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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: November, 2010

I do not like shots. I am a big baby when it comes to needles. I am convinced that my needle phobia can be traced back to Star Wars. Yes, Star Wars. Remember when the evil Darth Vader threatened poor Princess Leia with the truth serum in the needle and the spacey door swooshes shut? My little six-year-old self sure does! The phobia has stayed with me throughout my adult life. To this day, I claim that the worst part of giving birth to my two gorgeous boys was the 45-minute epidural incidents. And that was to STOP pain!
I am not proud of myself. Intellectually, I understand the need for the flu shot and I get one every year. Emotionally, however, I am wreck. When the boys were babies I cried through all the wellness visits that ended with shots. The anticipation undid me. Three years ago, when I went back to work I got a reprieve from the shot appointments. My brave and honorable stay-at-home husband took over shot duty. I am relieved to say that I didn’t witness Henry’s four-year-old, 4-shot ordeal. I cowered at my desk In Boston that morning, anxiously awaiting the all-clear phone call. Henry was fine, by the way.
Now we are on the cusp of flu season 2010-2011. Last year, Gerry taught the boys “brave faces” before receiving their flu vaccination. It was a big hit and they return to their poses in times of distress. (See Henry’s picture below.)
But this year, I am the stay-at-home parent and I armed myself with information and Sid the Science Kid.
(Okay, I have a tiny confession to make. I scheduled Leo’s flu shot appointment on the Donuts with Dad day at our preschool. Sneaky, I know. But I have a phobia! And Gerry didn’t seem to mind taking him. Leo was happy about his lollipop and boasted that the shot “did not hurt one bit!”)
The role of supportive parent for Henry’s flu shot fell to me this year. I was ready. In preparation, Henry and I watched the Sid episode called “Getting a Shot: You Can Do It!” Henry really got behind the concept of building antibodies to fight the flu. I loved that this was another episode that uses science to stomp out a childhood fear. Henry watched intently as kids on the show received their shots. Bravo to the team for providing real footage of kids getting shots. The facial expressions on the kids were perfect. We also really liked May saying “No big deal” in her sing-songy voice. After the show Henry practiced his brave face and proclaimed, “I am ready for my flu shot!”
In a show of solidarity, I also decided to get a flu shot at the pediatrician’s office. It was a challenge for me to fight my nerves and keep a smile on my face as Henry scrutinized my every move and expression. Then it was Henry’s turn. And it did not go as planned. The nurse would not allow him to sit on my lap for the vaccination and he flipped out. He ran under a chair when the nurse asked him to sit on the table. I had to coax him out, hold him down on the table, and keep eye contact. I kept saying “no big deal” in my best May voice. The nurse administered the shot as she lay over his legs, and he didn’t even notice. He smiled and asked for his lollipop. No harm done, right?
Wrong. I was very shaken by the experience. Here is the thing…back home we had the most amazing, educated, straight-talking, shot-administering pediatrician in the world. I have learned the hard way that finding a new peds office is a daunting task. So, although Sid did a great job preparing Henry for a flu shot, nothing can replace a good pediatrician and a caring staff. I wish I had insisted on a nurse that would let Henry stay on my lap. It is my job to advocate for someone who spoke to him kindly and did not restrain him for a simple flu vaccination. I have a lot of “I should’ves” from that visit. I am trying not to beat myself up as I look for new pediatrician.
But there IS good news. Henry tells everyone who will listen about antibodies and vaccines. We also discovered a fun game on the Sid website called Super Duper Antibodies that served as a great reward for Henry’s bravery. Henry is proud of himself and that is a very good thing. And we are all vaccinated which means our family should be flu free this year. All reasons to smile!
How do you prepare your children for trips to the pediatrician? What do you look for in a pediatrician and the office staff?

