Hands Off My Toilet Paper Tubes!

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I have this silly expectation of the educrats overseeing and regulating what happens in early learning settings: I simply ask that they know what they are talking about and back it up with evidence.

For my first decade and a half in the profession, I tended to blindly trust them. For the second decade and a half, I’ve steadily grown more and more leery of their recommendations and dictates.

Toilet paper tubes are a great example.

For the last few years, I’ve been hearing reports from early learning programs that health consultants and licensing agency officals are advising them not to use toilet paper tubes because: DANGER! BACTERIA! GERMS! ILLNESS!

This is a huge change from the way things were back in the 1970s and 1980s (or even the 90s and early 2000s). These always-available cylinders of cardboard were a go-to foundation for creating bird feeders, seedling starters, binoculars, marble runs, bats, owls, bees, bunnies, and more.

Back in the day, if you even hinted at being bored an adult would shove a paper bag full of toilet paper tubes your way, point to a shelf with glue, scissors, and crayons, and tell you to make something.

You know what wasn’t happening back in the day? Mass Toilet Paper Tube Induced Illness, that’s what. We were fine. We glued them, painted them, blew through them like bugles to call in the Second Calvary Division in the heat of battle, and held them up to our eyes–scanning for pirates on the horizon as we sailed the backyard slide across the Caribbean.

You know what’s still not happening? Mass Toilet Paper Tube Induced Illness, that’s what. I checked. I scoured the interwebs for a couple hours looking for a crumb of fact to support the banning of TP tubes.

I found nothing.

Then I reached out to Helen, a researcher at the State Library of Iowa, and asked if she could take a look for any research or anecdotal evidence supporting the claims that toilet paper tubes transmit disease, news stores about E. coli breakouts traced to preschool craft projects, or similar items. (I figured having someone less inclined to distraction from cute kitten videos and power tools ads would be a good idea.)

She checked all the places she could think to check and found nothing.

Then she called the library at the Center For Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia and had them search their database.

Still nothing.

Why nothing? Because it is highly unlikely that any research-based evidence for banning toilet paper tubes from preschool classrooms exists.

I don’t want kids getting sick and I’m not anti-regulation–I value organizations and agencies that (thoughtfully) assist and train caregivers. I’m no fan of the craptivities often created from toilet paper tubes, but I prefer those craptivities to bureaucratic overreach any day.

The thing is, the culture of fear that’s created when everything is a DANGER tends to blind us to the hazards that should have our attention. For example, car accidents caused by distracted driving harm many more kids annually than toilet paper tubes.

No matter how well-intentioned, the educrats pushing for bans on TP tubes in early learning settings are overreaching and wrong. What do we do about it? Caregivers and parents should push back. Ask for proof. Ask to see the research.

Then, when they cannot produce it, tell them to go away until they have some evidence.

Until then, they’ll have to pry the TP tubes from my cold dead hands.

PS–If you have access to research that Helen, the Center For Disease Control, and I missed proving these delightful loose parts are really a danger we should ban, I’d love to see it and will update my stance accordingly.

Update 02/19/2020

Dave on Facebook shared this vintage (2007) bit of myth busting from the UK HSE. I love it for two reasons. First, it shows that the organization’s supporting early learning can get it right and their ranks do include sensible folks and second, the illustration is amazing.


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Jeff is an early learning speaker, toymaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ who is really bad at getting his picture taken.

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