YA Introductory Origami Program

Image of seven paper cranes and a square of paper with five crease lines indicated.

Image from Senbazuru Orikata (1797), in the public domain.

Time: 90 minutes

Attendees: Small groups work best as all participants will need some individual assistance

Supplies: 15 sheets of 15cm x 15 cm origami paper per participant;printouts of the three folding diagrams for each participant;completed demonstration models of each figure; a small display of origami books from the library

Regarding the origami paper: an assortment of colors and patterns for participants to choose from will be appreciated. I’d avoid foil-backed papers, as they’re harder to fold. Most craft and hobby stores carry packs of various sizes of origami paper, but 15cm x 15cm is a nice size to learn with. If you can’t find a local paper source, consider purchasing online from one of these fine paper vendors. While participants will only need 3 sheets during the session, let them choose 10-12 more at the conclusion so they can keep practicing at home.

A good source of single-sheet PDF Yoshizawa-Randlett diagrams is Origami-Fun. They have plenty of free models as well as some that are locked behind a paywall. I recommend working with these three free traditional models, and folding them in this order:

  1. The traditional crane. This is the model that most people learn to fold first and participants will learn a variety of different folding techniques as you progress through it. Fun fact: the earliest known book published on origami, Senbazuru Orikata, translates literally as “How to Fold Paper Cranes,” and it came out in 1797. Sadly, the diagrams were far from helpful making it nearly impossible to learn how to fold paper cranes from this text.
  2. The star box. Like the crane model, this one starts out with a bird base, so it will be familiar at the start. It introduces squash folds and makes a complementary vase for the lily, or a fine container for change, flash drives, SIM cards, or other small doodads.
  3. The lily. Like the star box, it has four identical sides, so there is a nice series of repeating folds that helps solidify the techniques. This model introduces the water-bomb base, another very common origami starting position and has a subtler version of the petal fold that was introduced in the crane model.

Note that even though everyone will have diagrams to follow, they’ll be watching your folds and looking to you for guidance. The diagrams will serve as helpful reminders when they’re back home and trying to fold again without you.

Where folks will need the most help:

  • The petal folds (steps 6 & 7) and inside reverse folds in the crane (steps 11 & 12).
  • The squash folds in the star box (step 9) and shaping the base of the box (step 14).
  • The petal folds in the lily (step 8).


  • Make hard creases. Once you have you’ve made a soft fold with your fingers, run your thumbnail along the crease on both sides to reinforce it.
  • Line up edges and corners carefully. Everything will flow from crease locations.
  • When folding to meet a center crease, you’re better off stopping a bit shy of the crease. Going past the crease will be detrimental and can result in ripped papers. Be particularly mindful of the end point you create when doing so–sharp points with a minimum of exposed white is ideal.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Rice paper is very forgiving.
  • Be patient.
  • Have fun, laugh, and make stuff!


  • You will need to practice folding these three models! If you haven’t done origami before and are having trouble following the diagrams, you can find demonstration videos on YouTube.
  • I’d recommend producing at least three complete versions of each model you’ll be folding. These will be references showing what your attendees are working towards. You can also give them away to anyone who walks in towards the end of the session, such as younger siblings.

Fun tidbits about origami you can share:

  • Origami comes from Japan, but there are several other countries that also have centuries-old paper-folding traditions.
  • Origami means ” paper folding.” It’s formed from the Japanese words kami (paper) and ori (folding).
  • Cutting and gluing aren’t part of origami. Models that require scissors or adhesives are called kirigami (“paper cutting”).
  • Folding models out of dollar bills is called orikane (literally gold or currency folding).
  • Origami likely dates back to the 800’s in Japan.
  • Origami papers were traditionally made out of rice, hemp, mulberry, gampi, or bamboo. Rice papers are the most common today.
  • Origami has been exhibited in art museums around the world.
  • Modular origami is the formation of one model out of several sheets of paper, each folded into identical units or sets of identical units.
  • There are a number of mathematical axioms and theorems related to origami.
  • Technical origami (origami sekkei) developed alongside the mathematical study of origami.
  • Several engineering and technological advancements were made through insights gained from paper folding. These range from miniscule stents to large solar panel arrays deployed by satellites.
  • Courses on origami are taught at MIT.
  • Despite the fact that origami books have been published since the late 1700’s, a standardized system of diagramming origami didn’t appear in print until 1961 in the book Art of Origami by Samuel Randlett.
  • Almost anything from John Smith’s list of origami records and curiosities.



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