I used to mess around with my dad’s work papers when I was little. I didn’t get in trouble, though, because my dad worked at a technology conglomerate that were concerned with putting everything on computers and the Internet. Now, paper is about half as important to the professional world as it was 30 years ago (my numbers, I make them up).
So I am here to discuss paper as a toy instead. Why not? It’s cheap, it’s recyclable, and it gets everyone away from their video game systems…for a little while.
Origami is a 400-year-old tradition from Japan that has been used as a form of 3D art for all ages. The folded paper creations were used as traditional Shinto wedding symbols (paper butterflies represented the bride and groom) as well as good-luck symbols on gifts given by samurai (called “noshi”).
Typically, origami is practiced using square or rectangular sheets of paper. In some circles, folding is the only allowed manipulation of paper to produce origami; glue and cutting the paper may be considered impure by some.
The most common design, a staple of grade-school prowess, is the traditional crane. Other common, kid-friendly designs include flowers, boxes, and various animals.
I remember in fifth grade we read a book entitled Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and after finishing it we learned how to fold the crane. It seemed different from the usual paper-mâché and Elmer’s glue messes for which we were commissioned. This was reverent, and solemn. For once, it was an art project that did not involve any screaming or running around for supplies. It took pure concentration from an eleven-year-old.
The next year, my teachers seemed to focus the entire curriculum on simulating middle school. Hence, we were given elective periods to choose from. I was skeptic of taking the Origami section due to my being born with stupid fingers (I didn’t take the guitar elective for this very reason), but in the end I made a very competent paper sculpture that consisted of multiple origami pianos of varying size.
Now a college newspaper employee, I was inclined to pay extra attention to a colleague’s manipulation of last week’s edition, which quickly became an oversized Napoleon hat. The grade-school currency is now a pretty snazzy way to impress a coworker, or even a date.
The Best Way to Learn
In general, origami is a low-cost activity because it is one of the few that can be learned out of a book, or on youtube.com. The only necessary material is paper, and the rest can be improvised.
However, there are some time-tested methods for getting certain people interested, namely children. A popular method is for the adult to learn a basic design, and teach it step-by-step to the younglings. If looking for a possible gift idea, try the many origami kits and manuals available in craft stores and book stores. I personally recommend the Origami Spectacular! Kit, which includes a book of instruction in basic designs as well as a large supply of origami paper (in multiple sizes and patterns/colors).
Why origami? What does folding paper do for kids, or even adults? Well, many parents and educators believe that this activity helps illustrate mathematical concepts to younger minds. After all, folding paper involves symmetry and geometry. Also, it helps people of all ages get artistic. The conceptual part of turning a flat material into a 3D object helps people with spatial reasoning. I could almost see an origami activity in the next Brain Age game…possibly for the Nintendo 3DS (see what I did there?). Moreover, origami also has a rich history, both as an art form and as a cultural tradition.
So, if you are a teacher, parent, or just looking to broaden your own mind, there isn’t a cheaper and more accessible activity than origami. Anything can be a toy, and as a writer for Toy-TMA, I support that fact.
This is part 1 of our 2 part Paper Folding series. Read part 2 here: Paper Airplanes!
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