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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: May, 2012

Sometimes I just need to get stuff done. You know…I desperately need to clean, or write, or read, or just sit and look at the ceiling. Henry and Leo seem to have inner superboy powers that signal to them when I need this time, and in turn, they strive to thwart my efforts. Thwarting usually involves the phrases, I am bored, I am hungry, or He is bothering me! At these desperate moments, I often talk to the ceiling asking for patience, a little time to myself, and sanity. But when I am clever, I can distract the thwarters and let them think I am leaving them to their own devices.
One clever route is to blithely suggest: Why don’t you make a train town?
Henry and Leo have a wonderful battery-run, chunky, plastic train set that we have been adding to for about 4 years. Sadly, the train set does not come out very often, even though I have created brilliant organizing bins for the components. (Thanks IKEA!) But when I put the suggestion in their little brains, their inner town planners and engineers come out. Train Town can keep them busy for at least an hour. I am around, and sometimes have to intervene or help solve problems, but for the most part the boys play on their own.
I am always impressed by what they come up with. Great feats of engineering come out of these train sessions. I could never, in a million years, solve the problems they do in terms of physics, force, and sheer ingenuity. Henry is usually the main designer with Leo acting as client. Leo asks for high hills, low bridges, and a place for his trains to sleep. Henry delivers that and more. They even have simple machines in form of loading bays and drop off centers. Sometimes, they even make a spot for the cat. And guess what? They don’t even know that they are employing science skills while I sort through papers on my messy desk!
Another tough time for me is the 90 minutes before dinner. Inevitably, they BEG me to watch TV and they are always STARVING. Which to me translates to bored and cranky. Most of the time we all end up cranky and I either send them outside or turn on a baseball game. But sometimes, when I think they will fall for it, I make a fort suggestion. Just like Train Town, forts are not a regular activity and seem to retain novelty over long periods of time. Once I plant the seed, I am free to go off into the kitchen in peace while they create on their own. They always have set criteria: a covered structure with two separate rooms. I love listening to them negotiate materials and size. And the living room gets turned upside down. They bring pillows, stuffed animals, blankets, and towels from all over the house. The boys go through a lot of trial and error in their construction and no two forts are ever alike.
I know we have talked a lot about forts with Sid, mostly in reference to light/darkness. And that definitely comes up – the darker the better. But what I have noticed more is their problem solving and engineering skills. Leo seems to have more confidence with the fort building, which can cause more conflict, but I think its good for them. Henry can’t always be in charge and Leo needs to assert himself. What they come up with is amazing. I marvel at their clever solutions and the structural integrity of their designs. And like Train Town, the boys have something to actually play with once the creating is finished.
The boys are always sad when it is time to tear down the forts or put the trains away. But there is always another design or another idea to explore. And I get the change to cross some items off my To Do list.
How do you get your kids to play independently? How often to you leave them to their own devices? I would love to hear your ideas!

Who says that Sid is only for preschoolers? I know for sure that Sid has universal appeal because I had a chance to talk with middle school students last week. One of the middle schools in my town was hosting a “Writing in the World” day in conjunction with their annual books fair. The goal of the event was to show middle school students the importance of good writing for their future employment opportunities. The school wanted to showcase people who write for a living: a novelist, a police detective, a college professor, a singer songwriter, and a blogger. Through a mysterious series of events that sometimes happen in small towns, I was referred to the chairperson of the event through a friend in my book club, because I am a professional writer with a blog. They asked me to come talk with students about professional blogging.
Who, ME? Yes, I am a writer and yes, I am lucky enough to write a blog for Sid the Science Kid…but I wasn’t sure about talking to groups of 12-15 years olds about a blog for preschoolers. I agreed and then I stressed about it for a couple of weeks. My challenge was to teach them what a blog is all about, get them interested in a preschool show and a blog for parents, and then somehow make connections to their tween lives.
I do my best work when I think (obsess) about a topic for a while. I like to think of it as percolating. (Which, by the way, middle schoolers would know nothing about since percolators are ancient coffee machines.) So, I devised a plan in my head and only put it into an outline the night before the big event. I decided to talk about myself, talk about Sid, and then take them to a blog that might peak their interest. I picked Rick Riordan’s blog since most kids have read The Lightening Thief or at least seen the movie.
So early one Friday morning, I found myself at the middle school. To say I was nervous isn’t quite right. I definitely felt uneasy, but it as more a feeling of being out of my element. The kids walking around were so very BIG. Some girls had make up on and some boys were a head taller than me. I am so used to the preschool environment. And it hit me…someday Henry and Leo are going to be in middle school! I am already panicking about Leo in Kindergarten and here I was faced with my future: big boys who are a head taller than me.
My first class was a 6th grade Honors Language Arts class. I started by explaining that when I was their age I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I only knew that I loved to read and I loved to write. Then I asked the class if anyone knew what they wanted to be in the future. Their answers were wonderful: architects, vets, doctors, nurses, police officers, firemen, and professional ball players. A room full of dreams. From then on, it was easy. The most shocking moments for me were when the kids did not know who Jim Henson was. They all knew the Muppets and the Sesame gang, but not The Jim Henson Company. (They do now.)
When I linked to Sid up on the screen many of the kids DID recognize him and his friends. They claimed to have younger siblings who watched, but I know that these big kids liked Sid too. We talked about blogging and social media and the significance of communication. I tried to explain how important it is in today’s world to express yourself with concise writing, perfect grammar, and clean spelling. And I wanted them to know that anyone can write and anyone can tell a story.
Sid the Science Kid has opened many doors for me in the past two years through the blog and podcast. But a door to the middle school was not one I was expecting. I had a great day talking to different classes and I was proud to show them the fun things that happen over at Sid the Science Kid.
Have you let yourself imagine your little preschooler in his or her middle school years? How do you think Sid will turn out? It’s fun to think about.

