Real grass still grows at my neighborhood childcare centre, in dirt which melts to mud when it rains.

Young Riley is assisted through the local death trap. Photo: Jeff Herbert

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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    • Doc says:

      01:53pm | 06/02/13

      Please do out this centre of subversiveness - I want to send my little one there as well!

      As an aside - why release guidelines if they can be cherry picked, applied at random and not enforced?  What a waste of time and money.

    • Pedro says:

      02:54pm | 06/02/13

      What about smoking while pregnant? We were always told it was bad but a celebrity has been snapped doing it. Surely celebs know more than we normal folk?

    • KJ says:

      04:03pm | 06/02/13

      Doc,  have you not seen Pirates of the Caribbean.  ” the code is more of what you call guidelines than actual rules”

    • nihonin says:

      01:57pm | 06/02/13

      Shame on you Natasha and the other parents of the kids at the neighbourhood child centre you send your kids to, don’t you know you are letting their immune learn to distinguish between what is good and bad.  Good lord at this rate maybe one day well see less peanut allergies and other allergies which didn’t exist(or in the numbers they now do) till the rise of the Glen 20 crowd.  Break out the cotton wool.

    • Rose says:

      02:06pm | 06/02/13

      I would remove my child from any centre that adhered to those preposterous guidelines and allow them to be somewhere that they were encouraged to be kids!!

    • pa_kelvin says:

      02:09pm | 06/02/13

      Keep the grass, the sandpit and the vegie patch and the others by all means, but get rid of blowing out candles over cakes…. Have you seen the sh!t that grows on a petrie dish after someone blows on it???

    • Doc says:

      02:28pm | 06/02/13

      that happens to be the same sh!t that you breathe out every moment of every day.  The mouth is full of bacteria, of course it’ll grow in a petrie dish.

      Ever kissed anyone??

    • sunny says:

      02:41pm | 06/02/13

      The Birthday Cake Extinguisher TM

      “Now you can put out birthday cake candles without infecting the cake!”

      **Caution - do not use on electrical fires.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      03:23pm | 06/02/13

      sunny .... I taught you well… smile

    • sunny says:

      03:53pm | 06/02/13

      Thank you Master Pa, from Grasshopper smile

    • Colin says:

      02:22pm | 06/02/13

      @  pa_kelvin
      “...get rid of blowing out candles over cakes…. Have you seen the sh!t that grows on a petrie dish after someone blows on it???”

      I think that you have missed the point, Pa; the distribution and sharing of germs are exactly what we WANT to happen to help our children’s immune systems…And, frankly, put a scraping of ANY organic material that has been exposed to the environment on a petri dish and you’ll see all manner of wonderful flora and fauna…

    • Robin Barker says:

      02:33pm | 06/02/13

      These guidelines from the NHMRC are insane, yet more regulations for worn-out, poorly paid childcare workers to have to abide by. Where will it all end?
      The AMA is rightly objecting. One of the reasons put forward for the increase in allergies and asthma in western societies - like ours - could well be the sterile, environment our kids are growing up in. Serious preventable illnesses are dealt with by our excellent immunisation program. Other common ailments such as coughs, colds and simple diarrhoea are part and parcel of the toddler years which helps build their immunity, and possibly plays a part in protecting them from allergies and asthma

    • Ally says:

      03:13pm | 06/02/13

      I agree with you and think the guidelines are ridiculous, but surely there also has to be a greater expectation on parents that they’ll keep their kid home if they’re sick? That seems to be a major issue to me, that parents keep sending their kids to daycare with contagious illnesses. I’m not necessarily talking about runny noses, but things like conjuctivitis and gastro.

      A friend of mine is returning to work after kiddie number 2 and she’s basically writing off the first few months of work because of all the illnesses her kid is sure to catch at child care.

    • Jay2 says:

      03:34pm | 06/02/13

      Not surprising about these guidelines really, just like Government to make life more difficult and impose largely unworkable regulations that they expect people to abide by.
      I read this toda actually,in 2007 Labor pormised a ‘one in, one out’ rule, so basically for every new regulation they introduced, one would be removed to prevent a hideously large amount of rules and regulations.  Since coming to office, Labor has added approximately EIGHT HUNDRED pieces of legislation; published nearly 21,000 legislative instruments and repealed 104!

    • kj says:

      04:06pm | 06/02/13

      Ally,  not to mention kids showing up to day care or school with head lice

    • Silver says:

      03:29pm | 06/02/13

      The reason is that no one is prepared to accept risk anymore.

      When little Belinda falls over and cuts open her knee, her parents will sue the school.  Because having exposed concrete around could be considered negligence, the courts will award damages, and that’s the end of the child care as they can no longer afford the insurance.

      It’s not just child care that has this problem.  As a society, we have to be prepared to accept some degree of people who will get injured or killed in their daily lives, otherwise the rest of us may as well be wrapped in cotton wool our entire lives.

    • John says:

      04:01pm | 06/02/13

      Well said Silver, if the judicial system was less “generous” with compo payouts rules such as this as well as insurance premiums would be a lot less. Unfortunately clever lawyers and the parents of little Belinda stuff things up for us all.

    • KJ says:

      04:11pm | 06/02/13

      Silver, you have nailed it.  I recall a news article last year where a teenage girl was hit in the face by a tennis ball while playing tennis, during a tennis lesson/class at her exclusive private school.  The parents were going to sue the school.

    • Adam says:

      03:55pm | 06/02/13

      The cotton wool culture has gone too far. There’s some strong indications that far from protecting children, the overly sterile environments we know keep are behind the rise in certain medical conditions and allergies. Balance is important, and if guidelines like the NHMRC are anything to go by, the balance has been lost.

    • Neil says:

      04:23pm | 06/02/13

      I wonder if there’s any connection between all this cotton wool and all these young males dying from punches to the head?

      Do they drink enough milk and get enough calcium for their skulls? Do they go through life never having had a wrestle or god forbid a little punch up?

      Otherwise they seem more intelligent than gen x and the boomers, although that might just be arrogance.

    • Steve says:

      05:03pm | 06/02/13

      The NHMRC are the same people who decided 4 standard drinks is a dangerous binge drinking session.

      So same zero risk attitude still guiding their decisions.

    • stephen says:

      05:29pm | 06/02/13

      I heard that Kevin Rudd’s policy of giving computers to young school children is to be stopped.
      Why don’t the authorities, instead, hand out bicycles, or cricket sets, or soccer bal, - er, no changed my mind - make that proper footballs.
      And a packet of band-aids would be good too.
      Much more fun that learning voyeurizms from a screen.

    • Mick says:

      06:53pm | 06/02/13

      The health boffins don’t want you to have a strong immune system. That way drug companies etc can stuff you full of toxic vaccinations and set you up on a lifetime dependency on pills and potions. The human body NEEDS to be exposed to pathogens in order to build up immunity. This is an undeniable fact. Why do you think most people get sick when they go to Bali and places like that and get sick ? It’s because they have not built up immunity from said disease but the locals have.


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