Investigating Paper

Our project today was tearing, scrunching and sticking paper. I found lots of different grades of paper, from tissue up to card, for the children to work with. This gave them an opportunity to discover the different properties of each grade. There is so much more to paper than making pictures and I’ll be talking about that later plus there are four paper-based activities at the end of this blog. But first lets talk about…
The Pictures
The younger children needed some help and guidance from mum but once they got the idea of tearing, scrunching and sticking there was no stopping them. They all spent ages thinking which pieces of paper to use, which colours to combine and where to place each piece.

One little boy came back three times to add more to his picture whilst some of the older girls made four pictures each.

One little girl made a picture of mum. To her it was mum. To the rest of us it was orange and brown paper. But it’s important to listen to the children when talking to them about their pictures. You just may learn something.

As an art activity this is great fun and the children are learning how to manipulate PVA glue and paper which helps to develop their fine motor skills. It also helps to develop their decision making muscle and gain confidence in the decisions they make.

But taking a step back, there is a whole lot more to paper than first meets the eye.
Discovering Paper
Paper is a really versatile material. It can be super fine – tissue – or really thick and heavy – card. It can be rough or it can be smooth depending on the finish. It can be flat or moulded. It can be folded, cut, torn, drawn and painted on, burnt, wrapped round things … need I go on?
Tearing And Scrunching Paper
Different types of paper will tear in their own way. Thin tissue paper is easy to tear but card is really hard. Not only is thinner paper easier to tear but it’s also easier to scrunch!

Different paper also has a different sound when you tear it and scrunch it. Some will be really loud, whilst others will be quieter. Also, they have a different tone or pitch.

You’ll also find that paper tears better one way than the other – try it to see what I mean. Take a sheet and try tearing it from one side then the other. One way will tear reasonably straight but the other way it will be all wibbly wobbly.
Why Does Paper Tear Better One Way Than The Other?
It’s all to do with the way paper is made. Paper is generally made from wood fibres. These come from logs that are chopped into wood chips, mixed with water and chemicals, and run through a process that separates the wood fibres. The result is wood pulp. This is then pressed onto a mesh conveyor belt that squeezes the water out.

As the pulp moves along the belt the wood fibres line up in the direction that the belt is travelling. This arrangement of the fibres gives the paper its grain.

It’s the grain that causes the paper to tear straighter one way than the other. When paper is ripped with the grain, the tear goes with the direction of the fibres, giving you a fairly straight result. When you tear the paper across the grain the tear tends to wander as it works against the direction of the fibres.

Here’s a cute video explaining how paper is made and why recycling is a good idea:

Folding Paper
I’m going to show my age now. I will always remember a experiment that was conducted on the children’s program ‘Why Don’t You’. They were trying to fold a square piece of paper more than seven times. Anyway they took a huge piece of paper – about 10ft by 10ft – and found they couldn’t do it. The record is actually 12 folds and there is some fancy mathematics involved. But just to show you how hard paper is to fold many times here is a video of some folk folding a football-pitch sized piece of paper and they only manage to make 11 folds!

Why Is Paper So Hard To Fold Lots Of Times?
Well firstly, the number of layers of paper doubles with each fold. So you start with a single layer, then you have two layers, then four, then eight, then sixteen – you get the idea. Maybe if you are very strong, and you use a pair of pliers, you can get to seven folds and 128 layers.

By this time the sheet of paper is so small, the number of layers so large relative to the size, and the distortion caused by the folds so great, that there is no way to fold it again as the fibres of the paper do not have enough flexibility for another fold.
Activity Ideas
Here are four more activities you can do with the children as well as making pictures.

Folding Paper
You could try folding different types of paper to see how many times it will fold. The children can help you count or even have a go themselves.

Tearing and Scrunching Paper
Gather together different grades of papers and tear them up. First see which are easy to tear and which are hard. Then find the grain of the paper by seeing which way the paper tears straightest. Then listen to how loud the paper tears and how it sounds. Then try scrunching the paper to see which is easiest and finally again listen to see how loud the paper scrunches.

Finding Paper in Your Setting
A great game to play would be to see how many things the children can find that are made from paper. Not only are books made with it and, of course, paper for art but there are paper towels, loo paper, display paper, tissues for blowing your nose as well as tissue for wrapping and decorating things, egg boxes and so on.

By gathering them all together you’ll clearly see all the different types of paper there are and how it’s used in everyday life.

Making Paper
You can also make your own paper simply by soaking old newspapers until they turn to mush. You could make this a sensory activity for the children where they play with the wet paper until it’s all pulpy.

Then you can spread the pulp out on a fine mesh, put muslin on top and press down to squeeze out the moisture. Then turn it over onto a board and let it dry. Simple, home made paper. You could then test the tearing properties of this and compare it to manufactured paper.

You can take your home-made paper to the next level by adding colour, dried flowers or even seeds. If you add seeds you can then cut up the paper and plant it. Then you’re getting into a growing project!

So there you have it. Paper, a fascinating, versatile material that you can play with in lots of ways. See if you can make a whole educational day around it. Enjoy!


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