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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Month: August, 2012

Lunch isn’t Leo’s favorite meal of the day. To be truthful, Leo isn’t a voracious eater at any meal and he is a self-proclaimed “plant eater.” If Leo had his choice, I think he’d eat snacks all day long. I am sure you all know his type: a fly-by eater, small bites, and minimal meat. I don’t think of him as a “picky” eater but he does like to eat “pickies.”
Pickies is our family name for appetizers or finger foods. I often set out Pickies for dinner on family movie night or big sports events. We all pile on the couch and stuff our faces. I usually serve crackers and cheese, some sort of chip and dip, veggies and ranch, fruit kabobs, and chicken bites. Of course I get fancier depending on the event. I basically clean out the fridge and make it all look nice on platters. Pickies is Leo’s favorite dinner — and his requested birthday dinner.
When it came time to pack lunch for preschool, I was worried about Leo. He tends to eat slowly and hardly ever finishes a full sandwich. He likes to chat, use the potty, and stare into space while eating a meal. It takes a while. I had to come up with some creative ideas to get food in his tummy at school. I began making Pickies for lunch:
Here are some of the lunches we came up with:
Homemade Lunchables: My kids love these pre-made lunches, but they are full of salt, sugar and other fillers. I buy them every once in a while for a treat or while traveling, but we prefer to make our own. I save the real lunchable containers and fill it with crackers, turkey, and shredded cheese. I seal it up with plastic wrap.
Chicken Fingers: Leo has a thermos that he loves. I discovered that I can fit 3 or 4 hot chicken fingers in the thermos and they stay warm all day! (Duh.) I put ketchup in a small container and voila! It becomes a very special lunch. With fruit on the side, it makes the perfect meal.
**A Special Note About Ketchup: I have spent a lot of the last year researching the processed sugar content in foods because Henry is very sensitive to sugar. I had no idea how much sugar was in ketchup!! And ketchup is practically a food group in my house. I am not able to eliminate it completely, but I do buy organic ketchup because the sugar is less processed. And it isn’t that much more expensive. I buy the Trader Joe’s brand.
Fruit and Cheese Plate: Fancy, right? This meal is so very simple and Leo loves it. I pack a big bowl of fruit, a cheese stick, and crackers. For protein I send cashews. (Leo’s school was peanut free, but cashews were okay.)
Cheesy Roll-ups: Leo isn’t crazy about sandwiches, but he is willing to eat the inside of a sandwich. I roll up cheese and turkey or ham into long logs. Sometimes I cut them into wheels or I just leave them. As a treat, I sometimes add a soft sweet Hawaiian roll.
Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese: Leo will eat tomato soup and grilled cheese for any meal on any day. I love packing this lunch on a rainy day when I know they will be playing inside and this have more time to eat lunch. Soup goes in the thermos and I make a grilled cheese sandwich, chop it into little squares and wrap it in foil. It isn’t hot at lunch, but he doesn’t seem to care.
I don’t have time every day to make special lunches but I try. Never underestimate the power of the cookie cutter. Cookie cutters transform sandwiches from blah to WOW! For drinks, I tend to pack water. Sometimes, I send a juice box, but not every day. I fill a bigger sized cup and he can sip on it at lunch and then on the playground.
I love lunch containers, don’t you? I am always searching for the perfect little sectioned containers. I try and find containers the boys can open on their own, but I also know they have help from teachers and aids. I can’t say enough about our SnackTaxis. If you haven’t seen these before, you will love them. It is a snack bag made out of fabric, coated on the inside for easy cleaning. I have seen online tutorials for making them and I know there are several companies you can buy them from. I found SnackTaxi when Henry was a toddler.
Don’t forget about the power of a good breakfast! I love that Sid the Science Kid often shows the family sitting down to a hearty breakfast before school. I have to be purposeful about breakfast and make sure the boys load up before heading out. I could write a complete blog about breakfast alone!!
Finally, I try and remember the sage advice of my favorite family pediatrician: Children eat when they are hungry. If Leo comes home with an uneaten lunch, I don’t make a big deal out of it. I simply sit him down at 2pm and we eat. It doesn’t matter if he eats at 11am or 2pm, as long as he eats when he’s hungry. This was a hard lesson for me learn. I can always offer Leo a healthy snack and send him on his merry way.
Happy lunch packing! I would love to hear your lunch ideas! I am taking all my tricks up to Kindergarten, but I would love to have a few more! What kind of lunch makes your kids happy?

