How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

Shadow play or shadow puppetry is an ancient art form. Introduce your child to the world of hand shadows with our simple tips on how to make animal hand shadows.

By Team ParentCircle  • 9 min read

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

Let’s face it, gadgets have taken over lives, our work and even our entertainment! We are forever connected to them. Today, due to the current COVID situation, our lives are filled with zoom meetings, online classes and video conferences. It has become a huge challenge to disconnect from gadgets. This, in turn, has had an impact on the quality time we spend with our children.

Why not plan an hour every week (or even a few minutes every day) to switch off your phones and connect with your children by engaging in fun activities? How about engaging with your child through shadow play, along with storytelling and drama?

A short history about shadow play

Shadow puppetry or shadow play is one of many ancient forms of puppetry. While shadow play is believed to have originated in China, it was also popular in Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, Turkey and Greece.

India has a long and rich tradition of various forms of shadow puppetry. With the use of hands and fingers to portray animals and mythological characters, shadow puppetry shows are staged in village fairs to narrate folk tales, mythology and stories from the Panchatantra. Shadow puppetry, as a traditional art form, can be quite elaborate — it requires the crafting of special puppets, planning the props and setting up the background. On the other hand, shadow puppetry doesn’t require any such props. All you need is the skilful use of your hands and fingers.

Benefits of shadow play

Playing with lights and shadows can be quite fascinating for young children. They may try to run and catch their own shadow, or even try to run away from it! Apart from this fun element, there are several benefits of light and shadow play for kids:

  • Encourages imagination and creativity: Coming up with a story for shadow play, portraying the characters, deciding on the background and lighting – all these encourage your child’s imagination and creativity.
  • Develops language skills: As your child writes out the script and dialogs for the various characters in the play, she is improving her language and communication skills. She is also learning to express her thoughts and feelings.
  • Enhances social and behavioural skills: When your child teams up with friends to plan and put up a shadow play, he is learning how to interact, how to communicate and how to collaborate. He is developing key social skills and learning the art of teamwork.
  • Improves motor skills: As your child uses her hands to create shadows to represent the various characters, she is developing her coordination and motor skills.
  • Boosts self-confidence: When your child organises and puts on a shadow puppetry show it boosts his self-confidence. Your child becomes more confident to speak in front of others.

Creating hand shadows of animals and birds is one of the best and simplest ways to introduce children to the world of shadow puppetry. So, spend some time with your children by making some easy hand shadows on the wall. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Finger exercises to make hand shadows

Hand shadow puppetry requires the skilful use of one’s fingers to bring alive the various characters. Here are a few easy and simple finger exercises to keep your little one’s fingers flexible and malleable:

  1. Fold the little finger (pinky finger) while keeping the other three fingers and thumb stretched out.
  2. Fold the ring and middle finger, while keeping the thumb and index and little fingers stretched out.
  3. Fold the ring and middle fingers and try to touch the base of the palm with their tips, while folding the index and little fingers at the middle joint but keeping the thumb stretched out.
  4. Fold the thumb, index and little fingers, while keeping the ring and middle fingers stretched out.
  5. Join the index, middle and ring fingers together and stretch the little finger and the thumb away from these three to form a ‘V’ shape.
  6. Join the ring and little fingers together. Likewise, join the middle and index fingers too. Now stretch them away from each other to form a ‘V shape’.
  7. Join the middle and ring fingers. Then cross them with the index and little fingers, while keeping the thumb outstretched.
  8. Bend the ring and little fingers to bring them at 90 degrees to the palm, fold the middle and index fingers at the middle joint, while keeping the thumb outstretched.

Tips to organise hand shadow puppetry

A hand shadow puppetry show can be organised at home without elaborate preparations. Here are a few tips to organise a hand shadow show for kids:

  • Screen: For casting hand shadows, you will need a white-coloured screen. If your child is going to perform by staying behind the screen, you can hang a white bedsheet from a clothesline in the middle of the room. Or else, if he is going to perform by standing/sitting in front of the screen stick white chart paper to the wall.
  • Light source: A table lamp, torch or even a candle in a dark room can work. What you should remember is that the source of light should be small and the room dark.

How to make hand shadow puppets

Now, you and your child are all set to create animal and bird hand shadows on the wall! Well, let’s get started.

Animal hand shadows

1. How to make a rabbit hand shadow

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

The distinctive feature of a rabbit is its big ears. 

To make a rabbit shadow puppet:

Left hand

  • Fold the ring and little fingers and stretch out the middle finger.
  • Bend the index finger towards the thumb as shown in the image.

