
We love playing with shadow puppets! They provide an easy way to introduce children to theatre at home and have dramatic performances, while excluding all the bulky equipment – after all, you can store all the paper actors and decorations in flat envelopes.
Shadow puppets encourage an interest in literature and storytelling skills. When staging a shadow play, children can twist the story the way they want! For instance, in our version of the story Mary didn’t just take her little lamb to school – she rode him to school.
Shadow puppets also inspire interest in STEM, letting children experiment with light and shadows. Look at how big the little lamb got after just a few nibbles of grass – or maybe it was holding the puppet closer to the lightsource that did it!
How to Cut Printable Shadow Puppets
If you want to cut the shadow puppets yourself, there are several ways you could go about it. Read a detailed post with a video about it here.
In short, you can cut the shadow puppet patterns using traditional tools (scissors and a hobby knife) or using silhouette cutting machines (Silhouette or Cricut). The first takes a little longer, but doesn’t require any special tools at all. The second is very easy and fast, but requires an investment in a specialized machine. Our designs for shadow puppets are saved in PNG format, so that they can be used for either method.