Origami, the ancient Japanese art of folding papers into shapes and artful forms, continues to evolve and attract new artists into the, ahem, fold. Origami requires spatial reasoning skills, thinking in three dimensions. It builds an understanding of geometric shapes and concepts. Origami is also creative and fun.
I look forward to the Origami USA Conference each year so I can marvel from afar as my friend Debi Pfitzenmaier posts photos of her teen son’s amazing creations along with those of other talented folders.
Move over soccer moms, Debi is one of a growing number of Origami Mommies. She first introduced her son to the craft via a camp when he was around seven years old. His love for origami really took off a few years later as he attempted more complex modular folds. While origami parents don’t have to deal with sweaty shirts and muddy cleats, Debi told me they tend to have colorful papers piled high on bookshelves, floors, in boxes and in every nook and cranny of their homes. Sounds like a decent trade-off to me.
Origami is a hobby that can lead to lucrative careers that require math and modeling. Origami can prime young minds to visualize molecules in three dimensions, complex protein folds, and DNA spirals. Origami thinking helped pack up the Mars Rover so that it could be efficiently shipped to our neighboring planet.
Debi advises parents to start children building relatively simple things like airplanes and other basic representations. If your child enjoys that, move on to more complicated designs through the use of books and online videos. Your child will slowly pick up the lingo and concept of following fold patterns. Though origami never took off in my house, my boys made their share of paper airplanes. The classic cranes never captured their attention, but exciting designs like “water bombs” did.
Libraries and art centers may host origami classes or camps like Debi’s son once attended. Local meet-ups can be helpful and provide inspiration. It’s always fun to share a hobby with friends.
Your child’s early pieces may not be much to look at. Debi reminds adults to be patient and allow for mistakes. If you try your hand at origami, you might find it easy to be sympathetic. It takes time to learn to make tight and exact folds. She assures me that with practice and the development of fine motor skills, the pieces improve over time.
Watch this fascinating TED talk on The math and magic of origami by Robert Lang, a folder who started learning origami from a book when he was six years old. It’s mind-blowing what can be accomplished with a single sheet of paper and a bit of math–no scissors allowed.