This weekend gone, I went to London and met up with a friend who travels round schools like me. As a children’s author, she promotes interest in Nigeria, her country of origin, sharing customs, recipes and stories from her homeland. She told me of a recent visit, on which she thought to show the children how to make a basket. Without the appropriate dried grasses readily to hand, my friend uses newspaper as a substitute. She asked the teacher if she had any newspaper, as she had, on this occasion, forgotten to bring any.

The teacher was aghast at the mere suggestion. “Oh no,” she said. “If they’re given newspapers, they might see something bad!” Since my friend would have used The Guardian and the Independent, we debated in retrospect, whether nine year olds would be able to understand the language level. We thought not, and they would not have seen anything salacious, anyway.

The teacher offered sheets of paper instead, which my friend had to work with. Then in the process, some of the children got paper cuts. Two of them came to her, showing her their bleeding fingers. My friend thought it best to play it down, all the while fearing the reaction of the teacher.

Fortunately the session finished with no major dramas. The children enjoyed the process of making a basket and no lives were lost. Neither were their young minds polluted with the Guardian or the Independent. But hearing my friend’s story, both amused and saddened me.

This is what we have come to, in some schools in 2014, it seems. This “wrapping up in cotton wool” of young people, which is only bound to have a knock-on effect of creating anxiety and ignorance, rather than empowering children to see the whole world, to learn, grow and sometimes be challenged.

It’s a little bit like the way all the fairy tales children tell me are the sanitised versions. No longer does the wolf fall down the chimney into a pot of boiling water, in the “The Three Little Pigs.” Neither does he get his head chopped off by the woodcutter rescuing “Little Red Riding Hood.” In fact, in general, no wolves are harmed in the making of these fictitious stories. Nothing harmful happens; kings do not threaten execution and no one is hurt – ever. This makes it somewhat confusing when retelling one of these stories, but the general rule of thumb is: we are all safe and happy.

Lovely sentiment – kind of makes for a boring story, let me tell you.
Stories thrive on conflict, on the opposites of good and bad, on the drama and sometimes terror of life.

So should we have to stop using newspaper in arts and crafts? Definitely, if you are a Sun reader, I think. But joking apart, where do we draw the line in protecting children from the big, bad world?

When going into a school as a storyteller, one is aware of this ever-increasingly sensitive focus on health and safety. Of course, I thoroughly agree with taking responsibility for promoting health and safety issues.

If I were doing arts and crafts, I wouldn’t take knives, scissors or in some cases, glass objects, but I don’t think I need to issue warnings like: “Don’t drink the fairy glitter,” “This story isn’t real. No one died in real life,” and were I to use newspaper, “Don’t read that article. It has a picture of David Cameron.”

Perhaps, thinking about it, that would be too traumatic for young minds, so maybe a health warning would be needed, but hey kids, it’s the real world.

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