We try to reduce what we use in the classroom, and reuse whatever we can. We use cloth napkins instead of paper and wash them to use again. We use metal spoons instead of plastic, and we use the same book bags and lunch boxes every day. We reuse all sorts of items, especially for art projects. We use soda bottles to make bird feeders, cardboard boxes to make space observatories, and old CDs to make mobiles.
And recycling? Of course we recycle! We have lots of buckets and bins, and we dutifully sort our items and place them into the bins.
But . . .
Recycling is a difficult concept for young children to wrap their minds around. They can understand reducing and how to do it. They can also easily reuse items, and believe me, they love to do this! Recycling however, is something that is usually done far away (at least in their minds), by big machines at a recycling plant. Gathering items for recycling is great, but the actual recycling process is not something children can usually see first hand - at least not without taking a field trip.
Well, mostly this is true, but recently I learned how individuals can recycle small amounts of paper, at home or at school! To do this you will need . . .
- an old blender (one that you will no longer be using for food items)
- some old window screens.
I decided this was a perfect activity for Earth Day. It allowed my students to see recycling, first hand!
There was one tiny problem. It was impossible for me to take pictures while I did this activity with the children - as my hands were too wet and covered with paper pulp. Please bear with me as I explain, and try to imagine the steps.
1. Tear old paper into small pieces. (This could be a good practical life activity.)
We used our old sign in sheets, and the children happily tore them up into pieces about 1 to 2 inches squared. This does not have to be exact by any stretch of the imagination, but smaller pieces work better - because they fit better into the blender!
2. Place the pieces of old paper into the blender. Add a handful of paper scraps at a time until your blender is approximately 1/3 full. Please note: the paper must be placed loosely into the blender. If you pack it in tightly, the blender won't work.
Add other natural elements to the paper mix. You might choose to add rosemary or lavender leaves to make your paper smell lovely, or other flowers to add some color. A few of my students added grass which added interesting texture to the finished paper.
3. Add about one cup of water to the paper
4. Blend paper, leaves, and water until you have a slightly mushy and somewhat soupy (think a bit too watery chowder consistency) mixture of paper pulp. You may have to add more water or more paper until you are happy with the consistency. There is really no right or wrong way to do this. Just experiment and see how it works best for you.
5. Pour the paper pulp onto an old window screen. You should do this outside or over a towel so water won't drip all over you or your child.
6. Gently press your paper pulp, squeezing out as much of the water as you can. The paper mixture is very delicate at this point. It can easily stick to your hands and tear. If it does sticks and/or tears, don't worry. Just press it back together! If that doesn't work you can pour a bit of water back over the top of your paper pulp and start the pressing process again.
Here are of a few pieces of our recycled paper, drying in the afternoon sun. I love the free flowing shapes and colors of the children's work!
Here are a few good paper making links you might want to check out:
A demonstration for 4th graders, how to make paper
A lovely explanation of how to make recycled paper, with photos!
Good luck with your recycling projects, and Happy (belated) Earth Day!