Icons 1423860907 101 Paper

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The word “paper” comes from the word “papyrus”. Ancient Egyptians invented the first “pre-paper” substance by pounding slices of the inner part of the papyrus plant stem into hard, thin sheets. Other pre-papers included vellum and parchment or stretched animal skins. The earliest known paper is embedded into a brick wall of a Chinese home. The paper carries a prayer as a blessing on the house. The difference between paper we have now, and pre-paper, is water. Today’s paper is made from plants and water.

Paper is an essential part of our lives and satisfies many human needs. We use it to store and communicate information (newspapers, books, documents and writing paper), for cultural and artistic purposes, to transport and protect food (packaging, sacks, boxes), for personal hygiene (tissues, napkins, diapers, etc.) and in medicine (hospital uses).The range of possible uses for paper is almost limitless and new ways of using it are being devised daily.
Paper power!

Activity 1 – Make Paper

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Today there is a revival in home-made paper-making crafts. Not only is it fun to make paper, it’s a good way to recycle waste into wonderful possibilities.To make paper you will need old newspapers, water, a large metal tub, and an old window screen. Begin with one or two sheets of newspaper cut into small pieces ( ½ inch or 1.5 cm square). Soak the squares in water for a few hours until the paper is very squishy. Carefully stir the mixture until the paper turns into a soupy sludge. For colored paper, add a few drops of food coloring, or other dye (like grape juice or mashed grass clippings). Next, take a small piece of wire window screen and dip it into the mixture. Slide the screen under the dissolved paper, pull it up to let the water run off, and repeat a few times “scooping” up paper fibers. When you think you have enough, place the screen out in the sun to dry. After it is completely dry, you should be able to peal your paper off. Experiment with colors, textures, and other additives. (Adding chalk powder will make the paper more writable.) Be proud of your paper!

How does your paper look and feel? Can you write on it? Is it heavier than normal paper? Is it rough or smooth? Use the resources on page c to investigate how paper is made today. Compare your process to how they make paper in a paper factory. Paste your paper into your journal and write notes about what you have found.

Activity 2 – Paper Mache!

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Construct an animal of your choice - a fish or bug - out of paper Mache. Do you want it long and skinny? Do you want it round and fat?

  1. Imagine a paper creation: You will need to build a base to support the delicate paper Mache. A dolphin is long and skinny so you might begin with a plastic soda bottle and tape a paper tube to one end to form the tale. If your fish is round and fat, you might begin with a balloon and attach pre-cut shapes to support fins. Cardboard, wire and plastic containers make good supports. Make some study drawings which show the structural support, how you plan to build up the size and shape of the animal, and how you would like your animal to look when completed. These thoughts and images serve as a guide as you begin your paper Mache creation.

  2. Make the paste and prepare the paper strips. This is a messy process so be sure that you work on a surface that can get wet and sticky. Mix 1 part flour to 5 parts water, boil and stir constantly for 3 minutes on the stove, then let cool. Adding cinnamon to the paste hides the smell. While the paste is cooling, prepare strips of paper one or two inches wide and six to eight inches long. Prepare a separate pile of plain printer paper too for a final smoothing coat that you will paint. Finally, attach your cutout fish fins or any other cardboard or wire supports to the base you have built.

  3. Paste away!

Dip each paper strip into the paste and attach it to the mold. Place layer on top of layer, overlapping strips. When you have created the form that you desire, make a final smooth coat with the plain paper strips. Add extra Mache to any joints between the support and appendages. Let your creation dry for a few hours or even overnight.

When it is completely dry, paint your animal. What kind of animal are you going to build next time?

Activity 3 – Paper Waste Trail

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Every year, Americans use more than 90 million tons of paper and paperboard. That’s an average of 700 pounds of paper products per person each year! Investigate where your waste paper goes. Look at Paper Recycling. Find out which company in your community picks up your paper and see if they have a website. Call or write to the company and ask what happens when the garbage man returns with a truckload of used paper. They won’t be the last to handle it! Call the next company in line after the pick-up company. What do they do with your paper? Have you discovered where the recycling plant is? Is it near your home or in another state? As you follow the paper trail, write down all of the careers in paper that you discover. See if you can trace the piece of paper you put into the recycling bin last week to a new piece of paper for sale on the store shelf!

Write about your investigative adventure in your journal. You should be able to uncover enough information for about two or three paragraphs. You might be surprised at what information you can find!

Paper your world!

Activity 4 – Paper Paper Everywhere

In this activity you will begin to account for paper in your home and at your school. Start with your home. What paper comes into the house. Make a list in your journal of one day of paper use. Remember the newspaper, any magazines, school papers, mail, cereal boxes, butter boxes, snack containers, lunch bags. Don’t forget toilet paper! Next, visit the office in the school. See if you can find out how many reams of paper are ordered each year. You may be amazed! Start a “save the trees” paper campaign by moving from paper handouts to digital communication. When paper is necessary, try two sided copying whenever possible. Collect old papers and reuse to make paper or other paper projects. Design and fabricate a reusable cloth grocery bag and distribute to everyone in your school.

Become a paper activist!

Activity 5 – Paper Manufactoring

Look at how paper is made. Cellulose fibers, found in all plant cell walls, are made up of many layers of polymers coiled like springs. Paper fibers around the world come from wood, bamboo, cotton, linen, hemp, jute, mulberry, abaca or sisal. In North America, wood is the major source for paper fibers. To make paper, a mixture of water and small fibers is filtered through a fine screen to form a sheet. As the wet sheet dries, hydrogen bonds are formed between the alcohol (hydroxyl) groups in the fibers and water; this bond gives paper its strength.

Make a process chart of how paper comes from trees.


  • The main difference between paper and pre-paper is that paper uses water.
  • The word “paper” comes from the word “papyrus”.
  • Paper strength is a function of the bonding between the fibers.
  • Adding starch into the pulp will help to prevent inks from soaking into the paper fibers.
  • The Gilpin brothers are credited with the first American paper machine.
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