Circus Diorama and Circus Puppet Theater

Make an exciting circus shoebox diorama featuring your favorite circus animals and circus performers. With a few added steps, you can also turn your diorama into a fun circus puppet theater.
Circus Diorama and Circus Puppet Theater craft


  • Shoebox or large box
  • Construction paper
  • Cardboard
  • Acrylic paint
  • Poster paint or crayons
  • Paint brush
  • Pipe cleaner or toothpick
  • Scissors
  • White glue
  • Scotch tape or masking tape
  • Craft knife
  • Paper cup and small boxes (optional)
  • Glue gun (optional)

Safety Tips

  • The hot glue gun and craft knife should be used with adult supervision.
  • Watch out for this sign Ask for an adult's help.. It means adult help is needed for the particular step.


Step 1 Paper Circus Tent craft Ask for an adult's help.1. Obtain a shoebox or a large box. If your shoebox's lid is attached to the main box, trim the lid off of your box.
Step 2 Paper Circus Tent craft 2. If using a box other than a shoebox, cut out the box's front panel. Use tape or glue gun to fix any open flaps in place.
Step 3 Paper Circus Tent craft 3. Paint the exterior of your box with acrylic paint. You may paint the box with red and white or red and yellow circus stripes or you may go with a dark solid color like I did. In case you already like the color of your box, then you can just leave it unpainted.
Step 4 Paper Circus Tent craft 4. Color the inside of your diorama by either painting it or covering it with colored paper, or doing a combination of both. I did a combination - painted the walls and covered the bottom (floor) with paper.
Step 5a Paper Circus Tent craft 5. Make a circus tent paper frame by drawing and cutting out a pair of circus tent walls from construction paper or sketch paper. Some notes on making these paper walls:
  • Each paper wall should be as tall as your box, with a little extra length for a top tab.
  • Make the outer edge of each paper wall slightly curved, just like the sloping/flowing walls of a real circus tent.
  • Once you have made these paper walls, see how well they fit on your diorama by temporarily taping them onto the sides of your box. If necessary, make size adjustments by trimming off a bit along the sides or bottom of the paper walls.
  • Position each paper wall with its inner edge as close to the edge of the box as possible. This ensures that the paper walls don't take up much of your diorama's display space.
Step 5b Paper Circus Tent craft
Step 6 Paper Circus Tent craft 6. Draw and cut out a paper roof for your circus diorama. Estimate its size in reference to your box, including the paper walls.
Step 7 Paper Circus Tent craft 7. When you're happy with the sizes of your paper roof and walls, draw circus stripes on each piece. Color in or paint the stripes.
Step 8 Paper Circus Tent craft 8. Once the paint has dried, use white glue to attach the pair of paper walls permanently onto the sides of your box, taking note to position them like you did in Step 5.
Step 9 Paper Circus Tent craft 9. The best way to glue on the roof is with your box diorama lying down. You can place another box or object under the paper roof to keep it at a flat and level position as the glue dries.
Step 10 Paper Circus Tent craft 10. After the glue has dried, check if the roof can stand upright on its own. If the paper you used is not thick or stiff enough, you may need to glue on a Z-shaped cardboard stand at the back of the roof. Glue the upper tab onto the paper roof and the lower tab onto the box.
Step 11 Paper Circus Tent craft 11. And of course, no circus tent is complete without a flag. Cut out a paper triangle and glue this on one end of a toothpick or pipe cleaner. Tape or glue this flag at the back of the paper roof.
Step 12 Paper Circus Tent craft 12. Draw, color, and cut out your circus characters. You may actually start doing this step while waiting for paint or glue to dry in the previous steps. We also have these circus printables that you can use:
Step 13 Paper Circus Tent craft 13. Arrange the circus characters inside your box to get an idea of how your busy circus will look like and where each character will be positioned. Temporarily stick them onto the walls of your box with masking tape. You can also use small boxes or paper cups (trimmed to their desired height) for some of your characters to stand on.
Step 14 Paper Circus Tent craft 14. Glue the characters that you intend to put in the background. You can glue on additional details like paper cut-outs to make platforms for your characters to stand on.
Step 15 Paper Circus Tent craft 15. Make L-shaped bottom, top, or side tabs for the rest of the circus characters. Those with bottom tabs can be glued onto the diorama's floor, those with top tabs can be attached to the ceiling (e.g. acrobats), and those with side tabs can be fixed onto the sides of the box.

For large paper characters such as an elephant for instance, you may need to use a Z-shaped tab in addition to the L-shaped tab (refer to left photo) to prop the character up.
Step 16 Paper Circus Tent craft 16. Position the circus characters inside your diorama. Glue the tabs to the bottom, top, or sides of the box. If you're using small boxes or paper cups as additional props, you will need to paint them before gluing them onto your diorama.

More Ideas

Circus Puppets Fixing the paper characters in place is a great way to make a diorama, especially if it is going to be a school project. But if you're doing this craft just for fun, you don't need to glue the characters onto the box. With movable characters, this fabulous shoebox circus can be a fertile playground for a child's imagination.
Circus Stick Puppets Another option for movable characters is to make them into Circus Paper Dolls or circus stick puppets. Make a stick puppet by gluing or taping a craft stick or drinking straw at the back of each paper circus character.
Circus Puppet Theater Tip 1


Making a Circus Puppet Theater is similar to crafting a Circus Diorama, except for a few additional steps:

  • Ask for an adult's help.Cut out a slot on top of the shoebox.
Circus Puppet Theater Tip 2
  • Use a transparent drinking straw to make a puppet handle. Tape the straw at the back, close to the character's head. If you need a longer handle, connect 2 drinking straws end-to-end (insert one end of the 1st straw inside the 2nd straw's end).
Circus Puppet Theater
  • Move the puppets through the slot on top of your puppet theater. Make your own circus story or do a puppet show based on your favorite circus-themed book.

    In case you are using a shallow box and are worried about the box toppling over while you do your puppet show, tape the bottom of the box to the table.
Circus puppet theater with spotlight
  • Create some lighting effect for an awesome puppet show! Spotlight your circus characters by asking someone to hold a small flashlight through the slot or you can tape the flashlight securely on one corner of the slot.