A Uniform Double Standard

Eldest attends a school with a uniform, and I love it.  In September, October, May and June, he’s in khaki shorts and a navy blue polo shirt.  Easy and casual.  From November to April, he wears grey slacks, a belt, a white shirt and a school tie.  There’s a navy blazer, too, for special days.  Easy and crisp.

The uniform does everything it’s supposed to do: he looks good in it, it takes the thinking out of what to wear, it makes the kids look as crisp as can be expected for teen boys, it demarcates the school day as a time of work, it makes laundry easier and I don’t have to shop as often.

I love it.  For the boys.

The girls in the middle and upper school have to wear skirts and knee socks and, frankly, I don’t think anyone over the age of 10 should be in knee socks and a skirt.  It’s ridiculous.  The uniform, which is supposed to take how you look out of the equation, becomes about how to pull off a skirt and knee socks without looking ridiculous.  I would not want to appear in public in one.  Skirts, especially knee-length or shorter skirts, require a certain demure disposition that I have no time for.  Skirts require a level of prim and proper that makes the freedom of pants look all the more appealing.  I’d be happier to see all the students in pants all the time.  (It’s telling that when I looked for illustrations for this post, my search turned up more sexualized images of girls in uniform than I care to mention.)

So, while I love the freedom that the uniform gives me as the parent of a boy, I hate the way that a uniform skirt limits the freedom of the girls who have to wear it.

A uniform double standard.

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Guest Post: Karen Jones on Sending Her Son to University

Three weeks before the university drop-off date, I bumped into a girlfriend, Sue, whose son went off to an out-of-town school last September. She asked me how I was feeling….”Are you ready for drop-off?”

I quickly dove into a confident explanation about how I had my “breakdown” during the university tour process in March. My 18 year old son, Chris, would be completely creeped-out to learn that I would go into his room at night, stand over him, and stare at him until dime-sized teardrops fell onto his face, causing him to stir. Never before in my life had I cried such massive, heavy teardrops. After confidential disclosure to other parents, I discovered that I am not the only mother who has done the creepy-nighttime-bawl-over-your-kid’s-face thing. Chris is an amazing young man and we have always been close, even through the challenging but typical ups and downs of the mid-teen years, because we have always respected one another’s needs. Chris has been a significant source of my personal happiness. I pointed out to Sue that of late, Chris has been very pumped about going off to Queen’s to study his passion, engineering. I also explained how I have taken on a healthy, positive, and upbeat attitude as my feelings of sadness have been completely overshadowed by sheer excitement for Chris. Sue looked back at me, expressionless. After an uncomfortable five seconds of silence and solid eye contact, she leaned over and whispered into my ear, “You’re going to be a disaster”.

Two weeks before drop-off I was sufficiently distracted with “the list”. A pile including bed linens, toiletries and organizer bins was slowly growing in our hallway, looking more and more, as each day passed, like a mountain of disaster relief supplies. I was definitely becoming obsessive about “the list” and panicked at the thought of overlooking something. It was like Chris was heading off to a remote land far away for an entire year, with no money and where there were no stores. I also seemed to be imagining that Chris would be living in a room the size of a gymnasium with ample space to store “necessary” extras such as emergency medical supplies (the Kingston General Hospital is literally steps away from his residence), cold temperature survival gear, a full selection of dried-good food inventory, and of course, the spare, extra-padded desk chair. I was also collecting lists from other moms for comparison. My work paid off as I discovered I had forgotten about zip-lock baggies. (Yes, this is how crazy a peri-menopausal, over-protective, control-freak mom can get when her first is leaving the nest). One day, I found myself in the grocery store, excitedly texting Chris, “I found 3-ply tissues for you…3 ply is the best you can buy…and I searched for ones that come in non-flowery boxes”, to which he replied with the all too-familiar words, “Oh gaaawwwwd, Mom…STOP! ” Yes, I was sufficiently distracted by the list.

One week before drop-off, I began collecting advice from “experienced” university parents. The resounding opinion about drop-off day was, “Have your breakdown in the car…not in front of your child.” I also learned, for whatever reason, that all “newbie” university moms were obsessed with the whole bedding situation (I mean linens…not “bedding” as in the verb…to which I could dedicate an entire separate article covering moms’ concerns). Early Saturday morning, I announced to my husband that our goal for the weekend was to find a good mattress topper for Chris’s bed. “A WHAT?”, he replied, “Are you serious?…I went to university with a duffle bag full of clothes and a blanket…he’s going to get laughed out of the residence” (Fast forward to drop-off day…the garbage bin was full of mattress topper wrappings.) Yes, things had changed in the world of mom-preps-child-for-uni. Chris was nicely set-up with a vinyl-free, non-dust-permeable mattress pad, two sets of organic cotton sheets (500 thread count, no less), a 3” memory-foam mattress topper, down pillows, down comforter (extra-warm), and a duvet cover set. I still don’t quite understand why it was so important for his bed at university to be significantly more comfortable and exquisite than his bed at home…it just had to be. In my mind, this was somehow going to be the substitute for my comfort and care.

