Wayang Puppets

This exploration is for all ages, as the colored smilies show. You can do the Wayang Puppets geography exploration with your whole family together!

1st thru 4th grades
5th thru 8th grades
9th thru 12th grades

Layers of Learning Unit 2-14
Unit 2-14: Asian Kingdoms, Southeast Asia, Non-metals, Vivid Language

The Wayang Puppets exploration is a geography exploration from Layers of Learning Unit 2-14 about Southeast Asia. Layers of Learning has hands-on explorations and activities in every unit of this family-friendly curriculum. Learn more about Layers of Learning.

Wayang puppets come from Bali and Java in Southeast Asia.  The puppet shows have also spread through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. They’ve been around as a form of art and entertainment for thousands of years and they’re still vying with TV for entertainment value.  The puppets are shadow puppets, silhouettes on a stick, held up behind a white screen with a light shining on them from behind.  The stories told with the puppets are most often from Hindu scripture, but they could be about anything. Usually, the arms and feet of the Wayang were movable through the use of strings.

Wayang is a Javanese word that means “shadow” or “imagination.” Wayang was the name for both the puppets themselves and for the entire production. The puppeteer is called a dalang and sits behind the screen, manipulating the puppets and narrating with words and songs. The performers in that region of the world are considered talented celebrities. Wayang is the most popular form of puppet theater in the world.

Step 1: Library Research

Before you create your own Wayang shadow puppet show, read a book or two about Southeast Asia. Here are some suggestions, but if you can’t find these, look for books at your library about Southeast Asia, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, or Bali. The colored smilies above each book tell you what age level they’re recommended for.


by Robin Lim

A Country Explorers book all about Indonesia and its people and landscapes.

Southeast Asia

by Insight Guides

This travel guide has stunning photography and lots of interesting information about the region.

The Three Realms

by Martini Fisher

This is the first in the series of authentic Wayang stories told by the Javanese people.

Step 2: Wayang Puppets

You’ll need scissors, copies of the Wayang Puppets printable, cereal box cardboard, and a light-colored bedsheet, as well as lamp or another light source.

Click on the picture to get the printable.

Print out the Wayang Puppets template. Glue it on to thin cardboard, like from a cereal box. Cut each one out carefully with scissors or with a good craft knife. Attach a stick to the back to manipulate your puppet with.  Set up a sheet for a screen with a lamp behind it.  Make up a story to go with the figures and put on a show. If you got one of Wayang stories books from the library, you can adapt it to become your show.

Step 3: Show What You Know

Perform your show for an audience (like your family or grandparents!) and then tell them a few things you learned about Wayang puppet stories and Southeast Asia. Answer questions from the audience as well.

Additional Layers

Additional Layers are extra activities you can do or tangents you can take off on. You will find them in the sidebars of each Layers of Learning unit. They are optional, so just choose what interests you.

Writer’s Workshop

Write out your puppet show in script form.

Additional Layer

Find Java and Bali on a map or globe. Write down ten facts you find out from the internet or books about these places.

Additional Layer

Look up a story from the Ramayana and perform it using your puppets. What does the story teach?

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