How-to · Paper Toy

Paper Rods: Something from Almost Nothing

At this time of year I’m usually working in a summer programs, trying out new projects with kids without the time constraints of being in classrooms. The projects that kids connect to the most become part of what I do with my arts-in-ed sessions in the schools. Turns out that just because there’s no summer programs during this 2020 season, and there is not much chance I will have arts-in-ed work, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about new projects. There are a few that I’m particularly eager to share, which is what this and some future posts will be about.


This exploration started with seeing a project posted by Chuck Stoffle in which Chuck made paper rods (he calls them paper supports) by rolling newspaper around a skewer and securing the roll with tape. I liked what he made so much that I had to try it out, but could I make them without using tape?

I started thinking about how, when glossy catalogs get wet, their pages stick together and thought that maybe this could be a tapeless way to make the rods.  Chuck’s method of using tape has the advantage of being able to use the rods immediately, whereas my tapeless method requires overnight drying time, but, hey, I’ve got time.

Here’s how it goes,

Make a 1-1/2 inch fold on the long edge of a page, then fold that in half, and repeat two more times, then start rolling


I start with one of the catalogs that are always showing up in my mailbox, looking for one with glossy pages (uh, they all have glossy pages), but also is not too thin or too thick, and also is colorful on the edges.. Turns out that the Lands End catalog gave me the results I liked the best, which is fortunate as they show up at my house frequently.

Here’s the work flow:  take out the staples, cut each page in half along the center line, then fold up a 1-1/2″ flap on the one of the long edges. Next fold the flap in half, then fold that in half again, and finally fold that last flap in half a fourth time. This last fold is quite tiny. Then start rolling.

Here’s a video of how it looks:

After the paper is rolled up, give it a shower right under a water faucet.

Choosing pages thoughtfully results in rods that are quite lovely.

Now this is where I really miss having groups of kids to play with. What I would like to do is to just hand the rods over to kids and watch what they do with them.

Fortunately my friend Mark Kaercher is a person who is like a group of kids. After we talked about this over Zoom he made a bunch, and figured out that he could use sections of pipe cleaners as connectors.

I really like the way that the pipe cleaners worked to connect the rods!

One of the challenges I made for myself was to connect only three rods together, tripod-like, then see how many more I could add just using gravity.

Or what about building something over a tomato?

I, uh, think a group of kids would have done something more interesting than what I came up with using the tomato.


What about purely linear arrangements?

Or photographing a 3D structure a from above?

This photo is the aerial view of the second photo in this post. Oh, don’t scroll back, here it is again:

This structure has a few pipe cleaner attachments.

If there are no pipe cleaners in your life there’s lots of ways to improvise: I leave that to you.

Now all I need is a group of kids to play with….


Arts in Education

Recalculating a Failed Workflow

Each year, as part of a bookmaking project with sixth graders, I bring in my impressive assortment of paper punches, and let the students decorate their handmade books with a colorful array of  items which include stars, crescents, hearts and creatures. It can be a wild free-for-all, with some students slapping on their paper-punched creations willy-nilly, and others making carefully thought out arrangements. It’s generally a messy, high-energy class period, with bits of paper and glue being  put down with excitement and delight.

Reflection, translation, glide-reflection
Reflection, translation, glide-reflection

Last year it occurred to me to rein in some of this excitement and introduce the students to different kinds of symmetry that would enhance their designs, Things seemed to go pretty well last year, so I tried it out again this year.

Paper Punch Symmetry
Paper Punch Symmetry

While some good things happened, it was clear to me that my own  ideas about teaching something new came at a cost: students didn’t do nearly as much decorating as in previous years, and much of the excitement had been sucked out of the project.

Naturally, what I want is the excitement AND to be able to teach something new and valuable.

My experience with the sixth graders was weighing on my mind this past week when I was working with second graders on cut-paper project.

Rhombi as the ready
Rhombi as the ready

What I think had been my biggest misstep with the sixth graders was that I dampened their paper-punching enthusiasm before they ever got a chance to indulge in the novel activity I was laying out for them. I depend on the  use of unusual tools and colorful materials to engage students,  but I hadn’t  given these kids a chance to experience their excitement before laying out the conditions which seemed to challenge and dampen their spirits.

In hindsight, I think things would have gone much better if I had laid out the materials, let the students create their collections of paper punched bats, balloons, dragongflies etc. and then, only after they had gathered together these personalized treasures, I could then proceed with the references to symmetries.

Cutting out Rhombi
Cutting out Rhombi


Now, this week, working with second graders, I tried to learn from what happened during my time with the sixth graders.  I had an agenda, which is to use rhombuses to construct plane shapes, such as trapezoids, hexagons, and triangles. This is supposed to be an exciting activity, full of experimentation and discovery. I didn’t want to do anything suck the joy out of playing with the rainbow of colors in search of wisdom.

The students needed to cut out rhombuses from a packet of colorful  printed strips. I decided not to tell them exactly what we’d be doing with the rhombuses. Instead, after the rhombuses were cut, I encouraged to students to slide them around on their desk, and organize them into piles or shapes that appealed to them.

Rhombuses on the run
Rhombuses on the run

This exploration time took only a few minutes, and, as different students finished their cutting at different rates, it kept everyone busy.


I traveled around the room, showing some kids how to use these shapes to make all sorts of arrangements.

