A Month of Making

I love Christmas. Despite growing up in a Bangladeshi Muslim household, and later realising I was an atheist, Christmas has been firmly lodged in my heart since Primary School. My earliest memories of the festive season are not of celebrating it at home with my family (we didn’t), but of all the activities leading up to it at school – from rehearsing for the nativity play and singing carols in assembly, to making paper chains and other decorations to adorn our classrooms.

These days, Christmas for me is centred around my two young daughters, aged three and four and a half, and doing my best to make their experience of it as magical as I remember mine. Of course, they know all about Santa Claus and are expecting presents (“maybe you can have it for Christmas” is a phrase I’ve deployed on many a trip to the shops), but I also hope to give them a taste of what my Christmasses were like by making paper chains and ornaments for the tree with them.

“Making” has become something I’ve found myself drawn to since becoming a parent. This isn’t because I’m particularly talented at DIY or arts and crafts or anything like that (I’m really not), but because it’s been a way to quickly and inexpensively satisfy my children’s near-constant demands for amusement and entertainment. I suspect this is also a response to how I grew up, with few shop-bought toys, as well as the fact that the toy section in the supermarket elicits in me an overwhelming sense of horror at the waste of money and plastic it represents.

A trick I learned early on as a dad was to print out a picture of an animal, fairy, or princess, colour it in, and stick it onto a bit of card to make a “doll” (I told you I was not particularly talented at this stuff). This led to a full-sized (for a toddler) cardboard unicorn which lived a long and happy life in our household for over a year. Since then, I’ve amused my daughters with everything from paper helicopters to “magically” balancing cardboard birds to rubber-band powered cars, all made out of scrap I’ve had lying around the house. Most of this stuff has been for their temporary amusement, but isn't that the case with most shop-bought toys too?

Of course, I’ve also purchased toys for my children, but it wasn’t until my eldest’s first birthday that I did so – a set of wooden cakes which have been played with enough times to make me feel they were a good buy. And of course they’ll be getting one or two manufactured toys for Christmas, but I hope to continue my habit of making stuff for them for many years to come, not just because I’m a cheapskate or because I think it’s better for the environment, but because, for me, there’s a real joy to be had from this sort of activity, from being “creative” in this way.

This is what led me to come up with the idea for “a month of making” - I want other people to experience the joy I find in “making” by encouraging them to make stuff for the people in their lives. Christmas feels like the perfect time to do this and, with the help of the people behind the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, I’ve somehow managed to recruit a bunch of incredibly creative and talented people to share some ideas for things you could make. Over the course of the next month or so, from 15 November to 12 December, we’ll be publishing a series of videos with simple instructions for making a range of gifts, from simple machines to pieces of jewellery.

I’m writing this while the United Nations’ climate change conference, COP26, is happening, and people are perhaps more aware of the need for more sustainable ways of living. Imagine what a difference it would make to all the waste produced at this time of year if, instead of buying it, we all made at least one present from recycled or re-used materials.

About Alom Shaha

Alom Shaha is a science teacher at a comprehensive school, dad of two, and author of books including Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder. He has spent most of his professional life trying to share his passion for science and education with the public. He has produced, directed, and appeared in a number of television programmes for broadcasters such as the BBC, and has held fellowships from the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts (NESTA) and the Nuffield Foundation. Alom has represented his community as an elected politician, been chair of a school governing board, and has volunteered at a range of charitable organisations.

Website: www.alomshaha.com

Twitter: @alomshaha

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