When Lisa Badland gave her five-year-old son Ryan some coloured chalks to mark out a hopscotch court outside her home, she expected him to have an afternoon of innocent fun.
Little did she imagine that he would end up in trouble with the police.
Yet that is what happened when two policemen, acting on a tip-off from a neighbour, arrived in a quiet cul-de-sac, lined up Ryan and five young friends and told them off for drawing "graffiti".
Remarkably, when the children's parents emerged from their homes to find out what was going on, the constables instructed them not to let their children play in the street or draw on the road or pavement. One mother said that she was also advised that one child was not dressed warmly enough.
Yesterday, the parents accused officers of over-reacting and frightening their children. Critics said the case was an example of police taking on "soft targets" while failing to tackle serious crimes. The incident took place on a housing estate in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, favoured by families because its peaceful streets are safe for children to play in.
The road was later washed clean by rain. Since the incident late last month the children - aged between three and 11 - have been banned by their parents from using chalk outside. Graham Coogan, 35, said his three children, Nicole, eight, Sian, six, and James, three, were all told off by the two officers.
"The police told me that my children had been chalking on the street, and it could actually be classed as graffiti," he said. "They said that they could ask me to clean it off.
"They also said they were concerned about the children being in the street. But it's a quiet street, and the reason we moved here was so the children could play out safely. The officers weren't unpleasant, and I didn't want to be confrontational, so I just went along with it."
Avon and Somerset Police said that it had received a report that up to six children aged around 14 were drawing graffiti on roads and pavements. The call was logged as alleged criminal damage.