Two days before drop-off, I felt remarkably calm and content. Chris gave us our instructions…“Mom, please don’t make a scene. And when we get to my room, just leave everything…I will set it up myself”, to which I replied, “I won’t make a scene, but there is no way I am leaving without making your bed…no negotiation on this, Christopher”. We had a deal.

One day before drop-off, I started to unravel. At precisely 4:00pm, while setting the table for dinner the tears started. I hid from Chris most of that evening and got extra hugs from his younger brother and sister.

On the day of drop-off, the excitement on campus was palpable. Chris’s room was cozy and everything was organized in an hour although he left the zip-lock baggies in the trunk of the car when I wasn’t looking. It was a quick goodbye. I was so excited for what lay ahead of him and gave him a tight squeeze. He pulled my sunglasses down from the top of my head to cover my eyes, for fear of a scene.   As I got in the car, the tears flowed. My sister called during our drive home to check on me (an experienced mom who knew the exact moment to offer support), but I couldn’t speak to her. That first night was utterly dreary and depressing. I texted with other newbie moms and they were all upset.   I realized that for the first time in 18 years, I would no longer have any idea about what he was doing, when he would make it back to his room to sleep at night, and I no longer had the right to text him as frequently, to ask. It was the strangest feeling – a complete loss of control. I was feeling very sorry for myself, and I already missed him. My husband was very quiet. He asked me not to talk about Chris being gone because he didn’t want to think about it. I’m pretty sure I saw him wipe a tear from his eye before turning over in bed to go to sleep that night. The next day came and went exactly the way experienced moms said it would. I was upset when I woke up, and then I was fine for a bit, and then I would spontaneously cry, and then I was fine. There was simply no pattern or trigger; instead, it was random sobbing and sadness. The only thing I came to expect was that I could burst into tears at any moment.

My world brightened after Chris called for the first time…on day two (I know…it was frosh week and we were lucky). After I heard his voice, full of excitement, and his rambling words highlighted by “amazing”, “unbelievable”, “so much fun”, “party”, “so dope”, “party”…and the clincher “absolutely everyone is so incredibly warm and friendly”, I felt a wave of joy wash over me. My son was happy. I could trade not seeing him for a month or so for that happy, happy voice. And before he hung up, he exclaimed, “oh ya mom…my bed…it’s SO comfortable!”. I knew then, that “drop-off” had gone incredibly well and I would join the ranks of “experienced” moms who survived.

Karen and Andrew Jones with their son, Chris, after high school graduation last spring.

Karen and Andrew Jones with their son, Chris, after high school graduation last spring.

Guest Post: Laura Brown-Bowers on Sending Her Daughter to Kindergarten

As I get ready for all the fresh faces to enter my classroom this year, I can’t help but be completely distracted. “Distracted” might not be the best word. How about FREAKED OUT!

IMG_2453 (2)You see, my 3 ¾ year old daughter is going off to Kindergarten for the first time this September. My little, precious, bright eyed, feisty Beatrice is heading off on her own educational journey, and I will not be there to hold her hand at the very beginning. Instead, I will be greeting children who have done this before, many times. I have been an educator for 10 years, but it was not until or only when I had my child that I realized the amount of trust that parents put into my hands each and every day. For 10 months I see their children more often than they do, and it is my job to provide a space where the students will continue to grow and develop their love of learning. I need to make learning magical.

As Beatrice heads off to school, I am looking at that job and that magic from a new angle. Will my daughter enjoy learning at school? Will she find it exciting? Will she struggle? Will she develop a sense of trust with her teachers? Will her teachers see what I see and nurture her strengths? Change is huge for all of us, but I can’t help thinking how monumental this will be for Beatrice. As I said before, I can’t be there to hold her hand on this first day of school, but hopefully she knows that I am there to support her and set any teacher straight who doesn’t meet my standards come parent-teacher interview time. My husband has already said that I won’t be allowed to attend.

::

Laura Brown-Bowers lives live with her husband, daughter, and 4 month old baby bump in the west end of Toronto.  She loves to paint, walk in the woods, and eat good food.

 

Back-To-School Shopping Guide

School is back in session but if you’re like me, you resisted buying anything while officially still on summer break. I loathe to start back-to-school shopping too soon, and often find waiting until after school has started to be a better time to make well-thought out and needed purchases. Whether your little one is starting pre-school for the first time or heading off to university, we’ve got a list of need-to-haves and nice-to-haves.

