Today is Universal Children’s Day as first proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954. It was established to encourage all countries to institute a day, first, to promote mutual exchange and understanding among children, and, second, to initiate action to benefit and promote the welfare of the world’s children. On November 20, 1959 the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1989.
Universal Children’s Day is not simply a day to celebrate children for who they are, but to bring awareness to everyone of children around the globe who have succumbed to violence in forms of abuse, exploitation and discrimination. Children are used as laborers in some countries, immersed in armed conflict, living on the streets, suffering because differences of religion, minority issues, disabilities, and so forth. Children feeling the effects of war can be displaced because of the armed conflict and/or suffer physical and psychological trauma. The following violations are described in the term “children and armed conflict”: recruitment and child soldiers, killing/maiming of children, abduction of children, attacks on schools/hospitals and not allowing humanitarian access to children. Currently there are about 153 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who are forced into child labor. The International Labour Organization in 1999 adopted the Prohibition and Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour including slavery, child prostitution and child pornography.
This is all very important stuff and should never, never be undervalued. We should always fight for the basic rights of children. But it’s also important to celebrate children simply by having fun with them. Of course, we should do this every day, just as we should honor mothers every day – not just on Mother’s Day, etc. The reason we have a special day for mothers, fathers, grandparents, secretaries, nurses, firefighters, and whatnot, is simply to give a little extra effort on that day to something we should be doing every day as a matter of course. Countries across the globe instituted a special day for children long before the UN stepped in, and continue to do so. Hence Universal Children’s Day tends to pass by unnoticed by many people and nations. Argentina celebrates Children’s Day on 18 November, and the People’s Republic of China on 1 June. Nothing much happens in these countries on a national level, although the day can be a school holiday. Activities, whatever they may be, tend to be geared to families and individual localities. The United States, Britain, and Italy, countries I am associated with in one way or another, do not have a federally recognized Children’s Day, nor has the U.S. ratified UN mandates concerning the rights of children. The latter mostly has to do with right-wing opposition in the U.S. to UN mandates in general.
Anyway . . . whilst being mindful of abuses against children globally, why not have fun on this day? Of course for me fun usually involves cooking. Below is a photo of me (top left) in Infant School making gingerbread men. I started my cooking career early. It’s been almost 60 years since this picture was taken so I can be forgiven for not remembering who made the dough. I know we were not responsible for the baking part. The essence of cooking with children, especially very young ones, is to make sure that they do as much as possible, and to avoid potential hazards such as knives and hot surfaces. Even so you have tremendous scope. When I was a little boy my mother supervised me in making a treat for church suppers – chocolate balls make by crushing tea biscuits, mixing with cocoa, powdered sugar, and condensed milk, shaping into balls, and rolling in desiccated coconut. Not my thing now, but I loved them then (and a fair number of them never made it to church).
In searching for recipes for children to make I discovered that “child friendly” on search engines typically means “dishes children will eat.” That does not fly with me. When I was a boy I ate what my mother cooked, and when he was a boy my son ate what I cooked. Neither my mother nor I ignored family tastes, but both of us cooked a variety of dishes. Otherwise a child’s tastes become desperately limited. I know plenty of adults who will not deviate from an extremely small set of options – all eaten thousand upon thousand of times. If that’s how you want to raise your children, have at it. Not me. I’ll admit that even now, at 24, my son falls back on hamburgers and pizza a lot of the time. But he also orders ducks’ tongues and chicken feet sometimes, because he’s not afraid of new things.
All kinds of problems arise when trying to find a child-friendly recipe online. A ton of them are loaded with sugar; many of them are really adult recipes with components that children can assist with; and so forth. I always wanted to help my mother with cooking on the weekends, so she would let me crack and beat eggs, stir mixes and so forth. That was all right. It kept me interested. But for Children’s Day you need a recipe that children can follow from start to finish with minimal help, like the chocolate balls I used to make. I’d say that the obvious answer is to find recipes that involve assembly only, but try to be creative about it. That is, any kid should be able to make a sandwich, but you don’t have to simply provide sliced bread and some fillings. Use a pita for a pocket, or a flour tortilla for a rollup. Furthermore, provided you are looking on, every child should be able to manage a toaster. Or have them make open-face sandwiches that involve their own artistry — don’t forget the cookie cutter. The important part to my mind is to have the child do all the work with you assisting, and not the other way round.