For months, everyone has been asking me “Is Leo excited about Kindergarten?” Without hesitation I have always replied. “Leo is so READY for Kindergarten.” I haven’t worried about him at all. Leo has been going with me to Henry’s school, now his, for two years. He knows the routines for lining up, playground rules, and he recognizes all the Kindergarten teachers. And they know him! I even skipped over the orientation for new K students last spring because Leo was so familiar with the classroom after spending so much time there with Henry. No problem, right?
A lot of people have asked me how I am going to spend my newfound “freedom” when Leo starts all-day Kindergarten. (Um…work.) And I get a lot of comments about how much harder things are about to get with homework, PTA, sports, etc. To be honest, I thought I was looking forward to the day when both boys were at the same school with the same drop off time. I have fantasies about going to the gym, having lunch with friends, and getting hours of writing done in my home office.
But as the time ticks down to the first day of school next week, I realize how wrong I am about a lot of things: both for Leo and for me. Leo has anxiety about starting Kindergarten. I got the first hints of it in July when he misheard me and thought that school was starting the next day. Understandably, Leo burst into tears and said he did not want to go to school. More recently, Leo has asked to visit his preschool. He wants to stop by and see the wonderful Miss D. before Kindergarten starts. My usually laid back, transition champion is having a rough time.
What can I do to help him? I feel like I am scrambling last minute to ease a summer’s worth of fears. First of all, I called the preschool and made a date this week with Miss D. I think it will go a long way to easing his mind and maybe providing some closure. I also took him to a community event called Kindergarten Roundup, which featured a magic show for new Kindergarteners. I really billed it as a special celebration for kids like him and made sure that he felt special.
Mostly, though, I am downplaying the anticipation. I love the buildup leading up to big events like holidays, birthdays, family vacations, and milestones. But time goes by, I have come to realize that my children do not feel the same way. The anticipation seems to cause anxiety. So, instead of plastering a big smile on my face and saying “I am so proud of my big Kindergartener,” I take quiet moments to ask how he is feeling. I’ve done a little bit of school shopping here and there, but I haven’t made it a big event. In other words, I am trying to ease Leo into his new role as Kindergartener. He needs some more time.
As for me, I am quietly mourning my quiet times with Leo. I treasured our time together when Henry was in school. Leo and I are kindred spirits and enjoy each other’s company. We loved our Wednesday Sid investigations. Change is hard for everyone, but this one has snuck up on me. My baby is going to Kindergarten, and it seems like a lot of clichés are true. I am wishing we could have a little more time but I am excited to see Leo start off on a new adventure. Thank goodness we can still watch Sid the Science Kid every afternoon and continue investigating after school.
How do you handle big transitions with your kids? Do you have new Kindergartner? I would love to hear your tips and strategies!
This photo captures the summer for me. A part of me wishes we could just stay at the beach!