Right hand

  • Fold the index finger at both the top joints to form the shape of number 7.
  • Curve the thumb slightly and let the tip press gently on the index finger’s tip.
  • Stretch out the ring and little fingers, perpendicular to the thumb.
  • Stretch out the middle finger away from the ring and little fingers to form a ‘V’.
  • Now rest the back of the right hand on top of the left hand as shown.

2. How to make a dog shadow puppet

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

The unique feature of a dog is its long, pointed nose, erect ears and open jaws.

To make a dog hand shadow:

  • Stretch the middle, ring and little fingers of each hand perpendicular to the thumb.
  • Curl the index finger inwards.
  • Now move the little finger away from the other two fingers (to give the impression of a dog with its mouth open).
  • Finally, join both hands as shown in the image with the thumbs forming a ‘V’ and the index finger of the left hand placed on the one on the right.

3. How to make a giraffe shadow puppet

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

What gives a giraffe its distinctive appearance is its short horns and long snout.

To make a giraffe hand shadow:

  • Stretch the fingers of the left hand perpendicular to the thumb.
  • Lightly grip the space between the outstretched fingers and the thumb with the fingers of the right hand and stretch the right thumb parallel to the left one (as shown in the picture).

4. How to make a deer shadow puppet

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

What gives a deer its distinctive appearance is its horns.

To make a deer hand shadow:

Right hand

  • Keep the fingers and the thumb as shown in the picture. 
  • The index finger should rest on the middle finger, and the little finger on the ring finger. 
  • The thumb should be bent at the joint. This would make your hand look like a triangle.

Left hand

  • Curl the fingers and the thumb as shown, keeping the fingers apart.
  • Now place the back of the left hand on top of the right hand at the base of the thumb along the edge of the lower end of the palm.

5. How to make a horse shadow puppet

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

The horse is one of the animals that most children are familiar with. It is also one of the simplest hand shadow animals to make:

To make a horse hand shadow:

Right hand

  • Bend the hand at the wrist to bring it at 90 degrees angle to the forearm.
  • Keep the fingers joined and raise the thumb.

Left hand

  • Join the fingers and keep the thumb in extended position. 
  • Stretch the hand parallel and close to the right hand.

6. How to make a goat shadow puppet

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

What stands out in a goat is its beard.

To make a goat hand shadow:

Right hand

  • Bend the index, middle and ring fingers loosely and bring them perpendicular to the palm.
  • Bend the little finger at the middle joint so that it points downwards.
  • Keep the thumb stretched and pointed upwards.

Left hand

  • Keep the thumb folded inside, the index and middle fingers straight (making a small V) and bend the ring and little fingers.
  • Place the left hand on top of the right hand (as shown in the image).

7. How to make a crab shadow puppet

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

To make a crab hand shadow:

  • Extend all the fingers of both the hands and bend the thumbs so that they rest on the base of the index finger.
  • Now cross the hands (as shown in the image).

Bird hand shadows

8. How to make a flying bird hand shadow puppet: 

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

This is one of the easiest shadow puppets to make. 

To form the flying bird hand shadow:

  • Join the fingers (of both hands) together and stretch them out. The thumb should be perpendicular to the fingers.
  • Now bring the hands together with the palms facing you and join the thumbs together.

9. How to make an ostrich hand shadow puppet: 

How To Make Animal Hand Shadows

Compared to its body and long neck, the ostrich has a small head with a long beak.

To make the ostrich hand shadow:

  • Clasp the fingers of both your hands together.
  • Stretch both the thumbs to form a ‘V’ shape.

10. How to make a kingfisher hand shadow puppet: 

Compared to its small body, the kingfisher has a long beak and a short neck.

To form the kingfisher hand shadow:

Left hand

  • Stretch the index and middle fingers, and hold them perpendicular to the ring and little fingers.
  • Curl the thumb and place its tip on the middle joint of the ring finger.

Right hand

  • Curl the little and ring fingers as tightly as possible.
  • Stretch the middle finger.
  • Curl the index finger such that it forms an inverted ‘V’ shape (as shown in the image).
  • Place the wrist of the right hand above the back of the thumb of the left hand.

Children love listening to and telling stories. With hand shadow puppets, their storytelling sessions will become interesting and exciting. And, when you join them in this activity, it will help strengthen your bond with them.

Looking for expert tips and interesting articles on parenting? Subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Join our Circles to share, discuss and learn from fellow parents and experts!