Hearts and Hands:
While the best learning often sneaks up without an announcement in the garden, inside the classroom, a project approach is the best fit between children and nature. One notable project that utilized the Children’s Habitat Garden was the paper-making project done in 2006, spearheaded by the Blue Room. Paper is very real to children, and since the reality of our “paperless society” means we are, in fact, mowing down great swaths of old growth forest in Canada to turn trees into junk-mail, paper is a subject worthy of life-long study. In the paper-making project, the children took flower petals and butterfly wings from our garden, and embedded them into hand-crafted pieces of paper.
Finding a good fit:
Making paper is somewhat messy, it involves a fair amount of equipment, and because it requires manual dexterity and brings up texture issues, it is a better fit for older preschool children than younger. We involved the parents in harvesting flowers from the garden, which were then dried in a flower press, and sorted into usable containers. (Children do not, in general, have the ability to selectively harvest from the garden, and will strip a garden clean of any and all flowers once they are given the green light, in a behavior pattern that is very difficult to extinguish once it gets started.) We hosted a parent “learn-and-do” session, and taught parents the mechanics of making paper. Because paper-making requires a high adult-to-child ratio, the parents then helped the kids throughout the scope of the project.
It’s all in the details
Shredded blue jean material and discarded paper were pulverized in small blender batches until enough “slurry” to fill several tubs was acquired, screens that fit inside the tubs were secured from the Science Department, and a quantity of drying trays, liners, and a fair amount of level drying space was secured. The paper project was a worthy challenge in many ways for the kids, with several children needing encouragement to get their hands messy. Project work of this sort prompts all children to work on fine motor skills, sense of design, social collaboration, and verbal skills, to name a few areas of directed development. It was fun to witness the children’s sense of pride and wonder once the paper dried into something that really did look like real paper!
Because paper-making is one of those deep subjects that can be spiraled into a life’s work, I think it is a project that can be built upon, in multiple and different ways. I refer interested parents and teachers to a beautiful and detailed instruction book available through the inter-library exchange called: “The Complete Book of Papermaking” by Joseph Ascension (2003). Paper-making kits can be purchased at craft stores, screens can be stapled together at home with a few tools and just a little know-how from the internet, or, a classroom-sized quantity of screens can be obtained through our High School Science department.
For more info…
You can learn more about the Paper-Making Project from teachers in the Blue Room, or by studying the poster style documentation panel, which serves as reflection piece, communication vehicle and historical record. In this project, I served a supporting role as helper-teacher and material gatherer. The credit for this project belongs entirely with the teachers of the Blue Room, who are still (in 2013) at the forefront of inventing compelling nature experiences for the kids. Incidentally, hand-made paper makes a wonderful gift, seeds can be embedded in hand-made paper and then planted as “wish cards,” and paper can be sculpted into bowls and other structures.