Hexagon, Cube, Star
Hexagon, Cube, Star

It’s worth mentioning that they were notably impressed that three rhombuses could look like a hexagon, or like a cube in perspective, with color choice playing a significant role in creating the illusion that these same shapes were different.

playing with Rhombi
playing with Rhombi

It was only after this time of playing around that we got down to the business. I tried to keep them in discovery mode by asking them to take just a few pieces in their hands (which at this point included some rhombuses that had been cut in half to form two equilateral triangles) and to try to figure out how to make a trapezoid or a triangle or a hexagon, or a scaled up rhombus.

Plane Shapes
Plane Shapes

It all worked out.

More Plane Shapes
More Plane Shapes

At no point did I feel like my agenda had sucked the air out of the room. Whew.

My note for next time is to remember to let the kids feel the excitement and let them create their own relationships with the materials before I overlay my lessons into the moment.  Whereas I had hijacked their enthusiasm before, I think that this different approach enriches their enjoyment, and hence their learning.

PDF’s for Rhombi:

rhombus small no spaces

rhombi with spaces








Making Books with children · Paper Toy

Heading West to Waverly, Pennsylvania

Belin 50th Brochure PRINT-1
At the Comm, Waverly, PA

Right now I’m preparing materials for three short workshops that will be happening at the Community Center in Waverly, Pennsylvania. this Saturday, October 11. There will be many presenters during the grand weekend long celebration of the 50th year of the E. Lammot Belin Arts Scholarship. I’ve taken a look at the line-up, which was published as part of an article, in the local Times-Tribune, and it looks like I will be missing many great workshops while I am teaching my own.

If you happen to be in the Scranton area, do come. These workshops are all free to the participants.

I’ll be busy with three different groups. For adults, at 1:15 I will be teaching the Card Carrying Blizzard Book, a diminutive structure which can be modified in many ways, and which is created through a sequence of cleverly arranged folds.

Card Carrying Blizzard Book, a book structure designed by Hedi Kyle
Card Carrying Blizzard Book, a book structure designed by Hedi Kyle

The organizers of this event pretty much left it up to me what to teach, and they let me decide on what ages I wanted to work with. Well, I like just about every age group, so I asked to do three workshops, each focusing on a different group. I’m looking forward to showing adults how to make this little card-carrying book, as it’s not something that I often have an opportunity to teach.

At noon,just before the adult workshop, I’ll be working with 8 to 12 years, making pop-ups.

Many Layered Pop-up
Many Layered Pop-up

I plan to show some basic pop-up concepts to these children, then give them time to let loose with their own creativity.

The morning workshop, the first of the three, is one of my favorites to teach.I nearly never have the right venue in which to present it. Here’s the description that I wrote up:

11:00 – 11:50 Impromptu Paper and Book Arts for Parents and their Pre-school Children

 Here’s a workshop that stretches how creative Moms and Dads can be while tending young children. During this open studio time caretakers, who are invited to bring their infants and toddlers along with them, will learn how to transform regular pieces of paper into whimsical and wondrous playthings.

Simple Paper Structures

So, did you get that? Infants and toddlers are invited to come to this workshop, along with their caretakers. There’s no guarantee about what will get done, as each child/adult pair have their own unpredictable dynamics.  I will be bringing written directions for the projects so that people can work at their own paces. I think I will have some helpers with me, too.

Small Paper Stage
Small Paper Stage

I dreamt up the concept for this workshop in waiting rooms when my children were small. I would scrounge up a piece of paper, sometimes an expired flyer hanging on the wall, sometimes one of those cards that all always falling out of magazines, and I would entertain my children with a little pop-up or an impromptu book. It really came in handy, knowing how to transform bits of paper into playthings. This workshop lets me share these little treasures.

At various times I’ve already posted directions for the simple little structures that I will be teaching in the toddlers’ class. But, if you are interested,  I’ve  put together a 6 page, 4MB PDF file that I can send via email to anyone who asks for it.  It won’t go out automatically so be patient, though chances are you will get it within about half a day. You’ll wait longer, though, if you ask on Saturday: or. if you are impatient, you will just have to come to Waverly, Pennsylvania and sit in on one of the workshops.. See you there!

Paper Toy

Wat Meer Trekpoppen: More Jumping Jacks

Jumping Jumping Jack
Jumping Jack assembled out of Small Cut Shapes, glued together

Welkom!  A few week ago I noticed I was getting some verkeer vanuit Nederland – traffic from the Netherlands. While it’s not unusual for a far off web site to link to my blog, what has caught my attention, and what has prompted this post, is that, day after day, for several weeks now, I continue to get visitors coming to my site through a post by . Elenea wrote what looks to be the most comprehensive post on the web about Antique Jumping Jacks, trekpoppen or, in the singular, trekpop. ( What a great word!)

Jumping Jack, Trekpop, “built” from shapes of paper
Cut out shapes to use to make the Jumping Jack

If you saw my first post on Antique Jumping Jacks and my post on Jumping Jacks made by students in 2010 you ‘ve seen that I haven’t been using patterns for making Jumping Jacks.  I encourage students to cut out interesting shapes from paper, then assemble them together to make their own unique works of art.

Jumping Jack in shades of blue

I was delighted by how different the Jumping Jacks were from each other.

“Backstage” of a Jumping Jack

Here’s the back side of my Jumping Jack. Although I use heavy paper, I’ve decided that it’s wise to use support the neck with a flat wooden spoon. Also, I taped a paper loop to the head, to attach the string to hold Jack from the top. Oddly, I couldn’t convince any of the students in my workshop to extend a string from the head. They preferred to hold the puppet’s head.