Blankets, babies and lunchtime

Barbara
Barbara Dean-Simmons
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Facebook has served its purpose. While debating what to fill this editorial space with this week, we threw out a random thought to our Facebook friends.

The question was, what to write about this week - blankies or the need for anti-scab legislation.

Friends offered up their suggestions, and our dilemma suddenly had four options.

After serious thought we realized two of the ideas were connected in a strange way.

Let's start with the blankies; 6,000 of them, to be exact.

The provincial government has spent nearly $60,000 ($9.93 per unit) on blankies for babies to help infants become familiar with shapes, colours and textures.

The Department of Education's Early Learning Division, through Learning Resource Distribution Centres across the province, is handing them out.

The blankies are embroidered with lines from nursery songs, like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" that can be cooed by parents to their babies.

Forgive our cynicism; but when the state has to hand out props to encourage parents to do what should come naturally - singing lullabies and wrapping babies in warm, snuggly blankies - we have to despair for the future of mankind.

If we have to initiate a government program to encourage parental/baby bonding, it's already a tad too late to kickstart parental instincts.

Then, there's the money.

The government's intervention in parenting doesn't stop with the blankies. Oh, no.

The blankie kit also includes a bath mitt, and a story book.

The pilot program is aimed, first, at infants aged to six months old. (And at this point we can't help but wonder how the program will be assessed; who will ask the infants how they liked their blankies?)

Eventually the resource kit will be rolled out for children to age three.

The final tally will be $500,000 - yes, that's half a million dollars - for taxpayers over three years.

Now, let's talk about cafeterias. Bear with us, please, there is a link to blankies.

For the past several weeks parents of children who are fortunate enough to have schools with cafeterias, have been fretting over what they would possilby do if the contractor providing cafeteria service went on strike.

They might, they worried, have to provide brown bag lunches for their children.

Think about that for a moment. That's an editorial for another day.

Brown bag lunches, as one of our Facebook friends suggested, is a fact of life for students and parents in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

What's more, friend suggested, many children don't have a designated cafeteria space in their schools in which to eat their lunch.

Instead, they have to make do with the desktops in their classroom; not exactly the most pristine of environments in which to eat food.

"Our students eat in the hallways or at their desks because, after 30 years (of the school's construction) we still don't have a cafeteria," a friend posted on our Facebook, describing the frustration of parents and children at one particular school.

We know of many schools where this situation is true.

We also know that classrooms doing double duty as lunchrooms create a whole myriad of problems; from the mess created from spilled drinks and cookie crumbs, to the extra work required by janitors to keep these classrooms clean, to the germ factor associated with having to eat lunch at a desk that has seen its share of glue sticks, pencil lead, crayon, dust and fingerprints.

So the question to the Department of Education is, why do blankies appear to be more important than decent lunchroom facilities in schools?

Priorities are skewed here.

There are sufficient programs already offered through Health and Education departments - there are well baby clinics, family resource centres, and libraries where books are free. Most parents have easy access to these programs and services.

However, children stuck in school for seven hours a day don't have options if their school doesn't have sufficient ammenities.

While the half million dollars for blankies and other gifts for infants might have been well intention, the money spent was a waste.

While government might be looking for the pat on their desire to get involved in the first year of a child's development, they'd get more thanks if they ensured the child is able to enjoy some basic ammenities - like a designated lunch room - for the 13 years of their school life.

Problems like these can't be solved with warm, cozy blankets.

So what's the solution for that, Minister Jackman?

Barbara Dean-Simmons is editor of the Packet in Clarenville and associate managing editor of the Newfoundland and Labrador TC Weekly Papers

Organizations: Department of Education, Early Learning Division, Newfoundland and Labrador TC Weekly Papers

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Clarenville

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