DIY Cardboard Roll Projector Word Shadow Show!

DIY Projector shadow show with recyclables

Does anyone remember the overhead projectors that teachers previously used to write notes and display onto a wall? My kids and I made our own cardboard roll projector to review Chinese characters in a fun way!

The cardboard roll projectors take only a few minutes to make, and I’m updating this post to make it more eco-friendly and reusable!

As with all activities on my website, please feel free to adapt to your child’s language and developmental level!

Related: 20+ Chinese Learning Activities with Cardboard Rolls!

DIY Cardboard Roll Projector Word Shadow Show! Easy learning activity for kids
Projecting 爱 / 愛 (Ài / love) with flashlight (rechargeable option here)

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DIY Cardboard Roll Projector Word Shadow Show with Recyclables!

I was inspired to try this idea after seeing other moms use cardboard rolls and flashlights to project shadows of shapes! This idea has been around for years, and the earliest version I could find was on Happily Ever Mom.

Clear plastic wrap was used in these examples, and we tried this approach, too.

However, seeing my post and others quickly go viral on social media, I became concerned about the impact of thousands and thousands of families using plastic wrap which is not easily recyclable.

Especially since Earth Day was this week, upcycling cardboard rolls while wasting plastic feels hypocritical!

Thankfully, another mom, Cathy, shared a brilliant idea of reusing the plastic from produce containers!

DIY Cardboard Roll Projector Word Shadow Show!

Fun, simple activity that encourages language

Before diving into the how-to steps, I first want to talk about language since this website is about raising trilingual children.

Turning this into a Chinese learning activity was super easy!

Since Chinese is a minority language for our family, I try to teach Chinese characters in unique, memorable ways.

Their dominant language, English, is naturally more necessary, so the minority language needs special encouragement.

Simple activities like this DIY cardboard projector can also help kids memorize Chinese characters when we capture their interest.

When my kids are intrigued by an activity, they have a better chance at looking at the Chinese character and focusing longer.

I think this is why both of my children began to read Chinese at young ages!

How to involve kids of all ages with DIY cardboard projectors

When making the cardboard roll projectors, involve your kids!

This is a perfect opportunity to speak Chinese consistently or whatever language your family is focusing on at home.

Older kids can help write Chinese words.

For children who are not yet reading, you can still make cardboard roll projectors.

Stickers can be projected instead of Chinese characters!

Ask your kids what they observe; discussing the projected shape shadows is the perfect chance at using the minority language for conversation!

DIY Cardboard Roll Projector Word Shadow Show! Easy learning activity for kids. Teach Chinese characters!

Important bilingual vocabulary

For parents learning Chinese with their children like me, I’ve listed some relevant phrases in English, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, and Hanyu Pinyin for reference).

Please let me know if you have additional suggestions in the comments at the end of the article!

  • 投影机 / 投影機 (Tóuyǐng jī / projector)
  • 阴影 / 陰影 (Yīnyǐng / shadow)
  • 墙壁 (Qiángbì / wall)
  • 用手电筒照在墙上 / 用手電筒照在牆上 (Yòng shǒudiàntǒng zhào zài qiáng shàng / Shine the flashlight on the wall)
  • 你看到墙上的字吗?/ 你看到牆上的字嗎 (Nǐ kàn dào qiáng shàng de zì ma? / Do you see the word on the wall?)
  • 这是什么字 / 這是什麼字? (Zhè shì shénme zì / What word is this?)
Recycled household materials needed to make cardboard projector

What you need to make a cardboard projector

Here are the recommended materials which most people already have at home!

Option 1: The eco-friendly way

  1. Cardboard paper towel tubes (纸板管 / 紙板管 / Zhǐbǎn guǎn) or toilet paper rolls (卫生纸筒 / 衛生紙筒 / Wèishēngzhǐ tǒng)
  2. Hard, clear plastic (透明塑料 Tòumíng sùliào) from food packaging is the best option to minimize waste and encourage reuse. Written words can be easily erased with a damp towel!
    1. Another option that you can try is clear packing tape (透明包装胶带 / 透明包裝膠帶 / tòumíng bāozhuāng jiāodài), and the smooth side of the tape could be potentially wiped and reused.
  3. Whiteboard marker (白板马克笔 / 白板的馬克筆 / Báibǎn mǎkè bǐ)
  4. iPhone or small rechargeable flashlight (小可充电手电筒 / 小可充電手電筒 Xiǎo kě chōngdiàn shǒudiàntǒng). Please try to reserve flashlights that use disposable batteries for emergencies. Disposable batteries are toxic to the environment. Batteries should be disposed in safe designated locations.
  5. Pen knife (笔刀 / Bǐ dāo)

Option 2

  1. Cardboard paper towel tubes (纸板管 / 紙板管 / Zhǐbǎn guǎn) or toilet paper rolls (卫生纸筒 / 衛生紙筒 / Wèishēngzhǐ tǒng)
  2. Previously we used clear plastic cling wrap (保鲜膜 / 保鮮膜 / Bǎoxiān mó). After a few words, I felt guilty about more since these are not reusable or recyclable.
  3. Rubber bands (橡皮筋 / 橡皮筋 / Xiàngpí jīn) or hair ties 发带 / 髮帶 / fà dài
  4. Black marker (黑色的马克笔 / 黑色的馬克筆 / Hēisè de mǎkè bǐ or 黑色的彩色筆 / Hēisè de cǎisè bǐ)
  5. Scissors (剪刀 / Jiǎndāo)
Writing 爱 / 愛 (Ài / love) on upcycled plastic piece which can be easily erased with damp towel

How to make the DIY cardboard roll projector and create a shadow show

  1. If reusing plastic from a container, draw a circle by tracing end of toilet paper roll.

2. Cut piece of plastic.

3. Write Chinese character or draw shape center

Cutting slit in cardboard roll with pen knife

4. If using hard plastic, cut slit and insert plastic on one end of the cardboard roll.

  • If using plastic wrap, make sure the word is inserted backwards eg, 想 (xiǎng / want) in the below photo). Wrap rubber band around plastic wrap and end of cardboard roll
DIY Cardboard Roll Projector Word Shadow Show! Easy learning activity for kids. Teach Chinese characters!

5. Turn off the lights for optimal viewability!

6. Shine a flashlight at the open end of the roll and point DIY cardboard projector toward blank paper, wall, ceiling, etc.

DIY Cardboard Roll Projector Word Shadow Show! Easy learning activity for kids. Teach Chinese characters!

7. Enjoy the Chinese character shadow show!

8. Experiment! Use different lengths of cardboard tube! Position the flashlight to see if you can make the Chinese character appear larger or smaller.

DIY Cardboard Roll Projector Word Shadow Show! Easy learning activity for kids. Teach Chinese characters!

Did you try this DIY cardboard projector word shadow show?

If you try this activity, please let us know in the comments below! What age(s) are your kid(s) and how did it go? We’d love to hear about your learning experience!

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  1. I did this today with my 4 and 2 yo grandsons and they loved it! I used packing tape and wrote their names and drew a very simple likeness for their favorite characters. I didn’t have dry erase markers so I used permanent markers. I also had several tp rolls so we made six different ones. They had a blast. FYI- I added some color and was amazed at how well the colors come through! The possibilities are endless!

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