just been reading the terribly sad story of the death last year of Andrew Murphy from Lanarkshire. Mr Murphy died of leukaemia but his death has been linked to Legionnaire’s disease which he contracted in 2008 after potting up tomatoes with his 4 year old granddaughter. The compost they used was infected by the legionella bacteria. Following this Health Promotion Scotland issued advice that gardeners should wear gloves and masks when working with compost.
Any death is tragic and particularly an unexpected or accidental one, the sense of loss compounded by the feeling that it could have been prevented, if only……
That said I can’t help but feel that life itself is a risky business. From the first breath we draw we are vulnerable to all the accidents, illnesses and dangers that living throws at us. Some dangers and risks we can, and should, avoid. Smoking, excessive alcohol, overeating, living a couch potato life all raise our risk of illness and I’m all for encouraging our children to appreciate that. But, and there has to be a but, or I wouldn’t have started writing this post, life is about living and how can we really appreciate life if we are constantly thinking about avoiding the dangers?
In playgroup we want to encourage children to develop a love of learning, an enthusiasm for discovery, a passion for finding out something new. We have been so fortunate over the last few weeks to have seen (and indeed tasted in one instance – and, I’m happy to confirm that, no, it doesn’t taste like “real jelly”) frog spawn and tadpoles. The children were delighted to find a frog in a drain pipe, we were visited by a lamb with such a soft woolly fleece, we found worms and a huge spider in the compost, my son brought 2 of the 4-week old puppies from our dog’s litter to play, and, of course, we are eagerly awaiting our chicks hatching from their eggs sometime this week. Spring has seen the playgroup garden transform, our willow den is shooting up, we’ve seen the snowdrops and daffodils arrive and go, our apple tree blossom is just starting to fade and we are wondering how many apples we might pick this year. Total and absolute wonders of nature we are so privileged to share with our children. But, how can we inspire our children with that beauty and wonder when we constantly have to say, remember it’s dirty, dangerous, it’s got germs, we have to wash our hands? And that’s before we get as far as planting our pumpkin and sunflower seeds and follow HPS advice to put masks and gloves on.
I think we have to look at the messages such policies and procedures send to children. If nature is dirty and full of nasty germs that might make us sick how can we expect children to develop the awe and respect nature deserves? Health and safety precautions are sensible but should not be the main feature and focus of our practice. After all can we really police everyone through every aspect of life? It reminds me of the packet of peanuts containing the health warning “may contain nuts” and suggests to me that every inch of our road surfacing should be covered with the warning “putting your foot on this may cause you to be run over by a bus”
Life can be dangerous, as they say, you don’t get out of it alive, but, I’d prefer to focus on the wonder, awe, beauty we can experience and enjoy. I’m not saying we should throw our policies away or ignore best advice, let’s just be sensible, put the risks in context but concentrate more on appreciating the benefits being in nature provides.