Turning Paper Scraps into a STEM Activity – Learn. Build. Teach


Do you have a pile of recyclable paper, such as mail, that ends up in the trash can or shredder? If you do, I have the perfect opportunity to turn all that paper into a fun STEM activity for the whole family!

In this blog post, we dive into the history and science of paper making, and then I share how to make a simple kind of paper. This paper will be perfect for scrapbooking or letter writing.

History of Paper

Paper has a long history. Archaeological evidence suggests that ancient civilizations had other methods of producing paper-like material. However, in general, it is believed that paper-making originated in ancient Egypt when Egyptians noticed that the papyrus plant behaved in unique ways when placed in water and pressed down. Upon more playing with papyrus, Egyptians deciphered manipulation techniques and used the manipulated plant to record information.

Greeks and Chinese further pursued scientific knowledge. It is because of the work of ancient Chinese people that we get to enjoy the product we call paper.

Despite our ancient knowledge of papermaking, it was not until the 8th century where Chinese emperor Ts’ais (Cai) Lun instructed his officials to develop a more systematic way of papermaking. According to historical records, it took Chinese officials some work to build a systematic paper-making process. However, they produced a beautiful product. Today we describe that process in five general steps:

  • cutting the plant
  • soaking 
  • screening
  • pressing
  • drying

The history of paper is vibrant and can be used to invite children to learn about ancient civilizations’ inventions, periods, social class, and the use of math in performing complicated tasks. Visit DK if you want to provide your child with some information. You can also get our favorite DK Book for all about timelines.

Amazon Papermaking Kit

Want to turn the history of paper into a lesson? Pair the reading with paper and pencil and have your child take ownership in creating their timeline! Or check out this resource.

Science of Paper

The science of paper is fascinating if I say so myself. It explicitly combines disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. Studying paper makes it the perfect integrated topic to immerse children in a rich experience. In addition, the science of paper-making requires us to examine plants’ chemistry in more depth. Why, you may ask? Because paper comes from plants’ cellulose.

What is cellulose? Cellulose is a chain of beta D-glucose units that give plants’ cells the necessary protection and strength. Biologists have studied cellulose for a long time. According to Rojas and Hubbe (2004), in the Journal of Dispersion Science and Technology, paper results from forcing cellulose fibers in water to disperse by compression, shearing impacts, and chemicals to create a uniform distribution of fibers that then leads to paper.

Want to know more about the science of paper? Check out this great video!

Making Paper

Making paper is an easy process that children of all ages can do. Hence, creating paper with children is a fun way to get some Chillax Sciences and art in the curriculum. In this blog post, I share a frugal way to make paper with your children. There are better methods, but this has worked fine for me, and my children enjoy making it.

Step by Step Process

Step One: Gather materials. You will need shredded paper, blender, glue, water, towel, and plastic canvas.

Step Two: Using a shredder or your hands simply break into smaller pieces the paper.

Step Three: Place the shredded paper into the food blender and cover it with tap water. Turn on the machine on high speed until the paper becomes mush.

Step Four: Deposit the mush into a container.

Step Five: Mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of glue with the mush and mix. Depending on the mush amount, you may have to add more glue. The mixture should be somewhat sticky.

Step Six: Place mush on plastic canvas sitting atop a towel. Press to remove any leftover water, shape it, and let it air dry. If the paper is too crumbly, cover it with glue using a small paintbrush.

Note: If you prefer to make better paper, there are many tools you can use to make paper.

Extending Learning: Learning Calligraphy

Write, write, and do some more writing. This step is for using all types of poetry styles that evoke the beauty of Mother Nature.

Step 1: Invite your child to draft a poem.

Step 2: Go on a nature walk and collect small leaves.

Step 3: Dry the leaves by simply placing them between two pieces of paper and placing a heavy object on top. You can always use a commercial leaf press.

Happystore Leaf and Flower Press

Step 4: Once the leaves are ready, tape each one on a page of the poetry book or using it as scrapbook material.

Step 5: Use calligraphy pencils to write the poem. I suggest doing this step after the child glues the leaf. This will ensure that the poem AND the leaf fit in the paper.

Step 6: Invite some friends and have a poetry day/night while showing off the beautiful poems.

I hope this post inspires you to try making paper with your children and students. Please consider subscribing to the blog so you never miss out on new information. And, if there are topics you need ideas on, let me know. I may and would love to help!


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