What if every school had a scrap store?

Orin Zebest via Flickr

Orin Zebest via Flickr

I recently came across an article from The Atlantic covering the recent re-emergence of “adventure playgrounds” in the U.K. The concept, originally popularized in the 1940’s, is the direct opposite of traditional playgrounds that dot suburban neighborhoods, with their plastic equipment and piles of wood chips that encourage standard, structured play. In an adventure playground, not only is the equipment “non-traditional”, supervision is practically null. Adults are instructed to stay away, with the exception of a single adult that checks in now and then, monitoring only for activity that could lead to serious injury.

The recent popularity of these once defunct playgrounds comes in response to the “helicopter-style” parenting that has become so prevalent in the last 20 years. The goal of this new type of child watering hole is to encourage creativity, as opposed to squashing it. Instead of the standard slides and swings, children build their ideal play area from garbage—things like old tires, steel drums, and discarded wood. The playground changes every day based on the children that show up, maybe a pirate ship one day and a race track the next. Not only does this type of environment unlock imagination, it teaches engineering, problem-solving, teamwork, and situation assessment. After all, with minimal adult intervention, kids have to determine what is safe and what is risky for themselves.

I love this concept. I love any idea that gets kids to do what the do best—invent. Which is why I would love to see this built on with another innovative concept I also recently discovered—the scrap shop.

Courtesy of ScrapPDX Tumbler

Courtesy of Scrap PDX Finds Tumblr

Portland has a wonderful jewel of a store called ScrapPDX. The store is similar to a Goodwill, but instead of donated, used clothes, you have barrels of worn down crayons, old silk screens, piles of glass beads, bins of half-spools of yarn, wallpaper samples, floppy disks, and more.

The first time I walked in was with a friend looking for yarn. I hadn’t intended to purchase anything, but walking throughout the store, it was impossible not to see projects in every bin. A selection of random wallpaper samples that could be put into a frame to represent the shades of a wave crashing. Old America Online floppy disks made into coasters for that nostalgic programmer. The melted crayon art rainbow of Pinterest fame. You enter the store and are met with endless possibilities.

What if there was one of these types of shops in every school that was open for a few hours after the end of the school day? No structured projects, or class requirements, just bins stocked full of things and a number of credits to spend. What amazing things would students create?

Watch Out Little Lady

I self-identify as a woman in the tech/startup industry. I’ve run a collaborative workspace – spaces that tend to attract those with tech backgrounds. I’ve organized and facilitated multiple Startup Weekend events, a 54-hour frenzy of entrepreneurial learning that commonly results in a mobile or web-based minimum viable product. And I’m preparing to jump into a new role as a Project Manager for a digital strategy agency.

As a woman in the tech/startup world, I’m constantly being told it’s a man’s game. Watch out little lady! Your breasts and lack of an Adam’s apple are going to make it impossible to succeed!

Recently, Fast Company (my favorite publication) published an article titled ‘Practical Advice From Female Who Stand Out In A Sea of Dudes‘, providing guidance to combat this very problem. To summarize, female entrepreneurs should:

  • Speak up. As stated in the article, this means doing your homework, reading a lot and coming prepared with an ‘arsenal of information’.
  • Participate in pitch events so you can get practice and feedback. Concerned about tough questions? Practice ‘fielding zingers’.
  • Stand out. Leverage being in the minority.
  • Use your network.

Okay…clearly I’m missing something. Isn’t that what EVERY entrepreneur should be doing, regardless of their sex? With the exception of leveraging a minority position, all of this advice could just as easily be applied to an all male startup. Perhaps I’ve been sheltered, but no investor or Startup Weekend judge I’ve ever come across has let a male startup get away without knowing their stuff in a pitch just because they share the same chromosomes.

via http://textsfromhillaryclinton.tumblr.com/

It isn’t just the ridiculously common sense advice that gets me. It’s that somehow women need more hand holding then men when it comes to succeeding in the tech and startup spheres. I see so many female-centric learning environments claiming they’ll solve the lack of female programmers, scientists, CEO’s, etc, simply by keeping men out of the picture. What happens AFTER we learn all these skills from women and then have to work with men? A female-only environment simply isn’t reality.

I’ve worked in all-female environments. I’ve attend female-only meetups. What I’ve come to find is it isn’t the men discriminating against me as a woman in tech…it’s my fellow females. I get much more discouragement, odd glances, judging comments when I talk to women about what I do then men. I’m criticized for my choice, yes…CHOICE, of a career over children by other women who have chosen otherwise.

Don’t take my comments as denial of the problem. I absolutely want more women entrepreneurs, programmers, scientists, CEOs, etc. I want more woman leaders I can look up to. I just don’t think we should have to exclude men or make them the enemy to get there. Put simply ladies, JFDI.

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Combating Back-to-School Waste

Recently came across this article from Fast Co.Exist about back-to-school waste and the infographics are a bit crazy. All you have to do is walk into a Target a few weeks before start of school to see this type of waste in action. However, the article also points out consumers habits are changing – keeping spending down and looking for the best value. Here’s a few ideas on how parents and kids could lessen their school waste using lessons from the sharing economy.


I know kids grow like crazy, so wearing the same clothes year-after-year is impossible. And I know there’s a fashion point of pride for kids not relegated to school uniforms.

English: The S.W.A.P. Team founder at a Take O...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

But what if the kids could trade with others their age? And what if by doing so, they were better able to understand the value of items, entrepreneurship and the impact of their waste?

Solution – a clothing swap for kids, planned by kids. Clothing swaps have seen a surge in the last few years, become high class events drawing hundreds of people. Unlike a rummage sale or swap meet, participants don’t pay for goods with cash. Instead, the clothes brought in are evaluated and the individual receives credit (tokens, tickets, etc) to use towards “purchasing” other items at the swap. By empowering kids to host their own booths and shop for their own clothes, they are more likely to take pride in their “purchases”. Less waste, less cost and the kids learn about the value of an item. It could even become a lesson in entrepreneurship, as kids can decorate their booths and learn how to advertise their goods.

Pinterest to the Rescue

Old doesn’t mean out of style. Thanks to sites like Pinterest, parents and kids have a resource to share ideas on reusing school supplies.

My personal favorite postings on Pinterest  are those related to clothes hacking. Even if you’re a sewing n00b (like myself), many of the projects are simple with clear directions. Take a look at my T-Shirt Projects board to see what I mean.

A quick search on Pinterest also provided some great links for bringing a new life to old school supplies.

From  wikihow – Reusing old school supplies

Mile Hi Mama – How to wash a backpack

School Lunch Waste

Your food is the best - Don't waste it - NARA ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

This one is a bit tougher. I don’t know the reasons why food waste is more prevalent in schools, but I can take a guess based on my schooling.

Buffet lines — I remember reading in The Omnivore’s Dilemma about portion size change over the years. Research has shown that over the past 100 years, the average plate size has gone from 9-12 inches. Additionally, there have been studies proving cafeteria-style serving trays also make us load up with more food than we need. These factors have shown to cause increased food intake in adults, so I’d imagine the same would go for students, who are exposed to this type of food environment nearly every day.

I know it’s got to be damn near impossible to change school cafeterias. What if again we empowered kids? Encourage them to make their own lunches, therefore keeping costs down and waste. If their choosing to pack a favorite food wouldn’t they eat more of it?

There’s lots of opportunities out there to make back-to-school preparation just as fun and teach students a valuable lesson in sustainability at the same time. Based on the article, it seems parents may be ready for the change.

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