Hair apparent

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
Ever since Tenniel drew Alice in Wonderland with cascades of long hair held back by a black band, children's literature has been illustrated with girls sporting significant hairstyles. Think of Nancy Drew with her no-nonsense brown bob, Bunty and co from the comics with their jolly pony-tails and Hermione in the Harry Potter stories with her wild but disciplined mop.

There's a great deal of social history in hairstyles. Now, girls can try out the most creative assortment of hair accessories since the world began. A trip to the corner chemist will yield hair jewels fixed on with poppers; Alice bands, not just in traditional black velvet but in a range from tartan to glittery; pony-tail bunches in similar colours; scrunchies from workaday navy to fancy gold; combs, pins, clips, slides and clasps (from standard tortoiseshell to hologram-patterned); beads, strands and feathers to weave in; and wilder disco ornaments to dramatise your head. A strong favourite here are those bouncy metallic stars on springs attached to bands, but a pair of Minnie Mouse ears can also be very acceptable.

All this creativity is just crying out for inventive classroom use. As a feminine-inspired design technology project, it's hard to better. The wire bouncers, particularly, require quite a lot of experimenation with different thicknesses and coilings of wire, while even bending a wire to the right shape to fit a head comfortably is harder than a child might think. Sewing and glueing skills will be needed to cover an Alice band; graphic analysis may be needed to unlock the secret of a slide fastener (there are several kinds, if you look). If boys find this just too disgusting, get them to design a space radar receiver or one of those eye-concealers worn in Star Trek: The Next Generation - the principles will be much the same.

Using different materials, colours, patterns, foil paper and left-over scraps, leads to an art lesson in collage, while the designing of a good disco ornament feeds in to design for a school play or assembly. But perhaps the most important aspect is the multi-cultural one. African-Caribbean and Asian cultures make much of women's hairstyles. In fact, the black hairdressing market is extremely lucrative - lots of career openings. Get parents to come in and talk about the place of hairdressing, with demonstrations of weaving, plaiting, beading, colouring, extensions and ornaments. As well as affirming pride in different cultures, it will open children's eyes to some of the hidden creative work behind what the Bible calls a woman's crowning glory - her hair.

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