Science Lesson About Paper Clay for Preschool
If you use construction paper for art and craft activities in your home, save the scraps to make paper clay and this activity can provide a great opportunity to teach your child about conservation and reusing.
When making paper clay, children use their senses and have the chance to talk about the changes that happen to things they are familiar with in certain forms. For example, by taking the surprising step of adding water to construction paper and grinding it up in a blender, children see that paper can be made into a watery mixture (pulp) which is somewhat similar to the flour mixture for paper mache (although paper is made of cellulose – the “woody” non-digestible part of a plant – and flour is composed of carbohydrates and starch – the part of certain plants that our bodies can use for food energy).
- 2 cups construction paper scraps (for each color)
- 4 ½ cups tap water
- ½ cup flour
- Dry measuring cups (1/2 cup and 1 cup sizes)
- Liquid measuring cup
- Mixing Bowls (2)
- If you have a mixed up pile of construction paper scraps, work with your child to sort the paper into piles by color. Sorting is a wonderful activity for young children, as it builds the important skill of being able to classify objects and information.
- After you have sorted the paper colors, work together to tear each piece into smaller pieces (about 1 inch square).
- Choose one color – Scoop paper pieces into the 1 cup measuring cup and fill to the top of the cup. Before you begin scooping paper pieces into the measuring cup, asks your child how much of the paper they think will fit into the measuring cup? – All? Some? Will the pile of pieces fill up the cup? They might be surprised to see what happens when they start stuffing paper pieces into the cup!
- Measure 4 cups of water and pour it into the blender – Allow your child to help fill the measuring cup. Point out the numbers on the side of the cup and how the water goes up to the line next to a number giving you just the right amount. Again, this will help develop your child’s understanding of how much of something fits into a given container and it will introduce them to the concept of a measurement system (in this case, standard U.S. measurement).
- Blend until a smooth pulp forms – Unlike the flour in the paper mache mixture, the paper will not completely dissolve in the water as it is blended. This is a demonstration of the difference between the cellulose fibers that are present in paper and the carbohydrate/starch (chemical) bonds that exist in flour. Starch is water soluble (dissolves in water), cellulose is not.
- Dump the mixture into a mixing bowl.
- Squeeze out excess water from the mixture and put pulp into the second mixing bowl. While your child is squeezing out the water, encourage them to describe how the mixture feels and smells.
- Add ½ cup of water and the flour to the pulp. Again, encourage your child help with the measuring.
- Mix with hands or a spoon to start. As the water and flour are kneaded into the pulp, the mixture will get thicker and make dough. Just like in the paper mache activity, the flour absorbs some of the water and the starch in the flour allows a soft sticky ball of dough to be formed with the paper pulp.
- Turn the dough out onto a table or countertop – Continue kneading and shaping the dough to form a shape or sculpture.
- Allow the dough to dry by leaving it out for 24-48 hours – Paper clay, like Play-doh, will dry as it is exposed to the air and the water inside it evaporates. This phenomenon may be cause for wonder in your child. They will enjoy touching the clay as it dries, comparing the texture and heaviness of the drying clay to when it was fresh from the mixing bowl. Talk to your child about why dry clay is lighter than fresh clay. Ask them to describe how the clay feels and where they think the water went as the clay dried. If they aren’t sure where the water went or if they are a little disbelieving that the water could “go away”, put the clay in a sealed plastic bag overnight and look for condensation in the bag after 12-24 hours.
- For more colors, repeat steps 3-11 for each color.