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  • Writer's pictureJulia Reeve

Paper Play

This blog post shares playful, mindful techniques and creative inspiration around the theme of paper manipulation...

Origami materials

Paper folding is nothing new in terms of creative and mindful learning: the Japanese art of origami has been around for centuries. Here I discuss multisensory learning using paper manipulation inspired by traditional and contemporary examples and practitioners. Take a welcome break from the screen and relax: all you need is a piece of paper...

Origami for stress reduction and cognitive stimulation

Back in 2017, I was inspired by a poster at the Vitae conference: "Can mindfulness through meditation or Origami be used to support resilience and well-being in researchers?" This chimed with my own interests in creative routes into wellbeing such as mindful Lego, sparking an interest in this ancient art form. Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding to create 3D shapes without cutting or glueing, is made up of two words: ‘ori’, meaning ‘to fold’, and ‘kami’, meaning ‘paper’. The most well-known origami design is the paper crane, which represents a wish for peace: paper cranes are associated with the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl from Hiroshima:

I was intrigued to discover that one of the authors of that poster, Daniela Izquierdo Ruiz, was now not only using origami as a tool for stress management, but in education to teach visuospatial concepts to students in a range of disciplines.

Daniela, along with her mother, origami specialist Elvia Ruiz Cepeda has also developed a series of origami exercises for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers. These exercises were found to offer not only useful opportunities for physical dexterity, but also cognitive stimulation and opportunities to share and keep the items made. Daniela and Elvia have developed a detailed handbook containing exercises plus useful background on origami and the designing of activities for those with dementia.

Handbook origami for cognitive stimulation

Paper Fortune Tellers for reflection and connection

Paper fortune teller

Some of you may remember making and playing with paper fortune tellers (also known by many other names) in the playground. They are constructed from a square of paper, which is folded and embellished with numbers, colours and hidden 'fortunes' that are revealed as part of a game between two or more players. If you need a reminder of how to make one, here's some instructions or see the video below:

I've used paper fortune tellers in educational settings with both staff and students as a light-hearted, interactive way to explore skills and attributes. It works like this:

  1. Using materials provided create a skills Fortune-teller

  2. You can use colours, numbers or anything else to label each section

  3. Use words to describe the skills needed for your area of study / professional development instead of ‘Fortunes’ inside (you can provide a printed list as below)

  4. Share this with your group by telling their ‘Fortune’

  5. How do your words differ to the rest of the group?

Paper fortune teller with list of skills and attributes
Paper fortune teller with list of skills and attributes

This can provide a useful introduction to learning activities such as developing an individual SWOT analysis, personal development planning or in fact any other activity requiring self-reflection to foster self-awareness and verbal / written communication.

Book making for visual thinking and note-taking

Concertina book with drawings
Concertina book with drawings

It's impossible to write about paper manipulation without mentioning the hugely creative Alke Groppel-Wegener and her Tactile Academia blog, which explores links between creative practice and academic research. There are many examples I could mention here, from the Dress-up Doll of Formality to The Board Game Workshop , but I'm going to focus on Alke's work with book making.

I was first introduced to making Concertina Books (also known as Accordion Books) at a Writing in Creative Practice workshop back in 2012. Here Alke introduced us to using books made from a folded long strip of paper as reflective journals, where we could sketch, collage and note down thoughts throughout the day. See my own example using drawing above, and my colleague Kaye Towlson's using collage below.

Concertina book with collage
Concertina book with collage

Alke's work was influenced by Sarah Williamson's use of book-making as reflective practice and this visual essay, ‘… and I remember every single session!’ – on the usefulness of making reflective books as active note-taking captures outputs from Alke and Sarah's workshops.

This is such a simple and accessible way of using paper manipulation, and can be applied to many learning and wellbeing contexts including journalling, note-taking and documentation of practice. The books can also provide a useful vehicle for reflection, communication of ideas and discussion once completed. If you'd like to make your own Concertina / Accordion Book see the video below:

There are so many other resources out there for paper manipulation: Pat Francis, mentioned previously, has lots of ideas in Taking a Line for a Write , while lots of museums and galleries have paper-based activities to do at home such as Creating an origami ship from the Royal Museums, Greenwich.

Paper is an inexpensive medium that can offer myriad ways to pause, play and ponder: a great excuse to escape from screen for a while. I hope that this inspires you to try something new.

Happy folding!



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