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Playgroup with chips off Woodcraft block

REPUBLICAN three-year-olds with a social conscience: your wait is over. There is now a playgroup just for you.

As soon as they are out of washable nappies, right-on tots will be able to join the Woodchips, a new offshoot of the Woodcraft Folk, the youth movement set up to counter the military fetishism of the Scouts and their ilk.

Mixed-sex and with an ethos that eschews competition for co-operation and forgoes pledges to God and the Queen, the Woodcraft Folk have traditionally worked with the six-and-overs to build their vision of a world based on equality, peace and social justice.

But the success of six pilot playgroups has convinced the 75-year-old organisation that there should be more chips off the old block.

Informal, parent-led Woodchip groups are now to be set up nationwide, with a focus on play, singing and games - but, in line with Woodcraft principles, there will be no winners and losers.

After that, the anti-capitalist demonstrators of tomorrow will graduate to join the wood pigeons, elfins, pioneers, venturers and district fellows of the established Woodcraft Folk.

The organisation has around 500 groups with 10,000 members aged up to 20. Activities include the usual youth group fare of singing, hostelling and camping, with green issues, peace and human rights also high on the agenda.

The Woodcraft Folk have espoused causes from the persecution of Western Saharawis by Moroccan occupying forces - it has hosted holidays for their refugees - to a boycott of Nestle products over its marketing of baby milk in developing countries.

With a motto "Span the World with Friendship" it has ties with children in the slums of the Peruvian capital Lima and the poor villages of Sri Lanka. Now the work can start even earlier.

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