In keeping with her new found hippie status in Hong Kong, Grit has been dumpster diving.
This is exhilarating, isn't it? In one of the swankiest cities in the world, coming up for air behind the bins.
There, in the trash, I found a treasure trove. Jewels, magic spells, fantastic creatures, golden gardens, and stars.
A school dumped the contents of its craft cupboard in preparation for deliveries. The new academic year is starting. Acres of children are readied in their uniforms. Ipso facto, my little grits are now sitting on the roof, busy unrolling rejected coils of string, spirals of paper, loops of wire. Anticipating decoration, they have at the ready fold out fans, pots of paint, tubes of glue, assortment of oil pastels, and a set of diy lantern kits.
Of course in the middle of their excitement about the infinite possibilities of creation, it set me thinking. Not only that you parents pay for this mostly unused stuff the educational system merrily boxed up and dumped. And not only that Hong Kong desperately needs a scrapstore and recycling system.
It set me thinking about who these craft kits were destined for, and how the school casually dumped them. I don't blame them. I know. I've been there. I've been in the department where on September 1, Mr Edgely threw the GCSE coursework in the skip. When Marcie Baxter of previous class 5G, returned for A level, passed by the non-collected skip, she went off-the-scale-bananas. So did her parents. Word spread. The departmental memo came round. Next time: Dump discretely. Mid-way through August.
I know why the school dumped perfectly good, unopened, craft sets - the ones to make a paper fish, desk tidy, wooden dolly, Christmas stocking. They're the single kits left over after the class sets were handed out. What use is one craft kit in a class of thirty? Unless you're one child who would find it an absolute delight, that is.
But it blows the gaffe on schools in general. Catering for the creativities and sensitivities of individual children is not what they do, not what they can do, whatever they say. They cater for a mass amount of kids, moving through the system, all at once, doing the same thing. A process geared to fit simply and neatly to the curriculum delivery and assessment administration.
Doing the same thing - and then being assessed on how you did the same thing compared to everyone else - is one element of school that I find most objectionable, so I may now uncover my soap box.
The craft kits we raided are complete. In every way. Every bit to make a wooden train is there. Wood blocks are cut to fit, sanded, ready for glue. The size and shape is pre-determined. The pack includes instructions. Even in Mandarin, it's pretty clear what you must do. There is an order. Instructions are to be followed. It takes a pre-set amount of time. A classroom hour, with introduction and conclusion. Changing direction, making a flower grow from your train, balancing the wheels on the engine, taking a break to make a story about a train gone to the moon, it ain't going to happen. Anyway, you'd ruin your mark if you made a different train. How disappointed everyone would be!
When I started home educating my kids, I met a woman who'd just sent her kids to school. She looked at what we'd made that week - glue and sand and bits of twisted wire - and her face fell in hurt. She said, 'I went to pick up Elly from school, and they'd done art. In the window, there were thirty owls, made of clay. And all the thirty owls were exactly the same. I couldn't tell Elly's owl from all the rest. I could've cried.'
I hear that conversation, when Shark's concertina book unpleats, with cardboard, string, and foil. Or when Squirrel twirls her princess made of leaves, twigs, a seed head for a crown. Tiger makes a horse, wobbling improbably, between chicken wire and pipe cleaner. The one-off oddball madness of each thing; each child's individuality, our indifference to measurement on all creativity, is a delight to me.
I won't say my children won't ever need the discipline of structure, that they won't ever ask for that, or that it does not provide a language or a pattern, but for now, I want my child's early adventures into art to be sparkling, unquantified, ridiculous, bonkers. I want Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to take our newly raided craft kits, sit on the roof, wind the string around the lantern, dance the dollies, and send their trains wind sailing to Japan. Then I want to hear the stories that went with them. Horses who have wings, dollies who can fly, and lanterns that sparkle like stars. Those things I found behind the bins.
And dumpster diving? I heartily recommend it.