So loom bands are what it’s all about at the moment, just in case you didn’t know. These little elastic bands that can be twisted and joined together to make bracelets (and probably a million and one other things if you are so inclined) do seem to be a very much talked about subject. Well, at least if the place you go everyday has a playground. They basically seem to be the re-invention of the friendship bracelet which is what I remember making when I was at school. While loom bands are made of plastic (or rubber) and need to be looped together on your fingers, or an a complicated looking loom if you are really into it, friendship bracelets (as I remember them) are made of coloured embroidery thread. We used to make them by tying pieces of the coloured thread to a safety pin and weave them together in all sorts of different designs.

Although friendship bracelets seemed to take quite a while to make (or maybe that was just because I was a child and everything seemed to take much longer!) loom band bracelets seem to evolve pretty quickly – in minutes. There is a quick gain and sense of achievement for very little cost and effort (300 bands for £1 – what a bargain). There seems to be a simple enjoyment in making the bracelet itself but an even bigger pleasure in giving them away to your friends.

Wearing them shows you are somehow part of the club, that you ‘get it’ and are part of the craze. But making one for someone else shows that you can do the thing that everyone is doing, that you have learnt the skill and that you can give someone something that you have proudly made. I’m sure once you get more adept this will become more about the kudos associated with different designs and colour combinations and that there will be a more complex code to attain. But for now, my six year old at least is content that she can show what she can do to her friends and be part of the moment.

And this is what friendship bracelets were all about. While I am not entirely convinced that we won’t be tied up in a heap of rubber bands at some time in the future (all our efforts to recycle outdone in one summer of this new craze) I like the kind of mass communication of solidarity and friendship. I am not alone in worrying about too much screen time for our children and not enough playing, so I am all for something that is creative and promotes sharing. It’s a new thing to talk about in the playground and there’s something about passing on and sharing a small bracelet make of coloured bands that I rather like. I can feel all my green credentials slowly being eroded by this seemingly innocuous thing that has created such as buzz. Whether your response is one of raised eyebrows and “oh, not loom bands” or “I love loom bands” it is that shared knowing what the thing is all about that is kind of comforting.

Communication comes in all forms, it’s not just about verbalising what we are thinking or about writing or even listening. Sometimes it’s just about doing something and watching, about performing a gesture that shows something and gives a message. Not everyone is good at saying what they think, and some people are just great at making things instead. The Interflora “say it with flowers” slogan is so true, there’s something about communicating your love or friendship by giving something to your nearest and dearest (especially if it is made) that is an instant win.

The kind of symbolism embodied in giving someone a friendship bracelet (or its present day loom band version) demonstrates some kind of implicit shared knowledge or idea.  When you see someone with symbol that you recognise, maybe something from the same shop or the same piece of jewellery (I guess loom band bracelets just about fall into this category) there is an instant understanding of that ‘badge’ that shows that you are part of the group. Us humans love to be part of a group and to communicate in the way the rest of the group recognises and values.

The way this lingua franca of rubber band communication is shared is also fascinating, with pre-teens and younger posting Youtube clips on line to share their creations.  While ‘back in the day’ (to use one of my husband’s favourite expressions) symbols travelled more slowly and were shared more by people meeting up and coming face to face, these days everything is more rapid and more virtual. The loom band craze has been swept along in a much more global way supported by a whole host of media and social networking. It has gone beyond playground level in a swift and ubiquitous way and even if you don’t have children it is hard to ignore the “get your loom bands here” signs in many of the shops that at least make you ask, “what on earth is a loom band…..?” and suddenly you’re talking about it. This kind of message somehow leaps around everywhere all at once and your simple gesture of giving a hand-made bracelet to a friend is part of a global phenomena.

At least that’s what it feels like from here, in a household with children where part of my social network is other parents and children, and the talk is often about their talk and their ideas and their communications. A visit to friends with children on the other side of the country is somehow made easier by the spotting of mutual loom band bracelets and an instant talking point for shy kids. So while I’m not really the kind of person who is particularly up on the latest trends, I quite like this fad, this craze. I like the way it has got people talking and I like the collective sharing of these small tokens. I like the way that (probably thanks to my six year old daughter) I am in on the joke, I know what it’s all about and I get the symbol. It’s not the first craze and it won’t be the last, and it remains to be seen how long the moment sticks around before it gets forgotten and we are just left finding elastic bands down the side of the sofa.

I think actually they might even make a good fiddle toy at one of my next workshops or perhaps a discussion starter at least. If nothing else, I now know who Harry Styles is (allegedly a loom band bracelet wearer) and they are a far more interesting topic than the World Cup……….

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