I asked my kids, “How many books can one piece of paper hold?” They both quickly replied “None!” But to their amazement I showed them that one piece of paper can hold up to 7 books and two pieces of paper held 17 books! Maybe your paper will hold even more books! 


  • Letter size copy paper
  • Tape 
  • Books


  1. Starting on the short end of the paper, roll your sheet of paper into a cylinder

2. Tape the cylinder closed

3. Stand your cylinder on a level surface, like a table or a hard floor

4. Begin to carefully stack books one by one on top of the cylinder. Make sure they are centered over the cylinder as you place them. How many books can you stack?

I love the amazement on my son’s face in the video. Our cylinder held 7 books!

5. Try other shapes and sizes:

  • Make a tall cylinder by rolling the paper starting on the long end of the paper
Comparing the tall and short cylinders’ strength
  • Roll the paper very tight to make a skinny cylinder
Our skinny cylinder only held 2 books
  • Fold the paper into thirds to make a triangle column
Our triangle only held 1 book
  • Fold the paper into quarters to make a square column
Our square held 2 books
  • Fold the paper into fifths to make a pentagon column
The pentagon held 3 books (I missed the photo because I was anticipating 4)
  • Which shape and size holds the most books?

6. Expand the learning more by adding a second cylinder. The two cylinders share the load of the books, so they can hold even more books. How many books can you stack using two cylinders as support? We more than doubled the amount of books we could stack by adding a second cylinder. 

We found that 2 short columns held less than…
Two skinny columns…
We stacked 17 books (we actually ran out of books, it didn’t fall!)


  • Engineering: Columns are commonly used as support structures. In this activity we tested different shapes for our support columns and discovered that cylinders are the strongest. The weight is carried equally around the cylinder.  In other shapes the weight they are supporting gets concentrated to the edge or seam. The triangle or square column will crush more easily because the walls will start to deform pushing the weight to the edges, and they can’t support the full weight alone so the column collapses.
  • Math: This is a great way to practice shapes with your kids. We’re mainly focused on cylinders, but they can also fold a triangle, rectangle, and pentagon column. Another math concept you can practice with this activity is greater than and less than comparisons: does a taller or shorter column support more books, does a larger or smaller circumference support more books, etc… Finally, you can practice numbers by having your kids count out loud with you as you stack the books on the column. 
  • Art: Let your kids color or paint the paper before you roll it into the columns. This lets them express their creativity and feel even more excitement about paper they decorated holding books.

This activity wowed my kids. They were shocked to see how many books one single piece of paper can hold. Try this activity to impress your kids today! 

I shared this post with Pitsco Education for their Thinking Thursday activity on social media. You can check out their social media accounts to see their helpful downloadable one page instructions card. I also recommend checking out their STEM at Home page on their website. It is full of great ideas and helpful resources to keep your kids entertained with educational activities all summer and beyond!


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