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What's rubbish to you?

There is a group of people for whom I have an immense admiration.

They are a bit eccentric, with an acquisitive gleam in their eyes whenever they notice a piece of wrapping plastic, paper, box, tin, egg or cereal box, string or ribbon, that I may carelessly discard. They are usually happy to burst into rhymes or songs and are generally a happy bunch, especially when children are around – and are much more likely to become stressed by other adults than by children: Our primary Teacher and Assistant colleagues!

Mums who recognise their worth, feed their obsessive collection urge by donating all unwanted boxes and wrappings towards the cause of their children’s learning with those special people.

In these days when everything is so disposable, down to plastic toys that only last a few minutes, I find it wonderful that what is rubbish to most people, is so readily turned into the most amazing creations and futuristic or historic buildings and beings – and those innovative teachers and assistants are the ones who know how to see through children’s eyes and get them to imagine, create and devise.

Still reeling from being immersed in the sights, sounds and feelings of my childhood homes in India, I came back to school to find models of the Burj Khalifa and other Dubai landmarks, towering high, made from tins and cartons! I am so glad that teachers go on doing this absolutely essential work of getting children to re-cycle, to re-create, to use the simple things available to them, even here in UAE where everything feels so disposable.

I was saddened by seeing hillsides in the most beautiful areas in India disfigured and polluted by rubbish flowing down, picked over by scavenging birds, dogs, and often even by the poorest people, including children. This was such a common sight along the railway tracks too, where shanty towns were scattered along, with people living their lives in the midst of all the garbage, cooking, caring for babies, collecting anything with saleable or eatable value.

It reminded me of where I lived in Pakistan, and the mud streets where there were rubbish piles and drainage gullies, but children still managed to play football and cricket and chase each other – or outside the crowded towns, in fields and canals where children enjoyed the trees and splashing in the scorching heat.

On the other hand, I was heartened by the sight of people in India using what is so often regarded as rubbish here: every tin, plastic dish has value there.

And the other thing I was reminded of was how children are ever – inventive. They learn, they watch, they use what is around them. They make their own toys, finding their imagination taking wings using sticks and leaves and stones – so much the way I played as a child when I was there in the hills of South India.


made dolls from sticks and leaves and scraps of cloth.

imagined fairies in the little patch of grass and toadstools behind the bungalow, and made tiny houses for them from leaves and flowers.

used the lids of tins, filed off to smooth them, making a hole in the middle and fixing a stick in to make them into running wheels, and had races.

used cardboard boxes to make planes, boats, houses - could be space ships now though that was out of our experience 60 years ago!

played hopscotch on the verandah, with chalked out squares.

played hide and seek whilst being on ‘goat alert’ – stopping the goats fro chewing our clothes that were washed and drying on the bushes behind the bungalow.

‘helped’ as did all the children, when there was a communal event, such as harvesting, or threshing of the grain and rice.

collected the eggs from the chicken house.

Made guinea pigs and mice from the mango stones, washing, drying and brushing them and giving them eyes

spent hours underneath the wooden bungalow, built on wooden stilts in concrete, hunting for ‘poochies’, little insects that burrowed into the sand making deep wells, and watching them, keeping ourselves still and silent, till they emerged again.

(That bungalow is still there, see the photo! and still in use! It even had some old metal trunks left in the cupboards which may well have been ours!)

So – what to take away from these thoughts?

Play is always possible: expensive toys are not necessary and are often more boring than when children find and make their own games and toys.

Cardboard boxes are the most amazing vehicles and houses ever!

Play is not always about running around: sometimes quiet, watchful play is the most fun! Watching birds and animals, making things out of natural stuff like seeds, planting and growing things.

Be aware of what you are throwing away! Before it goes in any bin, ask yourself, could my child / my child’s teacher use this to make something?

Make this sort of simple life available to your child: even in an apartment, it is possible to have natural things to do and make and play with.

A pet is a wonderful way for your child to learn about looking after it, and watching its habits, and expanding his knowledge….

Have fun! enjoy all the rubbish around us!

and do share your ideas - I am sure you have many more suggestions!

Margi Kulsoom.

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