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Tuesday, 24 June 2008


I had a lovely day yesterday.

My three-year-old grandson goes to a playgroup called 'Rainbows'. All three of my own children went there (although the staff have changed). So you can understand why I wanted to slip back in time and accompany him on his annual day out to the West Lodge Rural Centre. It wasn't quite the same, though, as my last experience of a playgroup trip seventeen years ago.

These are the differences:

1. Tyler was as excited about going on a bus as he was about going on the trip itself. I realised he has hardly ever been on a bus.

2. I had to sign a form to say that he had suncream on.

3. There is a small playground at the Centre. All the equipment is set in sand. None of the equipment is above five feet high. The playground is fully enclosed. I got some very odd looks indeed when I fished 'World Without End' out of my voluminous bag and fetched myself a cup of coffee. Shock horror at the thought I was about to take one of my eyes off my grandchild.

4. We had a picnic lunch. When my kids were little, picnics were special and you could eat your chocolate treats first if you wanted to, although they did have to sit still to eat it. I'd taken a clean tea towel and Tyler spread it out on the picnic table and then placed all the items out of his packed lunch on it exactly how he wanted them. He then proceeded to eat it in this order. Four yellow Smarties (we then placed a two rows of Smarties in 'rainbow' order using the headed paper of the playgroup to go by, and had a race to see who could eat their row first). A grape. A Mr Men Fromage Frais. The rest of the yellow Smarties. One bite of a ham roll. A packet of Quavers. Two more grapes. All the red Smarties. A mini scotch egg. (We then counted the remaining grapes and 'shared' them - one for Tyler, one for Granny - and then counted how many we each had.) About five more grapes. Ribena. A couple more bites out of the ham roll. Then he said he'd had enough and put all the blue Smarties back in the tube to eat on the bus on the way back.

I vaguely became aware of the din around us. Kids were running around with food in their hands, shouting at each other with their mouths full, showering the picnic area with litter. I noticed that all the grannies and grandads there, and some of the parents too, had done more or less the same as I had, and made their grandchildren sit at a picnic table.

The last time I went on a Rainbows outing, everyone had to sit at a picnic table to eat their packed lunches and weren't allowed to run around whilst eating. So this has changed (and I'm not sure it's for the better).

5. There seems to be an obsession about cleanliness. OK, I know it's a working farm. I'd taken wet wipes and made sure he had clean hands. There was an abundance of germ-busting new-fangled alcohol gel, though, in mums' handbags. Wet wipes don't seem to be enough nowadays.

We got home - to my house - at about 3.30. Grandad finished work for the day and we all had a cup of tea and talked about 'the farm'. I needed to keep him awake until tea-time so we got the crayons out and he drew a picture for his mum and dad at the kitchen table while I cooked tea.

Lee was picking him up on his way home from work at 6.00. I'd sneaked his jim-jams out of the house in the morning, so I made sure he'd had his tea and a bath before Lee arrived.

Emily rang at 7.00. He was tucked up in bed - absolutely shattered. She said he'd never been to bed so early.

I got the feeling yesterday that children nowadays are constrained in ways that the last generation weren't. They are watched like hawks, and no wonder given the horror stories that are in the news. I noticed that parents couldn't relax from keeping their eyes on their children - not even for a second - and panicked whenever they were out of view.

There weren't many children who were made to sit still and eat their lunches. Tyler was quite happy sitting at the picnic table with me, and so were the handful of other children who were made to do the same.

The suncream and hygiene obsessions seem a bit over the top too, compared with a few years ago. Apparently the signing of the form is now a health and safety requirement - lots of people said it was going a step too far, considering each child had to be accompanied by an adult, who, presumably should be responsible enough to make a judgement on suncream.

Lastly, bed at 7.00 pm after a hectic day out seems pretty normal to me. Today's three-year olds, though, because their parents have to work and don't get home till about 6.00, tend to stay up later.

So what do you all think? Is it just me getting older and looking at the world through granny specs, or have things really changed over the last twenty years or so.


Anonymous said...

I think every parent or grandparent wants to protect their children, but it can be overdone. For example, could over-cleaning lead to a lack of natural immunity against germs? Could over-protectiveness lead to fear and insecurity for the child? Could over spoon-feeding lead to an inability for them to think and do things for themselves?

As with many things in life, it seems, I suspect the trick is to find the right balance.

Denise said...

I think things have changed a lot. I'm amazed watching my friend's children what they can and can't do. As you noticed there's a lot more bureaucracy for anything, but I'm also amazed at the number of activities. Parents seem to spend most of their time running their kids to various clubs every night of the week/weekend. I lived in the middle of nowhere and my mum didn't drive, so if I couldn't walk to it (on my own) I couldn't go!

HelenMH said...

I think things have changed a lot and not for the better. I think one of the problems these days is that people worry too much and about completely the wrong things. The kids I work with are living in an environment where they are at risk from drugs, knives, teeenage preganancy and crime. No one seems to have the will to do much about that. But if I want to take them out for a pizza, I have to do a two page risk assesment. Also I, quite rightly, have to have a clean enhanced CRB check to do my job but in all the time I've been there the only people who've asked to see it are the people who give me money. Apparently protecting £200 from being misused is more important than protecting vulnerable young people. Sorry, rant over!

Lane said...

Things have changed so much and as the others have pointed out, to a ridiculous degree. Even at my younger daughter's sports day (and I the use term lightly as very little real sport is actually involved) there is no sack race, three legged race, egg and spoon race for health and safety reasons).

I would have thought that running around eating was far more of a safety hazard, not to mention lacking in plain common sense.

The world's gone so it has:-)

(interesting comments from Helen too)

Anonymous said...

I think things have gone a bit ott. My mum certainly never used to bother with sun cream for me. I send it into school for boys as it is asked for but rarely use it at home. also I had never even heard of after school clubs!! even Z told me he was feeling "Stressed!" which I thought was a very grown up thing for a 10 year old to say.

Fiona said...

Agree about the constant hand washing - we need to build up immunity against germs.

On the other hand, I was over scared of grown ups and my children are far more confident which, I think, is a good thing.