Did you know that paper was invented as far back as 25-220 BC? The Chinese Cai Lun, a courtier in the Han dynasty, is the inventor of paper. While you might have heard of Papyrus (created by the ancient Egyptians), modern-day paper comes from a process that was first used by the Chinese.
Paper is, of course, everywhere. We write everything, read everything, and most of us have learned everything on books and notebooks made of paper. Except for the last decade or so, where the digital revolution has seen the move towards smartphones, paper has ruled our world as the main source of sharing knowledge for the last two millennia.
But have you ever wondered how paper is made? And to make the question even tougher, can you explain how paper is made for kids? Well, that’s just the thing I had to do when my son asked me one day how saving paper helps the environment!
In case you ever face the same question, here is what I explained to him.
How Paper Is Made for Kids: Basic Concepts
Well, most of us know that paper comes from wood. But that’s not a good enough answer to quell the curiosity of a child now, is it? So before I go any further, let me give you a brief idea (parent to parent) of how a strong, hard tree becomes a soft, tender piece of paper.
Wood consists of a fiber-like thing called cellulose (you might have heard the term in skin product commercials, cellulose is the stuff that helps moisturize your skin).
A natural bonding substance called “lignin” in trees holds all these cellulose fibers together. If you can separate this lignin, your job of making paper is half done. All that’s left is to rearrange the separate fibers, and hey presto! You’ve got yourself some paper.
Sounds simple enough? Well, there is a bit more to it. See my conversation below.
How Paper Is Made for Kids: The Conversation
My son: mom, you’re telling me that a huge big tree becomes this mushy little piece of paper? How is that even possible?
Me: Well, yes, dear, but there is a lot done to it before we get that paper.
My son: Like what? Do they shave off little bits of the tree?
Me: Not Exactly. But they do run them through something known as a paper mill.
My son: What’s a paper mill?
Me: It’s a place where they make paper. You see after they cut the tree, they carry the giant logs to the mill. Something like a giant washer in the mill separates the rough outer skin (called bark) from the wood.
So the logs become shiny and smooth.
My son: Ooh. So then what happens?
Me: Well, the logs may have become smooth, but they are still pretty humongous. What they do next is they take the logs and put them in something like a giant wood chipper. (We have one that my husband uses in the backyard sometimes, so he knew what a chipper was).
It’s called a grinder, and it’s got big juicer-like blades that crunch up the wood into small fibers. Then they mix these fibers with water.
My son: Why do we add water? Won’t that make the fiber wet?
Me: Well, yes, but that’s what we want it to look like – a gooey mix of fiber and water. This stuff is called “pulp,” and pulp is what goes on to make paper.
My son: So, do we dry the pulp and get paper?
Me: Hold your horses; paper is still somewhere down the line. Let’s make some pulp of our own, and then I will show you how to make paper from it?
My son: Can we do that? Awesome!
How Paper Is Made for Kids: The Activity
So now that I had him hooked, it was time to reel him in with an activity. I knew that he would love getting his hands dirty, and that’s what I did!
What You Will Need
- A window screen (I used this one)
- Lots of old paper torn to pieces (You can have fun with old tissue papers, notebooks, and magazines. Tear them up into fine pieces, making sure to remove staples or tape)
- A couple of tubs
- A large washcloth
- Lots of water
- A blender (I love this one, which I use in my kitchen all the time too)
Steps To Follow
- Put the remains of those old magazines and other stuff you tore apart in a washtub full of water. Make sure to soak every piece properly. This goop is going to be our “pulp.”
- Now take out the pulp from the water, put it into the blender, and blend away.
- Next, keep the window screen on top of the other washtub.
- Now take out your pulp from the blender, and spread it on top of the windows screen.
- Use the washcloth to push down the pulp, squeezing out the water from it.
- Leave the semi-dried pulp on the window screen out in the sun for a couple of days so that every last drop of water gets evaporated.
- And there you have it – paper!
What Happened Here?
When you put the pulp in the blender and then dry it out, it makes paper. This process is essentially the same in any paper mill, just that it happens on a large scale.
Homemade paper is usually a lot thicker than the paper you see every day in notebooks and books. You can have a fun discussion with your child about how paper mills can make paper so thin, soft, and smooth.
We fell four billion trees every year to make paper. Paper is all around us, but we hardly ever think about the wood that goes into making it.
Our children must understand how paper is made to reduce its usage and recycle it as much as possible. The simple homemade experiment that I talked about is a great way to recycle paper at home, and it’s a fun activity for your children too!