Sometimes when I get together with other mommy/parent friends we end up chatting about “when we were kids.” We talk about the cartoons we watched and how simple, yet violent they were. We reminisce about the hours of playtime around the neighborhood without parental supervision. This often leads to a discussion about technology…who remembers the rotary phone? Cable television was new and we were a one-car family. Parenting trends have certainly changed. Sometimes I feel like we, as parents and caregivers in the 21st century, have a lot more to worry about. And that makes me crabby.
However, one thing that has certainly changed for the better is the prolific use of sunscreen on our children and on ourselves. And let me tell you, it took me a long time to get there. I was a teen who spent the months of June to September covered in baby oil. Sun protection was to be avoided at all costs. As a teen in the 80s, bronze was the color I wanted to achieve. (What is bronze, exactly? I wanted to look like metal?) As I got older, I started to listen to the health news and wore more sunscreen. But the moment of real understanding came when a close family member was diagnosed with skin cancer a couple of years ago. It was treatable and all is well, but for a little while it was extremely scary. I went to the dermatologist for a baseline check of all my freckles and spots. That’s when I built sunscreen into our daily life.
Then there are my boys. Henry is so fair that you can practically count all his veins. Leo is less so, but we still have to be careful. Sunscreen has become an everyday thing for me. A no-brainer. Especially as we live in Southern California. For my kids, sunscreen is a part of the daily routine like brushing our teeth. As we move further into winter and fall here it is easy to forget sometimes. The funny thing is that the boys DO remember. They have never (knock on wood) had a sunburn so the idea of one is terrifying. (Good work Mom! Isn’t fear an old-fashioned parenting strategy?)
Leo was very interested in the Sid episode about sunscreen and we decided to try the Sunblock Investigation. When I asked Leo about sunscreen he turned out to be quite the little expert. When asked why we wear sunscreen he replied: “So the sun doesn’t hurt our skin. (Pause) And so we can go swimming.” He also described a sunburn as “when you skin is hot and red.”
The investigation involves smearing sunscreen on one half of a sheet of
construction paper (Leo loved that!) and letting the paper sunbathe for several hours. We chose a blue piece of paper and put it on the back porch. Then, for the rest of the afternoon we ran around, following the sun, moving the paper from spot to spot. It eventually ended up across the street in a neighbors’ driveway.
Unfortunately, our results were inconclusive. We used the wrong paper. A little investigation into our inconclusive results revealed that the construction paper was the wrong kind for this experiment. It was not the fuzzy kind but matte. I think when I was a kid, there was only one kind! We talked about how the paper was supposed to look and speculated about why it didn’t turn out that way. Leo wisely observed that blue paper is different than skin. I was impressed that the sunscreen didn’t dry up after being in the sun all day. Leo wasn’t disappointed by the results, but he did mention that he prefers painting with paint, not sunscreen.

There aren’t a lot of regular moms like me who get the chance to see what goes into making her kids’ favorite shows. Especially an animated show at The Jim Henson Company! I giggle to think that I was one degree of separation away from some of my all-time favorite characters. Too cool! To say I was star struck by it all is a gross understatement.
When I walked on set, I entered a huge soundstage buzzing with activity (it happens to be the historic Charlie Chaplin soundstage). There are so many people who make this show possible. The body performers who play the characters are dressed in black jumpsuits with sensors. The puppeteers sit in special booths with sophisticated equipment that allows them to bring a character to life with voice and facial expressions. The camera operators sit in front of a zillion screens capturing the input from bazillions of tiny sensors and cameras on the set. Above the set on a platform, the computer folks work their magic to eventually turn it all into the images we see on our TV. A director stands over the script adjusting cues, lines, and positions. The assistant director gives the call to begin (among a million other things). And lots and lots of people were doing I can only guess what!
I was so very lucky to have Gerard, stage manager, as a guide through the entire process. He used language I could understand to explain what was happening. Here is what I came away with: the body performers have suits covered with sensors that capture signals from small cameras as the camera people shoot the scene.
The body performers move while the puppeteers create the voices and facial expressions for the characters. As the body performers and puppeteers worked in perfect synchronicity, the familiar animated Sid the Science Kid appeared on gigantic screens mounted around the set. I think it IS MAGIC.
And that is just the technology of what’s going on. Not the heart. What struck me the most were the PEOPLE on the set. Professional people listening to each other, providing positive feedback, making suggestions, tackling complicated details, and revising performances, and LAUGHING through it all. A lot of laughing. Sid and his friends cracked grown up jokes during rehearsal. Hilarious. But when the call came for quiet on the set (yes, they actually say that) and ACTION! they were all spot on. In the two hours I was there, they filmed about a minute of the show. A minute! These are a group of dedicated people.
Everyone was incredibly generous with their time and all my questions. It was abundantly clear that everyone cared about the job they are doing. Sid the Science Kid gives children — MY children — the chance to learn about science while seeing themselves reflected in family, school, and friendships. This talented group of artists are putting a lot of good into the world. And that’s a great place to be every day, I imagine.