Preschoolers and Kindies

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Jump Kids World Pre School Animal Lunch Bag ($7). Lunch containers sold separately. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Lunch boxes just got sweeter with these School Mini Cookies by The Teeny Tiny Bakery (50/box, $70).  Available at OneofaKindOnlineShop.com

Grade School

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Tera Gear “Doddle” Backpack ($20), variety of colours. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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PC Stainless Steel Containers ($7-$9). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Everyday Essentials Twist and Clip Insulated Lunch Bag ($6), variety of colours. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Heroes & Villains Notebooks ($10), available online only at http://www.potterybarnkids.com

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This Mini Lazy Susan will keep all the desk accessories in one place ($29).  Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com

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Magnetic Bookmarks ($6-$15) from Craft’ed, http://www.craftedvan.com

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Affordable and stylish fashions from The Children’s Place.

High School

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TOMS StandUp backpack ($60), variety of colours, and with every one purchased, TOMS will help stop bullying, one youth at a time. Available at Journeys.ca and www.Toms.ca

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Solid Task Lighting are ideal for brightening up any homework space ($52).  Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com

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Getting organized and staying organized can be a challenge but the Espresso Daily System ($49) does the trick.  Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com

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Dry Erase Whiteboard Magnets ($11) from The Tulle Box, http://www.thetullebox.etsy.com

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Storiebrooke Dipped Twig Pencils ($17.19) from Storiebrooke, http://www.storiebrook.etsy.com

University

Everyday Essentials 20 Shelf Hanging Shoe Organizer ($14). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Everyday Essentials 5-Piece Bath Accessory Set ($10). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Life at Home 7-Piece Bed in a Bag ($54). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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The SodaStream POWER turns ordinary water into sparkling ($179).  Available at SodaStream.ca

For Mom

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PC Cupcake Display Try Set with Pop Out Display Tower ($20). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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PC Enameled Cast Iron Pot ($60). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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PC Textured Togo Mug ($10). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

Mama’s Going Back to School, Too!

Exactly one week until my kids go back to school.  Can I get an “Amen!” sisters?!

We all know that Back to School is a period more welcomed by burnt-out parents than by kids, but this year, my kids aren’t the only ones going back into a classroom.  I have signed myself up for a drawing class at a local art school.  The class is called …. I Wish I Could Draw.  So, perhaps, I’m not so much going back to school as starting all over again from Kindergarten.

I am one of those people who could happily take classes for the rest of her life.  Education is wasted on the young, and I regret so much not taking the Intro to Art History course in my undergrad years.  Lascaux to Rothko, it covered it all.  The textbook weighed five pounds.  My roommate took the class, and, honestly, at the time, it was not something that appealed.  But now, now that the same roommate has taught me how to really enjoy how to walk through a gallery, now that I have a much stronger frame of reference for all of those historical movements, now that I have a vocabulary for techniques and media, I am full of regret.

At least I have learned to love looking at art.  It is such a treat to go to a gallery and soak up all of the work on the walls.  I come away from craft fairs and art shows with a buzz from all of the creativity, and I think, “I wish I could draw.”

“I wish I could draw” is something I’ve thought and heard myself say so often that it feels slightly surreal to think I am finally doing something about it.  I do not expect to emerge as an artist ready for her own art shows, but I am so excited to begin learning.  I’m also excited to sit down with my kids at the museum and open my own sketch book with a little less self-consciousness, a little less trepidation, a little more abandon.

taken in London, where we spent part of the summer

This photo was taken in London, where we spent part of the summer.

Hot Wheels & Summer Learning

The summer slide: it’s not just about losing ground.  Get your kids racing their Hot Wheels cars down an inclined plane, and you could help them keep their math and language skills in gear all summer.  And who doesn’t love a toy that gives extra mileage?  (I’m all out of slide and car puns now.  Promise.)

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Hot Wheels has great resources available to parents and teachers to help kids from JK-Grade One maintain their learning through summer play.  From making predictions to taking measurements, there are endless ways to incorporate math and language skills into car play.  Hot Wheels sent us some of their sets, and we took them to school for the kids in my son’s Grade 1 class to build and share in the last days of the school year.  The kids read the instructions, assembled the kits (with a bit of adult help) and then played with the fruits of their labour.  (Your kids can get in on this too!  Hot Wheels has a programme to get their toys into schools.  You can apply here.)

