By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp
Have you heard of “loom bands”? Here in Aotearoa/ New Zealand they’ve become the “latest craze” amongst kids. At first they were marketed as being for girls, I guess because they are jewellery—who decides these gender-specific things? I first became aware of them when my eldest son who is nine, bought some small, coloured rubber bands home. They reminded me of rubber bands I used to use when I was eleven and had braces on my teeth (I don’t think orthodontists use the rubber band method anymore—that was in the 1980s). A friend of my son’s, a girl, had shown him how to make bracelets and other things out of the rubber bands. This can be done by working the bands over two fingers, or by using a “loom” (yes, I thought of wool when I first heard it too). The “loom bands loom” is a plastic contraption with round knobs sticking up, usually in rows of three. Different patterns of weaving on this loom produce different styles of weave.
Anyway, this was the beginning of “loom band mania” entering our home. Brother number two, who is seven, quickly picked up the technique, producing a pink headband for his three year old sister to wear to ballet and a black and white wrist band to show his support for the All Blacks. My five and three year old children love to wear the creations made by their older brothers, but haven’t yet got the fine motor skills or attention spans required for creating their own. At about the time my two older sons caught the “loom band bug”, it was spreading from being just a “girl thing” to being popular with both boys and girls at their school. (I bet those marketing it were stoked to discover that both sexes had an interest in their product—twice the profit!). If you Google “loom bands”, thousands of ideas for possible creations present themselves online including animals, beanies, gloves and even dresses. (I don’t know how comfortable a dress of rubber bands would be and they also perish when wet… just a word of warning).
This child’s loom band dress recently sold on e-bay in theUK for £170,100 (about$335,284.05 NZ).
My nine year old created a very cool jersey for his “Enderman” Minecraft soft toy, then began taking orders from classmates who had less patience in learning “jersey weave”, for $3 per jersey (until the teachers put the kibosh on this and other “loom band” entrepreneurial activities in the school).
No, this Blog post is not an ad for “loom bands”. Some adults hate the things—they cause playground fights (and have for that reason been totally banned in some schools), can cut off circulation (if the bracelets are too tight) and in my experience and that of other parents I know, they can just be downright messy and annoying… they’re a pain to pick up if a box load are spilled on your carpet and I’ve had them everywhere from in the car, scattered around our garden, through my children’s beds, in our bunny hutch (goodness knows why) and on nearly every soft toy or dolly in the house.
Despite all this, however, I still think “loom bands” are cool. Why? Because of the creative factor. The importance of creativity for the developing mind (and for anyone’s mind at any age!) is, I believe, hugely underrated. It is interesting to observe how fundamental elements of Early Childhood Education are such things as painting, molding with clay, drawing, constructing from cardboard, singing, dancing, trying out different musical instruments and role play. As children grow older we move away from these things more and more. They become regarded as “hobbies”, “busy work”, “time fillers” or “social activities” (like being in the school band). There’s an old saying, “Music or Sport Keeps Kids out of Court” which reflects the view that children need to be “kept busy” and “out of trouble” with these subjects as “activities” on top of their “real learning”. Even within these subject areas, activities become more and more structured as children get older, frequently having specifically orchestrated outcomes rather than “freely creative” opportunities. As children move up through the education systems of most countries, school subjects also become more and more “separated” and “boxed into categories” (such as Arts and Languages–including Drama, Dance and Music– Sciences, Sports, Technology, Commerce, Home Economics and so on). Sadly, while this may to a degree be necessary, it can also close our minds off to how interconnected all subjects really are. As well as this, it can lead to judgement calls being made about certain “subjects” in the school curriculum being “just for fun”, which can in turn be demoralising for the student whose passion lies within these.
My husband and I recently watched some of the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talks by Sir Ken Robinson—talks which, interestingly, are by far the most popular of the TED talks viewed on the internet to date. The links are below:
Such toys as “loom bands” may be a “craze” and may drive adults mad when we want our children’s focus to be elsewhere, but they are still, also, connected with valuable skills. My two elder sons were doing well in every area of school except their handwriting, which was a shocking mess. Some of their teachers said this is generally to be expected with boys, as they aren’t at all concerned with being neat—another interesting gender slant. (Both boys like writing stories and I find that when they are doing their own imaginative work their writing is a lot neater than when they are doing a “homework task” for school). These things aside, I found it interesting to observe how quickly their writing began to improve after they became “hooked on”” loom bands”—something which I guess can only be attributed to an enhancement of fine motor skills.
“Loom bands” require patience, persistence and thought. They encourage experimentation with colour, texture and spatial reasoning. And, like many creative pursuits, they give an opportunity for “time out”, “peace” and “personal space”. Indeed, a few months ago I went for a tour of a CYFS NZ (Child Youth and Family New Zealand) facility and was interested to learn that “loom bands” were being used by some of the children there (who had been taken from situations of severe abuse, trauma or neglect) as a calming, grounding, therapeutic activity. For children such as these, creative activities not only engage the brain, but can be a stepping stone to moving forward in their lives.
…every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts… member governments shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life…
— Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
LEGO is another toy I have a healthy respect for, due to its ability to “set alight flames of creative passion”. I’m a great LEGO fan myself and grew up creating numerous LEGO worlds, characters and adventures with my younger brother. Recently our family watched “The LEGO Story”, a documentary about the origins of this toy in Denmark. I was a tad shocked to hear that for a while LEGO was only marketed to boys, with the assumption that girls “may not want to build”. We all want to build our dreams and turn our imaginings into solid reality—and (even though I’m female!) I have fond memories of LEGO from my childhood. (You can catch “The LEGO Story” on Youtube).
As parents and caregivers or educators we can enjoy and expand on our own creativity through journeying with our children as they discover theirs. Play and creativity are essential in the development of the human mind, the development of the whole individual. We can all fly if we are given the freedom to unfurl our wings.