How to Make a Paper Lantern

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I was curious how to make paper lanterns for a while now. I’ve seen some pretty cute ones on Pinterest but was having a hard time sourcing directions that would tell me exactly how to make them. After a few tries, I managed to figure out the trick….

First of all, you can make elaborate lanterns with decorative inners (the cylinder on the inside) and flaps that are either pointy or curved.

For the purpose of making lanterns with 25, seven and eight-year-olds, I’m going to stick to the very basic model.

Learn how to make a decorative paper lantern. A great Chinese New Year arts and craft activity for kids.

You will need TWO pieces of paper.  They need to be the EXACT same length but one must be taller than the other by at least two inches.  If you need measurements, the first paper should measure 12″ X 12″ and the second paper 12″ x 16″. You can change the height and width but just keep one side of equal length on both pieces.

Learn how to make a decorative paper lantern. A great Chinese New Year arts and craft activity for kids.

Each child needs two pieces of paper: the tall paper and the short paper. The tall paper is the outside or slatted side of the lantern and the shorter paper is the inside cylinder.

I pre-cut the papers and placed various colors on a table. The children were instructed to choose one color from one pile and another color from the other pile. Then the kids folded the LONG paper in half lengthwise (you will have to supervise this as so many of my students folded the wrong way).

TIP: If I was to do it again, I would pre-fold the paper and then ask the children to pick one folded paper and one flat paper. That would have saved a great deal of time.

Draw a line across one edge of the paper as a reminder to stop cutting. Cut slits into the paper just like the start of a woven placemat.

Learn how to make a decorative paper lantern. A great Chinese New Year arts and craft activity for kids.

Here’s where I went a little artsy: the children decorated the papers. I’m not really sure what I was thinking but I set out paints, oil pastels, glittery embellishments and some paper scraps. Good grief. What a mess. The idea was honorable but it’s really hard painting cut paper and even more difficult gluing on embellishments.

If you chose to decorate with paint, allow the paper to dry before cutting into slits. Or if you are smart, you will skip the paint entirely and move onto the next step.

Learn how to make a decorative paper lantern. A great Chinese New Year arts and craft activity for kids.

Personal note: See the above picture? A very endearing eight-year-old boy loves my camera and will ask to snap some pictures. Although most of the pictures contain headless people, I love the one he captured of me helping one of his classmates.

The smaller paper can be decorated as well and when both are dry, it’s time to attached the tall paper to the short paper. I determined through a few experiments that the best way to attach the two papers is to use staplers. With the help of the classroom teacher, we walked around and held the cylinder paper and the cut paper together while the kids used the staplers.

Using pre-cut strips of paper, the kids added handles on their own.

Learn how to make a decorative paper lantern. A great Chinese New Year arts and craft activity for kids.

When the lanterns were basically assembled, many kids chose to further embellish their lanterns. Many used cut paper pieces to glue onto the lanterns. I liked this type of decoration the best. And it just happens to be the easiest.

This type of project makes a great activity for a parent and child to do together as it can get a little wild with the paint, folding and cutting plus the use of all the staplers. The classroom teacher and I had quite a few laughs during the process and I’m thankful that she’s such a good sport.

Learn how to make a decorative paper lantern. A great Chinese New Year arts and craft activity for kids.

Have you tried making paper lanterns with your group? How did you create them? Was it an easy project for you?

What do you think?

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  • jenny

    Hi Patty,
    These look rather sweet! I was wondering if you did these to link in with the Chinese new year (Feb 15 this year) . Last year I did a couple of lessons from your Chinese Dragons booklet and the kids were delighted. We have a huge Chinese population ( amongst many other cultures) in Melbourne, Australia. Jenny

    • Patty Palmer

      Yes. That was the idea!

  • Mary Deschamps

    This would be a very fun art project! I loved doing these little crafts growing up. I think exercising creativity like that is especially important for kids today. They have so many other things that can entertain them that sometimes they don’t get to be as creative as they maybe should be.

  • Moira

    Hi Patti,

    I always loved doing these lanterns for a 2nd Grade China project. I don’t use the cylinder in the middle but let the kids stuff their lanterns with crumpled up, brightly colored tissue paper. Construction paper crayons work great for decorating the lantern! They always turn out quite nice!

    Moira

  • Linda Baum

    I was looking for a project to do with my students to celebrate Chinese New Year. This is perfect, but I will probably skip the paint. I have some embellishments that they can glue on.
    Thank you.

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