Discovery Store Paper Recycling Studio

The holidays may be over, but with three kids worth of Christmas presents as well as birthday presents for two boys, the fun has just begun here at our home. Over the next month or so, I'll be reviewing my kids' loot, sharing the best and brightest.

This first one -- the Discovery Paper Recycling Studio -- is sort of a quasi-present; Discovery Kids sent me this awesome toy over a month ago, but it seemed so out-of-the ordinary that I decided to make it extra special and give it to the kids as a Christmas present. I'm glad I waited; this toy was a godsend over the holiday break. Here's how it works:

Step 1: Shred and soak used paper. You could use a paper shredder, or hand your kids a pair of scissors and let them loose on some paper for 30 minutes or so. This becomes its own activity because your kids are going to have to wait a couple of hours for the paper to soak before they can proceed to the next step. My kids didn't mind the wait; they had so much fun cutting paper into strips that we ended up with about 10 times the amount that would fit into the paper mill.

Step 2: Place paper-water mix in the pulp mill, close the top and grind the paper to a pulp. This is literally the toughest part. At first, it is really difficult to grind up the paper. My kids were pushing down on the handle so hard, I thought it would snap. It took them a while to get used to pushing the handle sideways, back and forth, until the paper bits were mashed up enough.

Step 3: Grind until reaches the consistency of pea soup. It actually does look like pea soup, but that's only because one of the papers we cut up and soaked was lime green, and it dyed everything else green. One other thing to note: if you use wrapping paper or similar coated paper, it won't dissolve to a pulp like the photo above. It remain relatively intact. You can grind it in with regular white paper pulp and the resulting paper will have nice bits of the wrapping paper in it (see the Step 7 photo).

Step 4: Pour "soup" into the plastic tray and add more water to make a thin soup. For more interesting paper, you can add flowers, leaves and food coloring at this point (although the food coloring didn't seem to dye the pulp much, just the water). Have lots and lots of towels handy for the next couple of steps; it's going to get messier (and funner, as my kids would say).

Step 5: Attach a paper mold to the mesh screen and immerse it in the tray. Lift the screen straight up (copious amounts of water will drip through the screen back into the pan) and carefully remove the mold. Place a drying cloth over the shaped pulp and flip the whole thing over so that the drying cloth is at the bottom, the pulp is in the middle, and the mesh screen is on top.

Step 6: Place a sponge or towel on top of the mesh screen, and blot out as much water as you can before lifting the screen off. Place the second drying cloth on top, and transfer the whole thing to the presser. Tighten the screws on the press, leave it there for a while, and remove. (frankly, we didn't seem to need the press at all; the pulp seemed to hold together fine).

Step 7: Leave the paper to dry for at least 24 hours. You could leave the paper to dry inside the paper press, but then you'd only be able to dry 1 piece of paper per day. We made several pieces of paper, sandwiched them between 2 kitchen towels, and pressed them between 2 wooden chopping boards. I changed the towels a couple of times.

Et voila --- the next day you get small sheets, of beautiful, surprisingly sturdy paper! We've been having a lot of fun with the Paper Studio, and the kids are planning to use their new paper to make greeting cards for their grandparents.

If you're thinking about getting this for your own kids, here are some further thoughts:

The good:
The "toy" is good for hours of fun, from paper shredding to using the finished paper in other crafts.

The kids feel good about recycling paper (even though it's just a tiny fraction of the paper that gets used in our house, what with all the drawing and the crafts they do).

It's fun for a wide range of ages -- including crafty adults.

The bad:
The pulp mill handle is difficult to turn at the beginning of the pulping process. It feels like the plastic handle is going to snap off, so kids need to take care when turning the handle.

I wish the kit had more than 2 pieces of drying cloths, so that we could make more pieces of paper at a time.

The bongga:
Somebody was really using their brains when they decided to laminate the instructions. There was water all over the place, but the instructions survived intact. Due to lamination, they're ready for future rounds of paper-making!

The final verdict: You could make recycled paper without this toy, but why go through the trouble of finding instructions and coming up with your own pulp mill and mesh screen? Everything you need is right here in one little box. This one's a keeper.

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