I really shouldn’t be too surprised anymore when the Sid the Science Sid weekly topic parallels my life as a mom. I think we can all relate to teaching our children about the functions of our lungs, heart, bones, and stomach. As parents, we see those body parts as the heart, breath, limbs, and health of our children. And I mean that literally and metaphorically. I want Henry and Leo to understand how precious their organs and body systems are. I want them to make the connections between exercise and nutrition to their hearts, lungs, bones, and bodies. We’ve begun learning by watching Sid the Science Kid and completing all of the investigations in this cycle. As always, the activities are fun and informative.
But it’s not enough. I believe that it is my job as a parent to model the behaviors I want Henry and Leo to carry through life. Believe me, I am a work in progress. But I have made some recent changes that I hope will be positive. And they happen to fall in line with this week’s topics about the body…just in time for Mother’s Day!
I bought a new pair of sneakers. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I had Henry with me. We went on a “date” to buy him new sneakers. Henry blows through sneakers faster than his feet grow, but I don’t mind. He is in constant motion. Leo is the runner in the family, with dreams of taking off on his own someday to “have a run around the neighborhood.” I haven’t bought a new pair of sneakers in six years. And one of my favorite phrases has always been “I only run when I am being chased.” But when Henry and I were at the New Balance outlet (love these shoes for kids) I decided to do some positive modeling and get myself a pair of sneakers. Pink ones.
The next day I found myself at the park with the boys in my new pink kicks. And I wanted to run. I ran all around with the boys until I thought my lungs would burst. Henry and Leo laughed and laughed. That night when we talked about the day, my boys were grateful for ME and for playing at the park. Totally worth the price of a pair of sneakers.
So, now I have a new pair of sneakers and lungs that are out of shape. In search of help I called a friend who is an EMT and a firefighter. Basically, I called a friend who is in shape. She asked me to think of one form of exercise from my life that I enjoyed. No matter what age. That was easy…I like to swim. I used to swim at the community pool on a team from ages 10 to 14. I swam a lot and I loved it. With that revelation, I got a membership at the gym with a big pool. Just like that.
I have been swimming 3 times. It is quiet and cool and totally alone. Afterwards my muscles ache. My muscles ache in a way that they haven’t in many many years. It is a familiar pain that doesn’t bother me. I want to feel stronger and I want to make my muscles work. The payoff comes with the boys. Henry and Leo are impressed by the gym and the Olympic sized pool. They like my new goggles and ask when I am going again. I am modeling for them and it feels good.
I am in my 40s and I need to think about my bones. The boys are both having “growing pains” that keep them up at night in tears. I feel awful for them but I am also in awe of the way the human body is constructed. They are literally growing right before my eyes. Yesterday Leo asked me “Mommy, how tall will you be when you are finished growing?” The question took me aback with its simplicity. I explained that my bones were done growing but that someday he would be taller than me. Leo was astounded. Then, I explained that even though my bones weren’t growing, I needed to care for my bones and my joints by eating the right kinds of foods and exercising. I also told Leo that we never ever stop growing in our hearts, even if our bones don’t get longer. My wise boy seemed to get that.
I have written a lot about nutrition on this blog but I haven’t shared our latest challenge as a family. I believe, based on observation, charting, and dietary tracking, that Henry is highly sensitive to processed sugar. Sugar deeply affects Henry’s mood, ability to focus, and impulse control. So, I am committed to eliminating as much sugar as I can from his diet. Or should I say OUR FAMILY’S diet. It can only benefit us all if we work together to help Henry and model the behavior we want him to learn. Some of us really like sweets (DAD) and chocolate (MOM). It is a sacrifice to give a lot of it up. But Henry understands how the body uses the foods we put into our digestive system. I have a concrete way to explain our lifestyle change via Sid and he seems to be okay with it … for now. But as a mom, I have never felt more sure about something I can do to help my child be successful.
The least I can do in honor of Mother’s Day is to take better care of my children’s only mom: ME. I am blessed with two amazing boys and every day they model for me the kind of person I want to be when I grow up.
Happy Mother’s Day!

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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