Oh, to be young and in tights…

I may have already spoken about this briefly before, but kids in Germany have a really sweet deal when they’re little. The first photo in this post is just an example of the kind of fantastic playgrounds they have at their disposal in this city; yes, that is indeed a giant dragon made out of old bits of wooden pallets, and it’s no wonder that there is a grown woman about to clamber onto it herself at the precise second this photo was taken. Doesn’t the sight of it alone make your inner child want to go nuts all over that dragon, then cry about wanting sweets and smack your brother on the ear for no reason at all? And there are incredible playgrounds like this hidden all over the place – there’s one with a veritable forest of giant teepees to play in, there is one which has a selection of playthings based on enormous wooden carved kitchen utensils, there is even one which has a pen containing sweet and highly violent goats which are occasionally let out and allowed to roam freely among the small, vulnerable children. All I remember from being a kid in the UK is playgrounds with peeling paint, graffiti of sexual acts I didn’t understand at the time, a rubbish slide which somehow was too friction-y to slide down with any kind of enjoyment factor, and that horrible bark stuff on the ground which smells of urine and pine car fresheners.

I also remember from when I was little the Ultimate Playground, which was in Guernsey in the Channel Islands and was a veritable heaven for children, designed by someone who clearly got that kids do need a little more than primary-coloured wood and their imagination to lose themselves in whimsy. This elysium featured a GIANT roundabout which was a huge and completely flat disc covered in artificial turf which spun at an incredible speed and meant everyone could stand on top of it and run on it treadmill-style; not only that, but it had a long and gloriously fast flying fox, little puzzles hidden everywhere and the hidden gem of the whole place which was a luscious little stream tucked behind some bushes with genuine stepping stones in it leading to a little set of houses connected by rope bridges. Now that is what kids need and deserve when they’re little, energetic and bored.

And you see the second photo? That is the remarkable and perfectly-constructed house which greeted me in the classroom I was teaching in on Thursday morning. These children have access to full-sized wooden house bricks and this allows three- and four-year-olds the fun of building blocks with the unbelievable thrill of being able to build something you could happily then live in; this house also had plumbing and a charming walk-through kitchen/dining area with breakfast island. In all of the kindergartens I work in every room is filled with wonderful toys and beautiful colours, and when I come to pick up the kids for their lessons they are always inevitably eating; regardless of the time of day, these children seem to never stop indulging in the choicest food, from fresh bread and jam and exotic fruits (lychees. really.) to chocolate (I once saw a bowl of truffles at the table), to jelly and even stretching to a charcuterie selection. They only wear tights indoors because outdoors they all get to wear cozy, snuggly duvet-like overtrousers which simultaneously keep them toasty but also make them look like they’re all going skiing and ups their cuteness rating by a good couple of points on the scale at least. They have sports rooms filled with brilliant things to hurt onesself on and giant indoor sandpits filled with dried beans. 

In the UK, you have to be careful doing things with the kids you are working with because anything that gets even an iota too close to them puts you in danger; with all the paedophilia panic we suffer from, there is no teacher safe from being accused, and they therefore handle the kids as if they were escaped from quarantine. You are not allowed to hug them or let them sit on your lap, even if they hurt themselves and are crying, and in the primary school where I worked the teachers were so removed from the children on a child-guardian basis that they might as well have passed them their worksheets with a pair of chopsticks or one of those litter-pickers. They are also heavily pressurised from such a young age. I will never forget my favourite child, Oliver, who suffered from a motor deficiency in his hands but was so castigated by his teacher for not cutting things out neatly that he would do ‘cutting practice’ with scissors every morning, leading to the following heart-breaking request: “Please could you cut my picture out for me? My hand is too tired from cutting practice.” He was five years old and a treasure of a kid. He drew the most tremendous imaginative pictures and then hacked them to pieces as he was not allowed to get help with scissors from his teacher. It was ridiculous.

I love watching the children here; the fun they have is wonderful and fully appropriate for their age, and it’s sweet to have them hug me and kiss me on the cheek without me having to scrape them off and treat them with businesslike indifference. Come on, the UK, can we let our babies enjoy babyhood before they discover stress, Starbucks and inboxes?

The following link is a gift to a reader; happy Karnival, Mister Spex.

Rose T