Paper Explorations: Creative Fun and Discovery with Paper

Ginger Carlson
February 5, 2016

Paper is an everyday part of our world. It is a perfectly simple tool to explore with and learn from.  It is such an everyday common item that children are not mystified by its presence, so they can really go further with their thinking and problem solving through their play with it. They can observe it, understand its special properties, experiment with it, and play with it. Whether you just put the materials out (sometimes with a how-to book appropriately placed near to it, sometimes not) or are leading a more organized group lesson, there are many opportunities to explore with paper and make discoveries.

Folding Paper

Origami is the art of folding paper (ori is to fold; gami is paper). The goal of this art is to create a given result using geometric folds and crease patterns. Folding paper, the possibilities are endless. Make a paper cup and see if it will hold a liquid. Next time you have a present to wrap, try folding a box. Play with how you can make a hat for your dress up corner. And don't forget the all important and wonderfully fun paper airplane.

For simple folding that is still truly mesmerizing and even meditative, show your children the simple technique of folding back and forth to make a fan.  It can double as a curtain for a favorite stuffed animal that likes to perform plays for you. For some folding with a purpose, go to http://www.sadako.com to learn about folding peace cranes (in honor of Sadako Sasaki who was two years old at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima and died tens years later of leukemia.)

The Science and Math of Paper Folding

How many times can you fold a single piece of paper?  Go ahead and try it.  Take a piece of paper, any size or shape, and begin folding it in half.  Then, folding the same direction, in half again, and so on until you just can't fold any longer.  Count how many times you fold it.  What did you get?  Four times? Five times?  Six? Did you possible even get to eight?  Try it with even a larger piece of paper.  What are you results?  Well, the science and math of progression tells us it is impossible to fold a piece of paper more than eight times. Go to http://www.pomonahistorical.org/12times.htm to see the story of how one high school student solved this problem and see the picture of her 11th fold!  Now that's creativity at its best.

Cutting Paper

Cutting paper (whether in the shape of jack o' lanterns, snowflakes or otherwise) is a powerful learning experience and avenue for creativity to emerge. The use of scissors offers its own wonderful way for children to develop fine motor skills: cutting on lines that are straight, squiggly, or cutting out shapes are great! Even just cutting a piece of paper up into tiny little bits can be a wonderfully empowering little meditation for kids. Then add a fold to that cutting and see what happens. A fun way to add extra dimension to an abstract piece of art might be to cut silhouettes out of dark paper. Check out the book Easy-to-Cut Silhouette Designs by Betty Christy for some great silhouette projects. And for the more intricately minded/handed, introduce the creation of your own paper dolls.  How can you make a series of dolls to hold hands?

Tearing Paper

And finally, a very wonderful tactile and fine motor developing experience with paper is to tear it. Tear it into big pieces, small pieces, even smaller pieces, or try tearing shapes or letters. Then try gluing the pieces back together. Explore the art of découpage with gluing those pieces onto a recycled bottle or some other item your child would like to breathe new life into.

Through observation, exploration, folding, cutting, tearing, and most of all, playing, the opportunity to develop and express creativity through paper! Dare I even say it happens ten fold with paper? No, maybe that's twelve-fold!

Ginger Carlson is the author of Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative and Naturally Curious Children.  Please visit her website www.gingercarlson.com to learn more and to read her blogs about living creatively and cooking with children.

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