Back in the day, I was part of the student well-being team in a school. It was a love/hate relationship I had with this job. I loved the kids, and hated the restrictions placed on them.
The unachievable notion that they’d all fit in to the same box, and thrive in the same learning environment.
What plagued me most was that my own sons were in the mix, and although my job was predominantly to keep the wandering souls engaged and attending, I was struggling on a daily basis to get my lot there (myself included), with the required 'positive attitude' and 'openness to learn’.
I think that’s why Minimuds gives me so much joy these days, because of my completely left field ideas of what ’school’ should look like, and how much more kids can absorb when stress is taken out of the equation.
As a child I was quiet. No trouble. Very much under the radar, but school was a massive ordeal for me. I still get a gnawing in the pit of my stomach when I think about it. I hated every minute. I actually didn’t realise I had a level of intelligence until I moved out of that space and into adult life.
But intelligence comes in so many different forms, and I’m yet to meet a person who doesn’t have something special to offer. Sometimes It’s just a matter of digging for it, and allowing them the time and space to believe in themselves.
One of my favourite memories of those ‘wellbeing-team' days was with a kid I had the pleasure of chatting with weekly, sometimes more. He was an absolute delight. Super smart in conversation, quick-witted and incredibly clever. But school was a conflict for him, and although he wasn’t a ‘square peg’, he wasn’t entirely round either. (Nor was I).
I had a fabulous old-school set of timber spinning tops in my office which screwed together in a variety of differently weighted layers. One of the pieces had a gutter where a string was wound tightly around and around, then pulled out to make the top spin. If you were really switched on, you could create a top that was so well balanced it would spin for ages. I would often invite a kid to create one to release next to mine in a duel-like battle. I’m not sure who had more fun…them or I.
This particular young fella became pretty good at the ‘duelling tops’ game, so much so that we had to give it a code name in order to justify the amount of time in our sessions that was spent simply spinning tops. Everything had to be measurable, with outcomes that looked good on a spread sheet, so I became fairly clever at making our frivolous fun sound educational and important.
’Tell your teacher we’ve got some physics to get through today’, I’d say. Or ‘Brain training’. I’d give him a sideways smile and he totally understood.
Anyway, this particular day, my young friend made the monster of all spinning tops. He’d obviously been planning it. Thinking about the sequence of layers, the balance, and the inevitable duel at the end of the session. I usually won, but he was definitely gaining ground on me.
The atmosphere was serious. Silent. He was deep in thought as he constructed this upside-down mess of a thing. ‘Good’, I thought. ’That thing’s never gonna spin’.
Well here’s the thing.
He carefully wound the string, unwound, rewound. A little tighter this time.
And when he was satisfied, he released.
It launched like a supercharged missile, straight up in the air and lodged firmly in the ceiling of the wellbeing office. We sat in disbelief as a cute little flurry of plaster-snow showered the desk. Horrified silence.
‘Well I’ll take that as a win’ the cheeky bugger giggles.
We laughed and laughed and laughed.
Moral of the story….never underestimate a competitive kid, and never trust an ugly spinning top.
Truth be known, I didn’t really ever know what I was doing for those kids, except injecting them with a little dose of self worth and light relief. I wasn’t sure who was helping who half the time.