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Contact paper: Stick-to-it creativity


Adhesive vinyl shelf liner, also known as contact paper, has many uses for teachers. You can use the colored and patterned kind as a practical way to cover or decorate boxes, table tops, and bulletin boards. You can cut it into numerals, alphabet letters, and shapes for the manipulatives or book center and make it into labels and signs for cubbies and shelves.

Even the smallest scraps can be used in art activities. Children can peel off the backing and stick the colored scraps to various surfaces—to paper to create designs and collages, to cardboard to decorate self-made book covers, and to metal cans to make pencil holders, for example.

You can use the clear or transparent vinyl to repair torn book pages, laminate lotto sheets, and protect children’s art.

But the adhesive side of contact paper is a learning material in itself. It can become a surface for sensory activities, artwork, and learning games.


Where to get it
If you haven’t used it in a while, contact paper may be harder to find than you think. Home supply stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot and retailers such as Dollar Stores and Target® may have limited supplies of the kinds teachers typically use. According to one salesperson, many consumers have switched to non-adhesive, cushiony plastic and cork products to line shelves and drawers in their homes.

You will have better luck with school supply outlets, such as Lakeshore Learning and Discount School Supply, both of which list contact paper on their websites. It’s sold under various categories (contact paper, cover, adhesive rolls) and various brand names, such as Con-Tact®, Duck®, and Colorations®.


Tips for using it
Many types of liner have a grid pattern on the back that allows you to measure and cut in straight lines.

When using the colored and patterned type:
Work with smaller sections rather than larger ones, and overlap the edges.
Peel off the backing starting at a corner.
Smooth the liner down lightly at first so you can pull it off more easily if you don’t like the way it looks.
Once it’s positioned, smooth it down with both hands, starting in the middle and moving your hands away in opposite directions.
Use a pin or thumbtack to pinch bubbles to let out the air.

When using the clear contact paper for the activities below;
Unroll a length of the paper, and mark the grid for cutting.
Cut along the grid marks to the desired size.
Place the non-stick side on the desired surface, such as a table or easel.
Tape down the edges with ½-inch or 2-inch masking tape, depending on the activity.

Beginning in the early years, children gravitate to fun and engaging learning activities. Ideally, activities are hands-on and promote physical, language, and social-emotional development. Most of the activities below are designed for one-time use.


Plan sensory activities that will enhance a child’s tactile (touch) sense. Caution: At this age—younger than 3—children will put everything in their mouths, so avoid use of small items that can cause choking.

Texture time. Offer toddlers a variety of textured materials, such as cotton, feathers, velvet, sandpaper, and plastic bubble wrap. Invite them to explore each material, talk about how it feels, and place it on the adhesive paper. Let them try pulling off the materials and sticking them back on again. This activity also enhances fine-motor skills.

Sticky stomp. Tape contact paper to the floor, adhesive side up, and allow toddlers to walk on it with bare feet. Expect them to touch it with their hands and perhaps try sitting on it. The tickling sensation will be so much fun, they won’t want to quit.


Preschoolers: Art center
In planning art activities, remember the distinction between art and craft. In art, you allow children to use their creativity with the material in any way they want. In craft, you have children follow a model, such as making a flower and naming the different parts (stem, petal, and leaf), as a specific content lesson.

Stained glass window. Tape contact paper, adhesive side out, to a clear glass window. Invite a small group of children to stick lightweight items to it—construction paper scraps, geometric shapes, and tissue paper, for example. Observe how the light either shines through or gets blocked. Talk about stained glass windows they may have seen in a place of worship, a museum, or a home.

Nature collage. Go on a nature walk and collect items such as fallen leaves, straw, bits of bark, and seeds. Invite children, individually or as a small group, to stick the items to the adhesive side of contact paper, which you have taped to a table. Ask children to predict which items may be too heavy or bulky to stick, such as acorns and twigs. Hang the finished collages in a window or display in the room.

Glitzy graphic. Provide glitter, strips of aluminum foil, ribbon, tissue paper scraps, confetti, and other materials. Cut a length of contact paper for each child and tape it, sticky side up, to a table. Invite children to stick the materials to the adhesive side in any way they choose.


Preschoolers: Manipulatives
In the manipulatives center, activities introduce math concepts using objects that children move, arrange, and otherwise handle. In short, children learn through hands-on experience, not pencil and paper tasks.

Trace numeral shapes. Write the numerals 1 to 9 on white paper, and lay it on a tray. Cut clear contact paper to cover the numerals. Place it, adhesive side up, over the numerals, and tape down the edges. Provide short lengths of yarn and invite children to stick them down, following the contour of each numeral.

