REMEMBER when childhood was a time of free-spirited play, plaiting your bestie's hair in the schoolyard and getting your uniform dirty?
Well, those days are gone. Schools and childcare centres now have more rules than an AFL game, with every moment in kids' days monitored and scrutinised.
The latest casualty of the fun police is pasta necklaces. You know, those masterpieces crafted from morsels of penne, painted with food colouring and threaded onto string?
News.com.au has been told that a NSW childcare centre banned the art-and-craft activity on the grounds that it would send out the message that "it's okay to waste food". Stamps carved from potatoes are also forbidden.
After a survey of parents in two states, it emerged that this was just the tip of the iceberg.
It seems that early education now has more in common with being in prison than the carefree days gone by.
Kids are not allowed to hug or hold hands at many schools, lest their affection spill over into inappropriate touching.
One educational institution has outlawed the popular Smiggle brand that makes colourful pens, pencil cases and lunch boxes, so that those with more bland stationary aren't struck with envy.
Also banned from the craft room are egg cartons (an allergy risk) and toilet rolls (a "breeding ground for E Coli").
Store-bought cardboard, plastic straws and sponges are the sterile replacements for the recycled craft materials of yesteryear.
It's all part of the highly regulated environment that young children are raised in these days.
Are all these rules over the top?
This poll ended on 09 February 2017.
Yes, they are absolutely ridiculous - 85%
A bit OTT but some of these rules make sense - 12%
No, all these rules are completely reasonable - 1%
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
RULES, RULES, RULES
Some schools and childcare centres have outlawed cakes completely, while others require them to be the store bought variety with ingredients clearly listed, to ensure that they do not contain allergens like nuts.
Ball games before and after school are casualties of the crackdown, and some playgrounds have rosters to prevent kids from bumping into each other.
Children must take a buddy with them every time they go to the toilet at some schools and childcare centres, and if they want to hand out birthday party invitations then the whole student cohort must be invited.
And clapping has been replaced with "silent cheering" at school assemblies to avoid upsetting kids who are "sensitive to noise".
Christmas is a landmine for school administrations, with candy canes added to the banned substances list and the Victorian state government forced to send out a memo clarifying that carols were still permitted under its new special religious instruction guidelines, which banned the teaching of Christian praise and worship songs in music class.
Melbourne mother-of-two Nikki, who did not want her surname used, told news.com.au the list of restrictions at her child's school was mind boggling.
"Are you kidding - there's nothing but rules!" she said.
"No dairy in play recess food, only in food that is eaten at lunch supervised in the classroom, in case an allergic reaction occurs in the playground. No nuts, obviously, no sugary foods, no sharing of food of any kind. Everything is about equality, equity, sharing, caring, not offending anyone."
A frustrated Sydney mum said she worried that this emphasis would have a negative impact on her child's resilience.
"This is why more and more kids are needing counselling," she said. "They don't get to develop any coping skills so by the time someone does accidentally hurt their feelings they don't know how to process it."
A primary school principal, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, said while his school was more liberal than most there were some rules that had to be implemented.
"The children must hand in their mobile phones at the start of the day and pick them up after school finishes," he said.
"Otherwise they'll be distracted in class. And parents can hand out invitations to whoever they want, but if a teacher is asked to do it for them it has to be inclusive, otherwise it is embarrassing for the teacher."
As for the requirement that children have a doctor's certificate to approve their return to school after being off sick, he said this was departmental policy in Victoria - but only for notifiable diseases like measles, not the common cold.
Early childhood education consultant Julia Ham said while national regulations applied to the industry - requiring service providers to ensure a healthy and safe environment - these were open to interpretation, with rules varying from centre to centre.
"A lot of the rules are reactionary, so something happens and a rule is put in place, but it might have been a one-off circumstance," Ms Ham said.
She said sick children being sent to childcare were a major bugbear for parents, with childcare providers under pressure to stop illnesses from spreading.
"Your heart breaks for poor parents, I mean it's hard enough having sick children - but the flip side, is you've got parents really irritated that they dropped their child off and the child next to them has a green nose."
It's a fine balance to tread for schools and childcare providers, but let's exercise some common sense during what should be a time of fun and learning.