Gerry and I took the boys to the dentist for the first time when Henry was 4 and Leo was 2. It was a wonderful office, populated with friendly faces and decorated with cartoons and bright colors everywhere. The goal was to have a preliminary examination and have the kids’ teeth counted. No big deal. I was happy to see that each exam chair had a TV and that there was plenty of space for the parents to sit and stay close by, and stuffed animals were strewn everywhere. Henry was nervous and Leo was completely oblivious.
Leo got into the big chair first. He didn’t flinch as the kind dentist counted his teeth with a metal instrument. Gerry and I got a gentle lecture about the dangers of a pacifier for new teeth and Leo was done! Things got dicey when Henry took his seat. He was very uncomfortable in the chair and nearly jumped off when the dentist tipped the head back. Then Henry started to squirm as the dentist tried to look in his mouth. Finally, Henry went into hysterics when he saw the pointy metal instrument the dentist wanted to use to count his teeth. It was bad. I tried to soothe Henry, but he was terrified. And his screaming was starting to scare the other kids in the office. Ultimately, I had to hold a crying Henry in a back (soundproof room) as we coaxed him to let the dentist count his teeth. The ordeal was emotionally exhausting.
I haven’t been back. It’s 2+ years later and Henry is almost 7. Neither of my boys has had their teeth cleaned, x-rayed, or checked for cavities. I won’t go into my own personal dental horror stories, but suffice it say, we have been scarred as a family. But I am a parent, and it is my job to keep my kids healthy. Dental health is so important and I simply dropped the ball, or brush, if you will.
So this month I scheduled an appointment. I decided to take things slow. I talked to all of my friends and found an office I was comfortable with. I called, explained the situation, and scheduled a simple “meet and greet” appointment with the dentist. I told Henry all about the plan and promised him that we could go back as many time as he wanted before we even had a check up. I wanted Henry to be comfortable. I wanted him to feel safe.
Last week, we went to the dentist. The office was amazing, decorated everywhere with murals of safari animals. The waiting room was full of toys, puzzles, books and VIDEO GAMES. Henry was thrilled. Leo was excited. When we met the dentist, the boys were enchanted. She was beautiful, petite, non-threatening and to the point. I could tell that she was itching to get a look at the boys’ teeth. So she gambled.
“Do you want to watch another child have their teeth cleaned? Maybe you can try it too?”
Henry and Leo were interested. So we stayed. We watched the incredibly friendly and cheerful dental hygienist go to work on a tween girl. The boys were mesmerized and tempted by the choices of bubblegum flavored toothpaste and cherry flavored fluoride. The dentist stopped by again to tell the boys that they were welcome have their own teeth cleaned and join in the fun. She invited them to simply sit in the chair and learn about the tools. I decided to take advantage of the situation and offer a bribe.
“Boys, if you get your teeth cleaned, I will let you stay afterwards and play video games. We will stop any moment you want, if you feel scared or uncomfortable.”
It worked. The dentist called Leo over first and Henry watched as his brother picked a strawberry flavored toothpaste. Leo was a trooper, I tell you. He was a little scared by the instruments because they made noise, but I held his hand. He was nervous when the dentist counted his teeth, but didn’t make a fuss at all. No cavities! Clean teeth! It was a huge step forward for our family!
I looked at Henry, trying to gauge his readiness. But he surprised me by climbing right into the chair and saying, “Let’s do this. I want bubblegum toothpaste.” I couldn’t believe it! He sat still as the dentist counted his teeth (no cavities!) and began the cleaning herself (no hysterics!). He endured the entire cleaning and fluoride treatment. I was so proud of Henry in that moment that I actually got misty eyed.
I learned a lot at the dentist. I learned that I need to let my kids face their fears and just be there for them no matter what. I know that seems obvious when I put that in words, but I had been sheltering them by not going to the dentist. I was projecting some of my own fears onto their experiences and not making the best choice for their overall health. I also know that it is time to get myself to the dentist…if they could do it, then so can I.
Have you taken your preschooler to the dentist? How did it go? What advice would you give about the first trip to the dentist?

One undeniable thing I have learned while teaching science to my children is that no matter how many answers we find; we always have more questions. In the questions I can watch Henry and Leo use their intelligence with what ifs and what happens when? At first, when we tried investigations, I was wary of the questions because I wanted to complete the activity at hand, check off the accomplishments, and review what we learned. But that has changed. These days I look forward to the questions because I admire their critical thinking skills. I am proud of their curiosity.
I never thought about encouraging my children to become scientists until we started watching Sid the Science Kid and trying all kinds of science investigations. Now I want them become engineers or biologists or paleontologists just so they can have a career of exploration and curiosity.
Recently, the boys have been all about space exploration. The Star Wars craze here has been building for many months and seems to have hit an apex with the viewing of Return of the Jedi. Henry is taken with the opening phrase: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far way…” To him, these words are truth and he is trying to figure out how to travel to this galaxy far, far away. I don’t discourage him at all, because I think there is a fine line between truth and science fiction sometimes. Henry is convinced if he can find a way to get to a place “far” away then the next logical step is “far far away.” Follow me? Leo is concerned about aliens and if they are coming to Earth for a visit.
Star Wars is fun but nothing beats the true-life drama and intrigue that took place this week at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. We were lucky enough to hear a story in the car last week on NPR about JPL and the upcoming landing of the Mars Rover Curiosity. All weekend long we tuned into the NASA channel for updates and checked out all the amazing resources online for kids at We checked out books from the library and looked at images of the solar system online. Both boys asked many, many questions. Henry wanted to know if there was life on Mars right now and why did water matter? Leo wanted to know if we could cool off the sun with enough water. I wanted to know how to explain the vastness of the universe to two young boys – a difficult but thrilling task.
On Sunday night I made a decision to let the boys stay up until 10:30pm to experience the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. For those of you who may not be familiar with the mission, the drama of landing the car-sized rover centered around the “7 Minutes of Terror” when Curiosity would enter the atmosphere of Mars and attempt a complicated landing…all out of radio control from JPL. The coverage on the NASA channel was great for the kids. There were interesting graphics, views of the control room, and 1 minute animated shorts to help kids understand the engineering and science involved in landing Curiosity.
One of my favorite questions of the evening came from Henry: “How are they planning to get Curiosity back to Earth?”
As I explained that Curiosity was going to stay on Mars and conduct experiments, I watched shock register on Henry’s face. Curiosity was more than a machine to Henry; he was upset at the thought of leaving the rover behind on Mars. I reassured him by explaining that JPL would be communicating with Curiosity and that they would conduct many science experiments together. Maybe Curiosity could tell us if there had every been life on Mars.
Henry, Leo, and I were invested, to say the least. Sadly, Gerry was absent, on a business trip to China. I was missing him a lot, the original NASA fan in the family. Gerry has been enthralled with NASA since he was a young boy collecting patches and had the thrill of watching the moon landing live on TV. I wanted to give Henry and Leo a taste of that.
Sadly, it was not be for the boys. They fell asleep a full 45 minutes before the “7 Minutes of Terror.” I, however, was riveted. I watched as the engineers and scientists literally quaked in their boots waiting to see if Curiosity had landed safely. And I admit to shedding a tear or two when the first images came through and the control room erupted in cheers. It was quite a moment, quite an achievement.
The images from Mars are quite stunning. Here is my favorite.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
When the boys woke up in the morning we watched the landing again. Henry and Leo jumped up and down and whooped with joy. I hope the memory stays with them. Science can take us anywhere! Just imagine if someday one of my boys could work for NASA at JPL.