I am really enjoying the new cycle on Sid the Science Kid about light and darkness. In the episode “Discovering Darkness,” Sid learns about darkness in order to overcome his fears. While Henry and Leo are not afraid of the dark, I really like the idea of using science and experiments as a way to allay a child’s fears. The episode also featured an activity that involves building a fort.
The mom in me is not a huge fan of “forting.” My living room is turned upside down (quite literally), cushions stacked in precarious positions, blankets unfolded, toys under the furniture, and little boys fight as it all comes tumbling down on their heads. Clean up is usually a battle. Not fun for me.
On the other hand, the little kid in me remembers the joy of building a fort in the living room: an indoor clubhouse and adventures in the living room created out of cushions and blankets. I loved pretending with my own brothers in our couch forts. It was fun and adventure. I just don’t remember there being such a mess!
When I suggested that we conduct a family experiment the boys had a lukewarm reaction. However, when I said our experiment would include making a fort it was like they hit the jackpot. Whoops, hollers, yells, and hurrahs rang through the house.
Dad joined in for the fun as we gathered chairs from the kitchen, blankets, a flashlight, and a cardboard box for a roof. I asked the boys to sit under the chairs as Dad and I covered the fort with blankets. Their job was to tell us when it was dark in the fort. No light coming in. They were confused at first because they wanted a door to the fort, but soon got the hang of it. I think Henry and Leo liked telling us what to do. They boys yelled out directions like: Over where the leaves are! NO OVER HERE! WAIT! There’s light at the bottom! Cover it!
We had to use many blankets and even though it was nighttime, we never achieved full darkness. But that didn’t matter. Once it was mostly dark, I crawled in with Henry while Dad and Leo shone the flashlight around. I took a moment to bring some science concepts into the play:
“Darkness is the absence of light. Do you understand what that means?”
“Mom, I thought that absence was when someone was missing at school.”
“You are so close, Henry! Absent is like the word absence. The light is missing from our fort!”
Talk about a light going off in a kid’s head! I was so impressed by Henry’s word association. I am a word person and I love making vocabulary connections with the kids. It was a great moment.
We played in the fort for a long time. The kids really enjoyed switching roles around: light spotter, blanket adjuster, flashlight holder, and fort architect. I am always looking for new things we can do as a family at home. This activity was great because everyone was involved, we learned something, and it did not involve removing all the cushions from my couch. You can’t go wrong with that.
What are some of your favorite family activities for at home? How do you build learning opportunities into family time?

Parents Pop Quiz:
Define “elasticity” in preschooler-friendly language.
Are you stumped? Scrambling around in your brain for the right word? Laughing at yourself? That was ME last Sunday as I bravely attempted an elasticity activity in the driveway with Henry and Leo.
I should back up and tell you how this all started. On Sunday morning Henry asked if we could do a Sid “experiment.” (Science vocabulary–thanks Sid!) We’ve had gloomy weather for a week or so and Daddy is away on business. We needed a break from the indoors so I decided to put Henry’s initiative to good use.
I ran upstairs to print off an activity from this week’s theme: Force and Motion. The episodes are new and we hadn’t seen them all. I chose the activity about elasticity (looks like fun!) and went back downstairs. I skimmed the directions and started to grab supplies. The kids and I hunted around for a large piece of paper, markers, and balls to bounce in the experiment. In our house full of toys it was shockingly difficult to find the balls we needed…ours just aren’t that bouncy! We settled on a basketball, wiffle ball, small rubber ball, tinfoil ball, and play doh ball. Then we headed out to the driveway.
As I tried to weigh down the paper to record our observations, Henry and Leo started throwing the balls around. Henry was quick to point out that the play doh went SPLAT! I started to think “oh no!” because we were supposed to “discover” that fact in the activity…not yet! Henry then started to talk with Leo about THE FORCE as he slammed the basketball into the ground for a higher bounce. Cool, but I was not teaching them about force today. Bounce was the objective, but isn’t that related to force? I was confused.
Trying to get us on the same page, I asked: “What is elasticity?” Blank stares. My brain started racing. I had NO IDEA how to define elasticity. How was it possible that I was conducting an experiment about a word I couldn’t define? A dear friend of mine reminded me recently that being unprepared will always make a teacher’s life very difficult and a lesson unsuccessful. I was definitely winging this one.
So, I went back to the activity and read through it again while the boys played basketball. I got my materials in order, drew a stick figure on the paper, lined up the balls, and then called the boys over. I modeled the activity for them, explaining that we were trying to see how high each ball bounced. The boys stood on the sidewalk and dropped the balls from outstretched arms and recorded the heights on the stick figure. Leo really enjoyed bouncing the balls and Henry loved recording their findings.
We determined that elasticity made some balls bounce higher than others. We also learned that play doh is really gross when dropped into a muddy puddle.
A couple of days later we watched the episode “That’s The Way the Ball Bounces.” Now we all understand what elasticity means: material that can be pushed in and pop back out to its original shape. The show brilliantly simplified the concept and made it accessible to this age group. Additionally, the kids liked watching Sid and company conduct the same experiment we did in the driveway. Ultimately, Henry, Leo, and I decided that we preferred watching the show BEFORE conducting an experiment. That’s the power of modeling instruction and building background for preschoolers — and their parents!
What do you do when you get stumped when helping your children learn?
Do you have any good organization tips? I could use a few!
Put your Jack o’ Lanterns to good use this week! Take a look at the Decayed Pumpkin Activity in the Transformation and Change Cycle. Henry and Leo are looking forward to it. There’s nothing like sticking your hands into a rotting gourd in the name of science! I’ll be sure to tell you how it goes at our house.

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
Jim Hensen Corporation logo CPB ViNCi MetLife The Rosehills Foundation S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation logo The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations logo

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