Kindergarten and lower primary teachers know how much children enjoy taking things apart, getting their fingers messy, and cutting and tearing paper. There’s usually no dearth of paper of all sorts in a primary classroom – newspaper, chart paper, crepe paper and construction paper in many hues – so why not put it to good use?
Tearing is an activity that puts to use gross and fine motor skills. When a paper is torn without purpose, it still does exercise the wrist and finger muscles, as the activity requires a child to hold the paper in a certain way, pull in a given direction and apply pressure differentially as the tearing proceeds – all of which happens unconsciously, of course. But purposive paper tearing can become quite a creative activity, if children are directed just a little bit. Tearing doesn’t have to be restricted to enthusiastic four and five-year-olds. There’s a lot that even older children can learn from the activity. As in any craft activity, it’s important to keep the direction adequate but minimal so that the children can discover techniques on their own and surprise us with their ideas!
Tearing activities can proceed from tearing coloured paper for use in framing and pasting to making progressively more complicated shapes. The French, the Japanese and the Chinese have forms of art that are based on paper tearing. The French call it ‘dechirage’ (from chirer, which means to tear), a way of forming a collage using shapes torn rather than cut from paper. The Japanese form, which is often used to decorate fans, is called Chigirie. In China, this now almost forgotten art is called Si zhi.