Let’s play Shadow Theatre!

Can you see the shapes on the paper? Can you guess what they are? And can you make your own shapes appear?

how to make a shadow theatre main pic

With Take 10 to Play, brought to you with LEGO® DUPLO®, you can discover 10 brilliant 10-minute games to play with your child. Each game is specially designed to boost early learning, and to help you and your child create and connect together – for a smile-filled session of family fun.

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This game is brilliant for immersing your child in small-world play, creating simple stories and voicing the sounds the different characters make. This kind of imaginary play boosts your child’s language skills and emotional understanding, encouraging the development of empathy as they walk in other character’s shoes.

Here’s how to play Shadow Theatre

What you’ll need:

  • A4 piece of paper
  • string or wool
  • sticky tape
  • chair
  • mug
  • mobile phone
  • small toys or vehicles or minifigures
  • towel (optional)

If you have a LEGO® DUPLO® set, you can use the vehicles and animal figures in it. You could even go freestyle and build your whole theatre out of LEGO® DUPLO® bricks!

How to play

  • Attach one long side of your A4 paper to a length of string or wool with sticky tape, leaving plenty of string or wool at either end.
how to play shadow theatre step 1
  • Tie each end of the string or wool to each of the back legs of a chair, so that the paper is now dangling between the 2 back legs. Position the string so that the bottom of the paper is touching the floor.
how to play shadow theatre step 2
  • Place the mug behind the paper (under the chair) and prop your phone against it.
how to play shadow theatre step 3
  • Get your child to sit or lie in front of the paper. Turn your phone’s torch on, pick up a small toy, vehicle or minifigure and move it in front of the torch and behind the paper. (You may need to put a towel over your shadow theatre if the room you’re in is very bright.) Watch with your child as the shadow figure appears on the paper.
  • Take turns moving different figures to change the shadows you see. (You can also use your fingers to make rabbit’s ears and other shapes.)
how to make a shadow theatre finished

Extra ways to play Shadow Theatre – for extra learning!

  • Cut out cardboard animal or human shapes to create more shadows
  • Involve your child in the making the theatre
  • Create a toy audience to watch the play
  • Encourage your child to think of a story the shadow figures can play out
  • Take it in turn to narrate the story and add sound effects

5 more ideas for imaginary and creative games and activities to play with your child, from educational psychologist Naomi Burgess

1. Play make-believe

Pretend play can be anything from your child playing ‘schools’ to ‘hospitals’ or ‘shops’. They might have props and there’s a fair chance they’ll want you (or even a pet) to join in at some point.

This kind of play is great because it creates a bridge between fantasy and reality. It is a vehicle for children to explore their inner and outer worlds at the same time, and they can begin to recognise their own responses to situations, even if they don’t verbalise them and it’s not conscious.

At preschool age, a child’s language extends and they are able to use emotional speech and tone, even if they can’t yet talk about their feelings: you probably overhear your child at times talking to their siblings, toys or pets – sometimes telling them off, sometimes being encouraging, sometimes being loving.

girl sitting in playroom

This is all part of finding their way in their emotional world, developing empathy and processing their feelings – and it heralds their emerging social qualities.

As a child become more proficient in processing their feelings, we can say that they are developing Emotional Regulation.

This wonderful process is about ‘trying it on for size’. It’s like dressing up but with feelings, expressions and reflections, and of course, as they get older, the sophistication of expression and empathy grows with them, and of course we just carry on ‘trying things on for size’, throughout our lives.

All children have their own little steam engines driving their social and emotional development. We just need to provide them with the opportunities, the space and the encouragement. Pretend play is a great way to do it.

Why imaginative and creative play with your child matters

If you think back to when you were younger, you can probably remember hours and hours where you just lost yourself, seemingly doing nothing.

However nowadays there is so much pressure on you and your children that it can be really difficult to let them just do NOTHING.

Childhood can so easily become a time of striving instead of a time of growing; it’s understandable when there is so much competition around, and can be hard to stick to your principles about what you might think is ‘worthwhile’.

But ‘do nothing’ play is such a vital element in growing up – and letting children bridge the gap between the world they live in and their imagination.

2. Dive into a fairy tale

Sometimes families might worry that fairy tales are too gruesome and scary but reading fairy tales with your child fulfils a purpose as well developing literacy skills.

So why not have a fairy tale afternoon – perhaps a fairy tale marathon – where you read lots of fairy tales with your child that will open up a conversation?

Watching a film or telling a story are techniques commonly used in some therapies, precisely because they are considered once-removed and safe.

So you can look at books this way, too, and instead of asking your child questions about the stories, why not ask them if they have any questions for you? You might be very surprised at what they want to find out.

dad and daughter reading

Children walk into a story, identify with characters, and then leave them on a page. It can be such a safe way to experiment with adventure, fear, sadness and excitement, in much the same way as a film.

All children experience inner conflicts as part of their own emotional development, and fairy tales – with their often cruel and scary monsters – reflect these conflicts and give children a chance to resolve them, safely, in their own imagination.

3. Create a scenescape

The fun of starting from scratch – building your own town or farm or airport etc – then using characters to make your own stories, is immeasurable.

Use a bright, colourful set, such as LEGO DUPLO Farm Animalsas a standalone farm or as a farm outside of a town you have constructed. You can set it up on a floor or table, and then the creative play can begin.

Enjoy how it can help with language and planning, as well as the stories that you and your child can weave around the characters.

And, finally, the sense of satisfaction at completing such a venture. Small or large scale is great.

Don’t forget to take pictures of any village you make to put into a collage or photo book. Taking a photo of what you’ve built also allows your child to understand that it can be taken down and another one made.

4. Get all dressed up

Children love dressing up. Sometimes it is for role play and sometimes for performance, too.

Give them any clothes you don’t wear any more or visit a charity shop for accessories such as scarves, hats, wigs and anything else you can find.

Provide just enough props to let them experiment (too much overwhelms the play). And, if you can, add a little hanging rail or a small chest of drawers or cupboard: it helps your child to see what’s there and makes it easy for them to tidy up.

girl playing dressing up

Get some grown-up bits and pieces in there, too; children want to emulate you. Never forget that everyone’s different: include a pair of specs and a walking stick, maybe.

Once you’ve given your child what they need, sit back and enjoy your window on their world.

5. Get arty – and messy!

Visual and sculptural art is so exciting. You can use such a variety of media too: play dough, sand, paints, crayons, glue and glitter, clay, ink, wool, thread. You can keep everything clean or you can make as much mess as you like.

You can use your fingers with finger paints. Use it on a wipeable surface or on paper. Finger painting on a washable surface allows you to keep changing what you are doing – no permanence, perfect mindfulness, enjoying the sensory.

If you have never done it, don’t worry – it’s not too late to begin. Do it with your child and enjoy it.

boy with paint on hands

This simple activity helps with learning about spatial awareness and affords exploration of the sensory and of colours, and much more.

Opportunities and activities for drawing, painting, sculpting are myriad and you can either go freestyle or buy ready-packaged arts and craft kits.

About our expert

Naomi Burgess is an educational psychologist, a registered practitioner with the Health Professions Council and a Chartered Member of the British Psychological Society

Pics: Getty

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