It's time to snap out of the loom band craze
Small, brightly coloured elastic bands were scattered over my classroom floor; the forearms of my students were barely visible beneath an array of neon; and bags of Day-Glo paraphernalia sat in every shop, stall and petrol station. I was trapped in the midst of a new trend: loom bands.
For the uninitiated (where have you been?), loom bands are essentially bracelets made out of small elastic bands and are constructed, in the main, using a Rainbow Loom invented by a Malaysian businessman. His creation has sold more than 3 million units worldwide, while products made using the loom have extended to clothes and trinkets.
It is the original bands - rather than the bikinis and small plastic animals that came later - that are causing a problem in schools. They popped up during the summer term at my rural secondary school in southern England. The craze started with girls in the younger years but soon encompassed boys, older age groups and even staff members.
Indeed, for the adults they became a status symbol. Students would make bands for their favourite teachers and teaching assistants and it soon became a popularity contest to see who had been given the most. Requesting a loom band was not good etiquette, so there was much anticipation as to which student might "pick you out" and hand over the treasured piece.
Loom bands had become a must-have item for the whole school community. And it seemed harmless. It was a cheap enough pastime and it could keep children quiet for hours. It got them away from the computer and doing something more creative instead.
Blinded by neon
But then the headlines started appearing: "Schoolboy almost loses fingers after falling asleep playing with `dangerous' loom bands" and "Boy of 7 is blinded by loom band: playground craze needs a safety warning says mother after son is hit in the eye".
Needless to say, this had no impact on the popularity of the bands - if anything, the craze grew. Then one morning the senior leadership team sent down a briefing demanding a clampdown on uniform - particularly "those horrid plastic bracelets". Staff exchanged sheepish looks as they pulled their sleeves down over an array of green, yellow and blue status symbols.
Admittedly, there was a serious concern. The cheekier boys had realised that the small rubber bands were perfect for flicking at unsuspecting victims. The "sick room" was reporting small but frequent red marks. In some cases, the bands had narrowly missed hitting pupils' eyes.
Meanwhile, older students were beginning to use giant chains of the bands to lasso younger students in the corridors. A school with no previous issues between years was suddenly seeing an onslaught of games using the bracelets to swing students around or snap them back onto a victim's skin.
Our senior leadership team's solution was a complete ban and your school may well follow suit. Enforcing such an edict is difficult but you have to be clear that this is a uniform expectation like every other and enforceable in the same way.
Pupils are not allowed to wear jewellery at school so the loom band craze should not have gone on as long as it did. The students will inevitably tell you that the ban is unfair, but you have to enforce the rules consistently and keep on repeating why they are in place - loom bands do not comply with uniform regulations.
Of course, it will present staff with a problem if your school allows teachers to wear jewellery, as ours does. When we enforced the ban, students seized on this point as evidence of double standards. We explained why the rules were different for us but had to think long and hard about whether to keep the loom band gifts we had been given or to discard them to avoid controversy. The staffroom was alive with debate.
Over the rainbow
We felt we could not discard the bands that had been hand-crafted by students but neither could we wear them. Instead, we added them to our lanyards or used them to decorate our desks and whiteboards. It seemed the best compromise.
The bands are still out there, of course, filling the arms of kids and adults alike; this fad is not over yet. But they do not have a place in school and we have largely been successful in eradicating them from the premises.
It's a shame that loom bands have a darker side. They brought staff and students together in a way that most other fads do not. We have to follow the policies of the school but I can't help thinking we could have sought out another way to solve the problem.
Georgia Neale teaches as a secondary school in East Sussex