Paper Water Flowers

This is a nice activity for younger children to have a bit of water play.

So can you explain the science behind this magical effect?

Here in Marsh’s we are well aware of what would happen to the books and particularly the paper inside them if they were to get wet.  In fact every year we plan for it!  We practice disaster management procedures and use modern books in learning how to prevent further damage to water logged text blocks.

We can see what happens to our own skin when we spend too much time washing the dishes or taking a long bath!  Water absorbs into many things and causes the material to swell and expand.

So how is paper made?  Millions of pulped fibres of wood, cloth, grasses and other porous materials meshed and pressed together (see a microscopic image of paper below).  It was wet when it was made and then dried, so we know that water can seep back into the fibres.  You can see in the video as the water absorbs into the fold lines, the creased fibres fill with water and it slowly returns to a flat shape.

Microscopic close up of paper


Card stencil and recycled paper
Flowers from a book in the library








Have a go yourself!

Get your children to make a card stencil of a flower or find templates here, draw around the stencil as many times as you like, on scrap paper!  Cut them out, decorate them and gently fold the petals in to the middle.  Place them onto a surface of water and see how long it takes the petals to unfurl.  You don’t even need to make flowers…what other shapes could you make and fold up? A simple square shape?  A butterfly?  A bird?  You could write a secret message inside the shapes to reveal to someone on their birthday…or Valentines day!

(NB: Felt tips add moisture to the paper, so allow them to fully dry before placing in the water)







Extension ideas

-Have a flower race, whose flower opens the quickest!

-Make different size flowers, does the size make a difference in how long it takes the petals to unfurl?

-What about changing the length of the petals…. longer? shorter? does it open quicker/slower?

-Older students can investigate different types of paper to identify which is more porous and time how long it takes for each flower to open out (i.e. card takes a much longer time, some papers have a fine plastic coating or photocopied images have a layer of ink which slow down the speed of absorption).

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