What is a home? It’s where we live and eat and share our lives with our families. It is certainly more than a house, more than the roof over our heads. As a parent I am conscious of all the things we do to make our house a home; from the family pictures on the walls, the meals we cook, the songs we sing, and the memories we make. My mom always told me that home is where your family is. Over the past few years I have put that definition to good use as we made our new house in California a home.

The actual walls and roof and the windows of a house mean something too. Think about the house you grew up in or your first apartment on your own. You probably don’t live there anymore, but driving by or looking at an old photo can stir up those memories of home. My heart still yearns for our house back east where I brought my babies home for the first time. Home can stay with you for a long time.

But those definitions are different in the animal/science world. When we talk to preschoolers about “animal homes” we are trying to teach them about the different shelters, caves, burrows, nests, etc that animals build or move into. When the boys and I started on our Animal Homes investigation I hadn’t really thought through the semantics of the science we were learning.

As usual, I set up the investigation by asking the boys “Where do different animals live?” Mistake number one. Henry and Leo immediately replied by saying things like in the ocean, in the dessert, and in the jungle. My kids obviously know their habitats. Then I revised my question and asked, “What kind of home does a bird live in?” This time they got caught up on the word “house.” To Henry, a nest doesn’t qualify as a house but it is where a bird lives. So I asked one more time: “What is a bird’s home?” A nest, of course! Then we started looking around the neighborhood for animal homes.

On our front porch we have a spring treasure that a friend gave us. The boys ran to it grab it for our first find on the Animal Homes Scavenger Hunt.


Henry and Leo had a hard time coming up with ideas for animal homes until I started naming animals. When I asked about squirrels, Leo said “in a tree.” I had to explain that squirrels made nests like birds for homes. The tree is not the home, the nest is. Then we moved on to spiders. That was an easy one!


When I asked them for another animal home, Leo ran across to my neighbor’s garage and found a home for a dog.


Technically, a dog crate isn’t a home for a dog. See how things get complicated? Dogs live in houses with us…at least in this culture. But I thought Leo was clever, so I let it count. Then we started talking about ants. We often follow ant trails around the yard, the boys like to see where the ants are going and what “highways” the ants are using. Leo is convinced that ants live in holes under the ground and I think he’s right — at least around here. He found a hole he insists is an ant home.


We made our way into a friend’s house across the street. I am taking care of their critters while they are on vacation. Henry was very excited to add the pet rat, Spice, to our animal home list. Spice lives in a cage.


I was hesitant to include pets on our lists, but I guess the cage is the rat’s home in this case. I explained how rats like to build nests and gather all kinds of materials to make a home, either in a cage or out in the world.

It was funny how a simple activity got us all thinking about the meanings of the words “house” and “home.” Animals aren’t so different from people in a lot of ways!

Have you tried this activity with your kids? What did you find?

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