JOBSWORTH council bosses tried to stop children playing hopscotch – because the chalk squares they’d drawn on the pavement looked “unsightly”.
Astonished residents couldn’t believe it when they received a letter from housing managers about innocuous chalk drawings on a quiet street in Dumbarton.
The letter – asking residents to “refrain from allowing children to use chalk on the paving slabs” – has provoked outrage from children’s play campaigners.
And it follows on from The Sunday Post revealing last week how children were being encouraged to take up traditional outdoors games such as kerby and tig.
Father-of-one John Hart, 28, who got one of the letters, said the council should be more concerned about the huge amount of dog fouling and litter in the town.
John’s three-year-old daughter Amelia is one of the youngsters who was enjoying a spot of hopscotch during a spell of warm weather.
He said: “There are a lot of kids around here aged between three and 10, and they’ve just been out playing in the nice weather over the last few weeks.
“They drew hopscotch stuff on the ground with the chalk and that was all. I’d rather they were out playing in the good weather than stuck inside watching TV.
“There were no problems for a week until a neighbour complained about it.
“They actually came to my door about it. I said that I’d keep an eye on the kids but I wasn’t going to stop them playing.
“Next thing I know we get this letter through from the council and I couldn’t believe it. Did they really want to stop the kids playing?”
John, who lives with Amelia and her mum Steph, added: “There’s dog fouling all over the place around here, a lot of litter and steps in the flats are broken.
“There are bigger issues to deal with here than chalk drawings on the ground.”
Letters from Polly Dunlop, a housing officer at West Dunbartonshire Council, were sent to residents living in the Park Crescent area on August 28.
Ms Dunlop wrote: “On a regular inspection of the blocks last week I noticed that there was a considerable amount of chalk drawings on the slabs in front of the lower properties.
“Can I ask all residents to refrain from allowing children to use chalk on the paving slabs as it looks unsightly and is unwanted by many residents?
“Thank you for your cooperation on this.”
One of the key planks of Scottish Government education policy is to encourage as much outdoor play as possible.
A report for the Scottish Government’s Education Scotland arm says: “Play is the most important thing for children to do outside and the most relevant way of offering learning outdoors.
“All children have the right to experience and enjoy the essential and special nature of being outdoors.”
Marguerite Hunter Blair, chief executive of pressure group Play Scotland, sided with the parents.
She said: “There is a national play strategy that was released by the Scottish Government.
“The vision of that is that children should be able to play outside every day, and that is underpinned by the child’s right to play.
“Getting kids active and outside is of paramount importance. Mr Hart is absolutely right in saying that.
“It is incumbent on the local authority to create opportunities for children to be able to play outside.”
Embarrassed council officials have now apologised for sending out the letter and have withdrawn their warning to residents, giving them the green light for hopscotch games to carry on.
A spokeswoman for West Dunbartonshire Council said: “We love to see children having fun, especially outside, and all we would ask is for them and their parents to be considerate of their neighbours.”
In my view
By Rob Wheway, Director, Children’s Play Advisory Service
CHILDREN should be able to play outside and it’s vitally important that they are given this opportunity.
It is fortunate that these children in Dumbarton have a place to play away from the danger of the roads.
But it is appalling that the council have apparently taken the word of a grumpy neighbour and not considered that children need to be able to have a place to play.
Using chalk to draw on pavements for games has been going on for at least 100 years. I don’t know how it can be considered a problem now.
Play is vital for a child’s development. The lack of opportunities for outdoor games is a major contributory factor in the growth of childhood obesity.
And everyone accepts that children being overweight is a problem – so outdoor play involving everyday exercise can help combat that.
It’s tragic that so many children have to be kept in by their parents because the roads outside are too busy and dangerous.
So when you have an area like this, where it is quiet and safe for the children to play outside, you really have to make the most of it.