In the maker program at the Kensington library I have found myself leading a lot of paper mache activities. It began while we were in production mode for our first movie, “Plan 19 from Outer Space.” We needed alien costumes so we used a method of making paper mache masks that I learned from some puppet masters in New York. The great part about this method is you use 99% recycled materials. The only supplies needed are corn starch and water, which are mixed and boiled to make paste. The first mask we made took a couple of weeks to finish but, to my surprise, the kids stayed interested and excited about the project. There is a lovely magic that happens with paper mache, when taped together trash and soggy newspaper turns into a hardened sculpture. Children love to see their goopy piles of newspaper become harden masks, props, and objects. The process is slow but the reward is a hand crafted prop or mask created from everyday recyclables.
There’s also some thing special that happens while paper maching at the Kensington Library. Big paper mache projects take many layers of newspaper, paste, and paper bags. When the paper mache is dry then there is still painting and detail work to do. Because this process can take several days many children have had a hand in finishing our movie props. This seems to have given children a sense of ownership over the program and maker space.
Working on a long term project together also gives children a chance to work collaboratively. Cooperation is a hard skill to teach but large paper mache projects have been one place I’ve seen children naturally practicing this skill. For our Halloween movie we made a giant paper mache spider. I had given one child the task of painting a large paper mache spider. I told him to put on a smock and then he could get started. I then turned away to help another child make a drawing for our scenery. By the time I got around to checking up on the boy painting the spider he had enlisted all his cousins to help him. He had even made sure they all had smocks on. They were each holding one spider leg and painting away.
Although paper mache isn’t high tech I think that making paper mache movie props and costumes together has helped in reinforcing important skills that are sometime hard to teach. The children need patience to see the results of their hard work and they need to cooperate to be able finish a project. Plus they are learning the importance of reusing recycled materials to make exciting new artwork.