The dangerous outdoors

Mike Kent

Recently, The Guardian published a booklet of things children should do before they're 11. I'm sure anybody reading it will have been as shocked as I was at its contents.

Walk along a fallen tree trunk: A highly dangerous activity. There is no mention of the upper surface of the tree trunk needing to be levelled, and a child could easily slip. At the very least, an approved safety surface should be placed at both sides of the trunk, and the child should wear a hard hat and suitably inflated safety jacket. Inappropriately trimmed branch stubs could prove a trip hazard and stout boots should be a mandatory item on the risk assessment.

Play conkers: A primitive game long outlawed in sensible playgrounds for its inherent dangers. Unless approved cord is used, there is a danger of the string snapping and a conker striking one of the players in an exposed bodily region, causing bruising and possible laceration. An improvised mask of chicken wire, suitably fastened, may be deemed suitable, provided it conforms to health and safety standard BS31BBCITV.

Eat an apple from a tree: No mention here is made of appropriate fruit recognition - it is recommended that the child is given a short visual test before undertaking this activity to confirm familiarity with the appearance of a safe apple. Tests should be done to ensure the apple is ripe, and of a variety suitable for eating. Partakers should be aware that there is a danger of stomach ache, cramps or at the worst, an irritated bowel, especially if the child is not conversant with the principle of eating fruit in appropriate quantities. The apple should also be cleansed before consumption and a visual check made for maggots and other unpalatable fauna.

Build a den: No advice is given on what materials should be used or from where they should be gathered. A child should therefore undertake this activity only after obtaining written consent from a parent, guardian or other appropriate adult. The adult then assumes direct responsibility in the event of any accidents or incidents. On no account should children sleep overnight in their dens, owing to close proximity with creepy-crawlies and the trauma that could result from direct contact with them. A test should be made to ensure that the den covering is watertight, as contact with inclement weather may cause wetness and discomfort.

Roll down a hill: This is not recommended as it can cause dizziness, nausea and a great deal of silly laughter. It is also possible that the child may swerve out of control and cause injury to other rollers. If this activity is undertaken, the gradient should be within the recommended slopage.

Bury someone in the sand: An extremely dangerous suggestion. If this is undertaken, only plastic digging implements should be used, and the child should dig no further than waist height, as there is a danger of the trench sides collapsing and possible suffocation. During all excavation activity, the child should wear suitable apparatus to avoid breathing problems in case of sand slide. A simple breathing device fashioned from hollow tubes and masking tape may suffice.

It should be stressed that all outdoor activities should be approached with caution. It is far safer for children to sit in the warm with their PlayStations.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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