Several years ago (back in 2009 when I first published this piece) I found a Bill Nye the Science Guy paper-making kit. I thought excellent! This will make a wonderful science activity to do with my little guys, and it was on clearance! Score! Now I had a great activity I could use with our China geography lessons on how to make paper with my kids. That is not what happened.
Fast forward a few years and we were going to Colonial Williamsburg for our vacation and I was trying to come up with projects for all of the trades at Colonial Williamsburg, while they don’t have a papermaker, they do have a print shop, so we made paper again. I applied some things I learned from the first time and improved our process a little.
Now fast forward again, and we went to homeschool day at the Renaissance Festival, and I learned a few more things, and figure out what I did wrong, why our second attempt at making paper turned out more as cardboard. That’s how the kids refer to it, “You mean that time we made cardboard Mom?” I wanted to try out some of the stuff I learned.
I present to you our much learned from How to make paper process
Preparation for making paper with kids
I started off having the kids tear paper into small pieces in the bucket (I’d read a lot of teachers talk about how great this is for fine motor control), then my husband had the BRILLIANT idea of just taking paper out of the shredder. The kids were wildly enthusiastic about this. Make a mess and don’t get in trouble.
So the next morning we put a couple of handfuls in the VERY poorly designed paper blender. If you notice, that is a plastic blade being turned by plastic widgets….. Yeah, so it got stuck very quickly. And the kids were getting impatient. Ha ha ha ha ha, I just looked up that horrible product, officially called: Elmer’s Education Bill Nye Recycling Factory and it’s $65!
- Both the blender and the food processor cost less than that stupid paper kit
- The food processor works better
The food processor went much better and was very popular with the preschoolers. Getting to hit a button and watching it spin around like crazy….. Very popular. It still did take a couple of minutes like it said in the instructions.
Of course by the time my kids did this at 10, food processors and blenders were old hat, so it was less exciting.
Next you pour the paper mush into a flat tray half filled with water (supposedly there is a fill line in the tray, but I never found it). You put your screen down into the water and keep lifting it up until you have a thin layer of paper mush (I did this part because let’s face it the kids doing it would mean I had a thin layer of paper mush all over my kitchen floor).
After you use the felt and the machine included in the kit to get the water out, and then leave it alone for a full day waiting for the paper to dry. In case you’re wondering that is not high on the list of 4 year old kids “things to do list.”
Doing this when the kids were 10, I’d forgotten about the mesh, and instead, we smashed it into a cookie sheet and blotted out as much of the water as we could with towels, then waited for it to dry. This created a very cool looking sheet of cardboard like paper.
This time I created my own screen. I picked up a cheap dollar store frame and used a bit of mesh I had from something (if you don’t have any mesh at home, you can pick up a cheap dollar store dress up skirt while you get the frame to get your mesh).
Because of the shape of my frame, I figured out it worked better to staple on the top, rather than the back, when I stapled from the back I broke the frame. Also, the more staples you get, the tighter you can pull the mesh, and the better it’ll work.
Now much like with the so-called paper making kit you dip your screen into a dish full of paper mash and large amounts of water. The amount of water you add really makes a difference in the quality of your paper because it’s easier to get the paper mash to swirl about and cover your screen.
Now blot your paper. The more you blot it, the faster it will dry.
I discovered last night when recreating this project to get some decent pictures if you want flat paper leave a heavy book and a towel on top of your paper while it’s drying because otherwise, it drys kind of weird looking.
If you want to make your paper look a bit more professional afterwards square up your paper. You can do this by tracing a rectangle on your paper. Since I have a rotary cutter and some grids I used that because it’s quicker, and honestly my wrist hurts if I use scissors too much.
And that is our epic papermaking craft and how to make paper. I’ve learned a lot from our various different attempts, it’s been a fun project to work through.
Also, way back when I first wrote this, I classified this as a science lesson, probably because it was produced by Bill Nye, but it’s really not a science lesson, it’s much more of a history lesson. Even then, it’s more craft than history unless you tie it back to the profession.
Some more hands-on lessons
Because apparently that’s the only thing in common with my misguided theory this was a science lesson.
I’m gonna add this after I start the kids on their history tests.