Geometric shapes. Cut pairs of geometric shapes—rectangle, square, triangle, and circle--out of colored PVC sheets or vinyl film available at craft stores. Place one set of the shapes on white paper. Cut clear contact paper to cover the shapes and lay it, adhesive side up, over the shapes, and tape down the edges. Invite children to match the second set of shapes to the ones visible through the contact paper.

Variations: Use different colors (red, yellow, blue, green) for the shapes, and invite children to identify the color. Add other shapes such as stars, hearts, and diamonds.

How many? Draw nine circles on white paper, and write a number from 1 through 9 on each one. Place the sheet on a tray and cover with clear contact paper, sticky side up. Tape the contact paper in place. Invite children to place the appropriate number of bottle caps, paperclips, or buttons on each circle—that is, one cap on the circle with 1, two caps on the circle with 2, and so forth. You can vary this activity in many ways. Instead of circles, draw trees and use red buttons for apples, for example. Or draw wallets and offer pennies as coins.

Which direction? Tape contact paper, sticky side up, on a window or easel. Ask a child to stand up in front of the other children, while you place a craft stick vertically on the adhesive. Say, “Susie and this stick are vertical.” Ask a second child to lie down on the floor, and place a craft stick horizontally on the adhesive. Say, “Jarrod and this stick are horizontal.” Ask a third child to stand up and lean right or left (supported by a chair), and place a craft stick diagonally on the adhesive. Say, “Ellie and this craft stick are diagonal.” Have Ellie lean in the opposite direction and move the craft stick accordingly. Say, “This is also diagonal.” Have the three children sit down, and invite other children to demonstrate directions as you reposition the craft sticks.

Show children how to play tic tac toe in the manipulatives center using pencil and paper. Divide children into pairs, one using an X and the other an O Explain that the goal is to be the first to write three of the same symbol in a straight line—horizontal, vertical, or diagonal.


Preschoolers: Language and literacy
Learning to read and write occurs gradually—learning the alphabet and the sound each letter makes are the first steps. Listening to stories and engaging in conversations helps expand vocabulary and strengthens communication skills.

Name outline. Write each child’s name on white paper. Top with contact paper, adhesive side up, and tape down the edges. Invite children to outline the letters with yarn, buttons, packing peanuts, pom-poms, or LEGO® bricks.

Variation: Instead of a child’s name, write the vowels, letters made of straight lines (A, F, M, N, for example), rounded letters (B, D, O, P, R, for example), or capital and lower case letters (Aa, Bb, Cc, for example). Talk about how each letter looks and sounds.

Who am I? Photograph each child and print the photo. For each child, cut out a piece of clear contact paper, about 10 inches wide and 15 inches long. Tape the piece to a cardboard frame, and peel off the backing to reveal the adhesive side. Invite children to stick their photos to the adhesive and add family or class photos, pictures cut from magazines, or drawings to describe themselves and what they like or dislike.


Preschoolers: Build with blocks
In the block center, children learn important math and science concepts including measurement, number, balance, and problem solving. Using contact paper adds variety to floor activities.

Wall art. Tape contact paper, sticky side out, to the wall or an easel. Invite children to stick LEGO bricks or other blocks to the adhesive to make a design or shape. Add loose parts such as bolts and washers, twigs, bits of string and fabric, shells, and seed pods. These loose parts have multiple uses and enhance creativity and imagination.

Measure and count. Tape contact paper, sticky side out, to the wall or an easel. Invite children to stick alphabet blocks to the adhesive in a vertical line. Count them aloud. Ask children to predict how many LEGO bricks or wood blocks, all the same size, are needed to equal the number of alphabet blocks. Repeat using other materials, such as large buttons, packing peanuts, and metal washers.


Preschoolers: Outdoor play
Many indoor activities can be adapted for the outdoors, where children can be louder and messier.

Nature wall. Tape contact paper, sticky side out, to a fence or a side of your building. Invite children to scour the playground for leaves, seeds, dead bugs, pebbles, shells, grass stems, and twigs to stick to the adhesive. Identify each item. Compare color, shape, size, and texture.

Make a face. Tape contact paper, sticky side out, to a fence or a side of your building. Invite each child to find twigs, leaves, and other nature materials on the playground and stick them to the adhesive to make a face. They can use acorns for eyes, a twig for the mouth, and grass for hair, for example. Children may name their faces, and re-do the eyes and mouth to change the facial expression.

Venn diagram. Tape contact paper, sticky side out, to a fence or a side of your building. Invite children to find pebbles on the playground and stick them to the adhesive by color, size, and shape. Use string or yarn to encircle the three groups. If pebbles share two characteristics, overlap the circles to indicate that pebbles are white and round, for example, or they’re brown and the same size. Observing and sorting objects in this way are important steps for developing math and science skills.