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Make Paper

  • Age: 0 to 8+
  • Time: 1 hour+
  • Materials: Paper to recycle, 3 or 5 gallon bucket, bowls or buckets for kids, newspaper, absorbent cloth, water source, window screen, scissors, old frame (optional), duct tape (optional), rolling pin

Recycling Activity for Kids


The act of paper-making is a phenomenal sensory experience and a chance for boundless, yet productive mess-making. Add ingredients from nature like leaves, flower petals and even small twigs, and this project becomes even more memorable, not to mention beautiful.

The materials come from artwork kids have already made. This is a chance for kids to experience the cycle in recycle (and for us to have something else to do with all of the kid artwork that is piles up!). Every bit of material is reused or repurposed, making it an exercise in letting go of the trappings of stuff and the attachment to objects—a powerful life lesson to people of any age!

The Guide

  1. Have a conversation: Asking kids what they think we should do with their piles of artwork. “What if we took some of the pictures and recycled them to make new art?" They may be pained by letting precious pictures go. Lay out the pictures and talk to them, explaining how exciting it would be to transform into something new.
  2. Make your frame: There are two different methods: Take a large, old picture frame and use a staple gun to attach some window screen to one side. This will become the paper-making/drying surface. Or, use a 7"x9" section of window screen and put duct tape around the edges. This new tool becomes the screen within a pan to catch pulp (a more traditional method with a more even result).
  3. Prep the pulp: First, be sure that you are not using paper with any kind of coating or sheen. Newspaper will turn everything gray. Rip the paper into small-ish pieces (about the size of a quarter) and place them in a bucket. If wee ones struggle with ripping, make small tears all around the edges of a paper for them. Given that head start, it’s much easier (and so satisfying) for them to rip. Once you have paper in the bucket, cover it with water and let it soak for about 30 minutes.
  4. Grind or mash pulp: Use a blender or an egg beater or mortar and pestle to turn the soaked paper into pulp.
  5. Hand mash and mix in nature treasures: This is the really fun part. Give everyone a bowl or bucket of pulp and welcome them to “really” mash and mix it up. Collect “flat” nature treasures with interesting colors and textures and add them to your pulp. This will make beautiful paper!
  6. Turn pulp to paper: Add water to the bowls of pulp. For small kids, simply lay out a frame on which to work. Kids can place and smooth around fistfuls of watery pulp on the frame to make paper. The other option is to pour watery pulp into a basin or pan. Place the bit of screen on the bottom of the pan and move it back and forth until a nice layer of pulp collects on the screen, making the new paper.
  7. Get the water out: Place layers of newspaper and absorbent cloth (towel, wool blanket, etc.) under and over your paper/screen. Using your flat hands, pat it until water comes out. Replace newspaper and cloth and use a rolling pin to get even more water out and press the paper.
  8. Wait: This is perhaps the hardest step of all. Place your screens of new paper in the sun and wait for them to really dry. Once they have, gently peel them from the screen.
  9. Make new art: The texture and lovely look of the paper makes it a nice medium for new projects. Use natural paint and potato prints to design on their paper, or glue the edge scraps to paper to make new pictures.
  10. Optional: You can add a bit of liquid starch to make the paper easier to draw on (markers will bleed far less) or you can dip the paper into gelatin and water as a final step…but that means even more waiting.

Want to see more? Watch this video of the paper making process from start to finish with tips on learning into the process of art-making (and not just the final product) with kids!

Why is this activity great for kids?

Ripping paper, wielding a rolling pin and squeezing paper pulp through their fingers are incredible ways to sharpen both children's senses and fine motor skills.

By doing the making outside, we can not only enjoy the mess, but also incorporate plant materials, turning paper-making into its own art form. Both comfort with messy processes and experience with dappling in a wide variety of materials help kids become more creative people.

When kids participate in each step of turning old drawings into new paper, they experience recycling from beginning to end (or new beginning). This act of transforming materials offers a great way to practice the transforming schema, an important behavior pattern associated with early childhood development. There is really no better way to concretize both the process and the concept of recycling for kids, helping them to become good stewards of the planet.

Finally, the practice of letting go of old, treasured works of art can start to help kids to let go of a whole host of trappings that could, literally and figuratively, weigh them down in life. What a fun, reverent and beautiful way to plant the seed that we and our paper should keep reinventing ourselves.

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