Make memories with family puppets during the holidays!

Left to right: Peter (without wolf but with cat), Rosa Parks, my dad, Moses, Harriet Tubman, J.S. Bach, my friend Mirna

If you think that shadow puppets can only be used for shadow puppetry, you are wrong! Among the many puppets with patterns in our Printable Library I have used the puppets above not only in shadow theater (Harriet Tubman), but also to play along with music (Peter and the Wolf  and Johann Sebastian Bach), stop motion films and gifs (Bach again, and Moses), as well as other projects. In this post I am sharing tools and tricks showing how to make puppets of family members during the holidays and use them on a fridge or a magnetic board that you can make yourself.

Using traditional and online tools

In an early post about making puppets of family members my late father (included in the above dinner scene) graciously allowed me to use his image and make a little fun of him. Since, it has become much easier to use free online tools to create any person’s silhouette with a smartphone or tablet. I describe the technique in How to make puppets of historical characters using free patterns in the Printable Library, Google Drawings, and a profile photo found online. During a holiday party any savvy teenager with a laptop can help younger kids use the same techniques to make puppets of family members or themselves.

The instructional film below, which shows how to create a pattern of any historical character, can be used for every person in the room. You just use a profile photo that you make on the spot. To make children the appropriate size compared to puppets of adults you can use this visual.

Instructions how to create a puppet of a person using a profile photo, free online patterns and Google Drawings.

What you need


  • laptop/computer to use Google drawings
  • smartphone or tablet to make profile photos
  • printer to print out patterns

Silhouette puppets

  • black cardstock paper or black poster board
  • small pointed scissors sharp enough to make small holes
  • scotch tape
  • masking/painting tape (preferably black)
  • black scrapbooking brads
  • if you want to move puppets: barbecue skewers and sticky back velcro
  • if you want to use fridge or magnetic board: sticky back magnetic tape

Making the puppets

Once you have created the puppet pattern you can learn how to put the puppet together in a video featuring another dinner guest: Moses.  Click on this link to skip the first part and start with cutting the parts. The film shows how to use barbecue skewers and velcro for holding and moving rods. If you only want to use the puppets on a fridge or magnetic board you don’t need these.

Instructional film how to make a puppet featuring Moses 

Magnetic board

The great fun of magnetic puppets is that you can easily position and reposition them in any way you want, enabling you to use them for stop motion video projects or just photos to illustrate a family story. To avoid the glare of a fridge or a store-bought magnetic (dry eraser) board it is best to create a magnetic board yourself. Credit for the design goes to Brittany Flammer, who shows in this youtube video how to make one and attach it with command strips to an empty piece of wall.

Instead of using a cloth to cover the metal sheet and taping this to the wall, like Brittany did, I glued a piece of vellum from an art store to the metal sheet using repositionable adhesive spray. I then secured the borders to the metal sheet with black painters tape, which also serves as a frame. For the magnetic board shown on top of this post I used the following:

Felt board alternative

silhouette puppets of family gathering with three people talking, a cat, and a man holding up a child
Six of the puppets on 24×18.5 foam board covered with felt

Instead of a magnetic board you can also create a felt board and attach the puppets with pieces of the rough, scratchy “hook” side of sticky back velcro or velcro dots. For this felt board you can use a 24″x36″ piece of foam board from your local art store and cover it with a piece of felt (make sure you iron the felt first to make it flat). Again, use repositionable instead of normal spray glue to prevent mistakes and make it smooth.

Making/illustrating memories

Making puppets of family members in the room can keep children of all ages busy and entertained. It might be a great opportunity to share family stories too. Research by Elaine Reese and others has shown that sharing family stories  benefits children in multiple ways. A family gathering may be a great opportunity for children to ask aunts, uncles, and grandparents for stories about their younger days. They could retell or respond to the stories moving hand held puppets (without a screen) or illustrate the stories on a magnetic board while the storyteller is talking. It is a great way to not only share but also create memories.

And if you want to share stories about family members who have passed? As long as you have photos of them you can still make puppets. Just use the techniques described above, which are summarized in How to make puppets of historical characters .

If you have any comments or questions, please post them below or contact me.

Happy holidays!

With thanks to Mirna, who loves to cook


Helene van Rossum

Author: Helene at Past Times

Helene is the founder of Past Times and a crafter, archivist, and children’s book author. Her passion is bringing history to life for children, classrooms, and families through imagination and play.

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