The Educational Benefits of Origami
By George Levenson
Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. It literally translates as ori (folding) gami(paper). In Japan, children learn origami at their mothers' knees. In the West, children are learning it at school. Research has shown that paper-folding, particularly in the elementary school years, is a unique and valuable addition to the curriculum. Origami is not only fun, but also an innovative method for developing vital skills.
Origami is an example of "schematic learning through repeatable actions". To be successful, the student must watch closely and listen carefully to specific instructions and then carry them out with neatness and accuracy. Here is a case where a student's success is imposed by the activity rather than the teacher. Like group singing, hand games, and dancing, the pleasure comes in recreating the result and sharing it with others. For many students, it engenders a patience that leads to pride in one's work, the ability to focus energy, and increased self-esteem.
Origami is well-suited to working with a classroom of 30 or more students. In a multi-age setting, paper-folding tends to eliminate the status associated with age differences; the younger children are often in a position to teach the older children, and it provides an activity that works well when teaming different grade levels.Many teachers report that children who do not "star"in other places, are often quick to learn origami and help their classmates master the steps.
A Link to Math:
Transforming a flat piece of paper into a three dimensional crane(or other origami figure) is a unique exercise in spatial reasoning. Origami is also important in teaching symmetry; for many of the folds, whatever is done to one side, is likewise done to the other. This is, of course, a fundamental algebraic rule that can be shown outside the framework of a formal "math lesson". In addition, paper-folding allows students to create and manipulate basic geometric shapes such as squares, rectangles, and triangles.
Through the actual folding, children use their hands to follow a specific set of steps in sequence, producing a visible result that is at once clever and pleasing. The steps must be performed in a prescribed order to yield a successful outcome - an important lesson not only in math, but in life. Piaget, the renowned child development psychologist, held that "motor activity in the form of skilled movements is vital to the development of intuitive vthought and the mental representation of space."
Rooted in Asia, origami reflects the ingenuity and aesthetics of Japanese culture. By participating, students gain appreciation of a different culture, perhaps opening a doorway to further exploration and increased tolerance.
Origami, and crane-folding in particular, are frequently used to unite a school in a thematic activity. Folding a thousand cranes, hanging them in the school library or sending them to Hiroshima exemplify the power of collaboration and the very satisfying achievement of a group objective. Such truly constructive activities enhance feelings of competence and unity throughout a school.
Some teachers have reported that paper-folding is "contagious" and that a sizable number of students"can't sit near paper without folding." Don't despair,the pages of most magazines, when cut into squares, will provide an unlimited supply of origami paper. And paper folding may work wonders as a "reward" for students while also serving as a unique opportunity for learning.
1. "Bringing Constructivity into the classroom," Walter Enloe and Karen Evans, University of Minnesota,1993.
2. The Child's Conception of Space, Jean Piaget and B. Inhelder, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956.
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