My kids and I recently spent the afternoon at the Paper Discovery Center in Appleton. This is a small, hands on museum located in the former Atlas Paper Mill along the Fox River in the area of Appleton known as “The Flats.” It is in the same building as Fratello’s restaurant. If your kids enjoy exploring and creating, it is a great place to spend a few hours.
Upon entering, guests are greeted by an educator who tells guests about the experience. We started by watching a short movie on the history of the paper industry in Appleton (about five minutes). My ten year old read the short captions to my six year old. The video is informative and just long enough to hold the attention of my kids. We learned about the paper industry, the products that are made in the area, and the history of the building in which the Center is located. Once the video was over, we were ready to take on the activities.
The Center is divided into three sections. The section on the Water Street side is where we started. This is the area that explores how paper is made. There are scavenger hunts available for children of various ages to fill out as they explore this section of the museum. Here is also where guests experience the sights and smells (yes, you read that right) of the process of making paper. My kids had fun finding the answers to their scavenger hunt questions and forcing each other to smell the paper making process. On one wall is a giant lighted model of a paper machine that demonstrates how paper is made today. It is always fun for kids to press buttons.
One of the most exciting hands on experiences at the Center is making your own paper. We did this next. The educator guides you through the whole process. We picked our colors and tore up recycled paper into tiny pieces. These pieces then go in a blender with water to make the consistency you want. Different consistencies make the paper look different. My daughter and I also added glitter to our paper. After your mixture comes out of the blender, it is formed on a screen. Then you take your paper through several steps to get the water out. The final step is for the educator to use a hot press iron to get the remainder of the water out. The whole process takes about 20 minutes. All three of us enjoyed it and we each got an awesome sheet of paper to take home.
The newest exhibit at the Center is all about papyrus. As you go through the exhibit, there are several hands on stations for the kids to participate in. They can pretend to make their own paper from papyrus strips and can also make a bookmark with their name spelled in hieroglyphics. This temporary exhibit runs until the end of January 2015. Both of my kids enjoyed this exhibit.
The Water Street side of the museum finishes with giant paper machine playground. Kids can walk along the conveyor belt and climb through the paper rollers. My children did this over and over and over. There is also a section where kids can dress up like various workers in a paper mill and punch in on the time clock. Even younger kids will enjoy this section of the museum.
We finished our tour with the Fox River side of the Center. This section is all about products made from paper. There is an outhouse on display with its products and a giant nose that sneezes when visitors walk past. Once my daughter discovered this, we were there for quite a while. This section of the museum also has the Paper Industry Hall of Fame and an exhibit on the history of the Atlas Mill. We finished our inside visit by browsing the gift shop area which contains all sorts of items made out of paper.
If you are visiting in nice weather, there are also two small exhibit areas along the river. On the Fratello’s end, there is Vulcan Heritage Park, which has some information on the history of the Fox River. And, on the Paper Discovery Center end of the mill, there is a small outdoor discovery area which contains the different types of trees that are used to make paper. In the center is a “garden” made from paper machine rollers. My son sat for a few minutes to soak in the nice spot along the river.
So, if your family is looking for a fun place to “discover” for a few hours, head to the Paper Discovery Center. The exhibits are mostly geared to elementary aged kids and older, but younger brothers and sisters will enjoy helping to make paper and pretending to work at a paper mill. Consult the Center’s website for hours and prices.
Leanna Miller lives in Appleton with her husband and two elementary school-aged kids, a boy and girl. She is a stay at home mom and part time teacher and librarian. She likes to travel, with and without kids, and read books in her spare time.