Origami used to combat screen time and strengthen communities in Calgary

Mohammad Alam, a teacher by profession, is using the ancient art of paper folding to bring his community together in northeast Calgary.

Mohammad Alam says paper folding art brings kids and families together

Mohammad Alam holds free origami sessions in the northeast to teach kids math skills and improve their confidence — away from modern distractions like iPads and TVs. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Mohammad Alam's passion for paper started early.

"In my childhood in Bangladesh, my brother taught me how to make a bird," said Alam.

He says that bird soon turned into other things, like planes, animals and geometric shapes.

"I learned almost 100 things."

Alam, a teacher by profession, is now using those skills to bring his community together in northeast Calgary.

Alam started holding free origami programs at the Genesis Centre in Martindale and Village Square Leisure Centre in Pineridge. The sessions have been a big success, attracting kids and parents — and not a single screen or electronic device in sight.

Kids get to make animals, planes and all kinds of geometric shapes at one of Mohammad Alam’s free origami sessions in northeast Calgary. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"Nowadays, I see students, they are spending lots of time on screens. I think we need to do something so children can pass time together, do something together," said Alam.

"It increases their social skills, team-building skills, communication skills," he said.

A local teacher holds free origami sessions in northeast Calgary to teach kids math skills and improve their confidence — away from modern distractions like iPads and TVs. 0:45

Alam says his origami sessions bring kids together who don't know each other but end up working together, helping each other and learning new skills along the way.

"I really like origami, paper planes especially, because when I grow up I really want to be in the air force," said Shaheer Ansar.

"Doing origami is a way to teach you aerodynamics," he said, before tossing a lightning-fast plane far into the distance, proving his point.

Shaheer Ansar spent the afternoon building advanced paper airplanes with other kids from his community. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"You can explore your creativity and you can turn a piece of paper into something," said Shaurya Dhapade. 

"You can imagine what you want to build and then make it," said Joshua Goundan. "Even though it's hard, you can practise and it gets easier."

Alum says it's also helping connect kids and their parents.

"Parents come and help their children, they help other children also. It will definitely build the community," said Alam.

He says once kids have been back two or three times, they take on the role of trainer, showing other kids what to do and helping them build everything from advanced paper planes to geometric shapes and traditional origami, including swans and other birds.

A young girl shows off an origami bird at the Genesis Centre. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"This helps them to follow instructions and creates kindness. It also involves math skill, they learn the patterns and different geometric shapes. There's science, there's math, there's social — everything is possible. They get an idea of percentages, fractions and about decisions," said Alam.

Alam says origami also touches on the Alberta curriculum, with kids learning about flight, flotation and gravity.

He has secured a small grant from the City of Calgary to cover supplies, which is mainly just coloured paper. 

All he needs to set up in community spaces is a table and chairs. Alam says it's a simple way to bring people together.

"It's just simple paper. Sometimes you buy toys and children aren't happy. But when they make their own, it increases their confidence.… It makes me happy and it makes the children happy," Alam said.

He says he'd like to run more free programs in libraries and community centres in other parts of the city.