A bit of dirt is as good as an apple a day
Real grass still grows at my neighborhood childcare centre, in dirt which melts to mud when it rains.
A scrub turkey scratches about in the sandpit each evening. There’s a possum, too, hiding in the native trees which shade the garden-style playground. It often raids the vege patch - where kids use their bare hands to help plant and harvest carrots and cherry tomatoes.
Stray grown-ups need to look out, lest they be mown down by the junior Evil Knievels who hurtle around the playground on trikes - sans helmets.
A menagerie of pets has resided in this child-centric centre over the years - a green tree frog, a salamander, caterpillars, a fighting fish and, most recently, a pair of peachfaced lovebirds which, to the children’s delight, hatched two clutches of fluffy chicks.
There’s even a climbing fort (without soft-fall cushioning underneath) and an old tyre tube for a swing.
In the carpark, parents shake the sand out of their kids’ shoes, hair and clothing before they head home.
The children have a ball. It’s a fun place to play.
How this subversive centre has managed to fly under the radar of Canberra’s boredom bureaucrats is beyond me.
It’s clearly in breach of the latest National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) infection control guidelines. These require near-sterile sandpits (no territorial scrub turkeys allowed, and kids must wash their hands BEFORE playing as well as after).
The guidelines instruct centres to “avoid’’ bringing parrots (including budgies) into the classroom, lest they pass on a dangerous disease (regardless of whether they’ve been tested).
Two government ministers, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek and Childcare Minister Kate Ellis, reckoned the NHMRC guidelines were so important on Tuesday that they gave them an official endorsement at a public launch.
But after News Ltd papers revealed the NHMRC document also bans communal birthday cakes (lest the littlies blow germs all over them), the ministers insisted that centres could cherry-pick the guidelines, which would not even be policed.
Even so, it’s probably best that my local centre - run by a high-profile not-for-profit operator that puts kids’ welfare first - remains anonymous.
Wouldn’t it be tragic to see that wondrous playground carpeted with Astroturf, the trees cut down for plastic shade sails and the pets expelled? Then again, I suppose the kids can always learn about nature on TV.
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