More and more, education in preschool and the early grades is play-based, active, and tactile.  By teaching math and measurement through play, we can engage tactile and kinetic learners who thrive on movement and touch.  By asking a few simple questions during organic car play, we can keep learning alive and active all summer long.  One of the most magical things about putting this kind of thing into practice is seeing how quickly it becomes part of the kids’ own method of play.

If your house is anything like mine, the Hot Wheels cars appear to reproduce like gremlins over night.  Put those toys to work!

  • Ask, “How many cars long is your bed?”  (Estimating, then counting and measuring)
  • Line up some cars in a simple colour pattern and ask, “What colour comes next?” (Patterning, colour recognition)
  • Line up the cars at the end of play time and ask “How many cars in the parking lot?” (Counting, patterning, estimating)
  • Take the play outside!  Use sidewalk chalk to create city streets and landmarks (school, library, hospital).  Give driving instructions to the Hot Wheels driver: “Take the first left.  Drive two blocks.  Turn right.  Where are you?”  (Orientation, instructions, reading and writing)

There are lots of ideas on the Hot Wheels FUNdamentals web site, as well as activity sheets to download.  Both incorporate learning so organically, the kids won’t even know you’re sneaking some learning in with their summer fun.

Tips to Help Your Picky Eaters

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It’s food month here at 4Mothers, and we have been reveling in our taste adventures.  What do you do, though, if you love a wide variety of foods but your kids have distinctly more limited tastes?  What do you do if your child eats such a limited range of foods, that the whole family ends up restricted by the picky eater’s choices?

I recently read Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating, a guide by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin, two professionals in helping children with eating disorders.  I have to tell you that my first reaction was to count my blessings that my own picky eater is far and away more easy to feed than the children profiled in this book.  This is a book for parents and caregivers of extreme picky eaters, children who do not eat “enough quantity or variety to support healthy emotional, physical or social development, or [who have] eating patterns that are a significant source of conflict or worry.”  Often, these are children with food issues that have sent them to a medical or psychological professional.  These children may only eat five or ten foods, or they are extremely averse to certain food textures, or they have sensory motor issues that make feeding physically difficult.  If you are one of those parents, I found the advice in this book so grounded in compassion and common sense, and I highly recommend picking it up.

This is not necessarily a book for parents of run-of-the-mill picky eaters.  Nevertheless, I found a lot of advice that can help all families gather around the table with less stress and more joy.  I found it full of great, practical advice, and I learned about some of my own unproductive approaches to food and feeding.

1. Eliminate stress from the dinner table

The number one priority is to create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere around food and eating.  Who doesn’t want that?

If you have a picky eater, the first step is to learn not to engage in conflict or power struggles and not to draw attention to the issue of food.  The idea is to enjoy the time you share around the table and for both parent and child to stop obsessing about food and nutrition.

How many of you do this?  You pick up your kids from school or camp, and one of the first questions you ask is an anxious or accusatory, “Did you eat all of your lunch?” I do it every single day!  The advice from these authors?  Stop that right away and take the battle over what did and did not get eaten right out of the equation.

Enjoy each others’ company; do not measure each others’ food intake.

It’s the same at the dinner table.  Eliminate the stress and conflict over food by relaxing the reins and letting the kids take more control.  Stop all pressure tactics, bribes and negotiations.  Stop all praise or blame.  The big picture is that kids have to learn to eat to satisfy the intrinsic cues of hunger, not to satisfy (or annoy!) an anxious parent.

2.  Create structure.

No more all-day grazing.  Kids need to learn to listen to hunger cues.  Make eating a structured and mindful part of each day, and make each meal and snack nutritionally balanced so that all eating opportunities are healthy eating opportunities.  Let kids’ hunger and appetite build between meals, and don’t dull the appetite with constant grazing.

3. Create a clear division of responsibility.

The authors of this book are refreshingly clear on what a parent should control:

Your job: decide when, where, and what foods are offered (as long as you include something your child can eat)

Your child’s job: decide whether and how much to eat.

Period.

No more one-bite rule!  Really??  Really.  Your job ends with putting the food on the table.  What the children choose to eat is their responsibility.

4. Do not put food on anyone’s plate but your own.

Do not serve dinner on to the diners’ plates.  Put all of the food you serve in the middle of the table.  All food is equal: broccoli and pasta, salad and bread.  It all goes on the table, and there is no division of adult and kid food.  No more us and them.  If the only thing your child will eat today is crackers, put them in a bowl on the table with the rest of the food.

Then let the kids serve themselves.

The authors even suggest putting dessert on the table with dinner!  If you stop using dessert as a bribe, you stop a food battle in its tracks.

In the short term, the kids may still only eat the plain pasta and a bowl of ice cream.  Let them.  Let them learn enjoyment and pleasure at the table.  Let them learn to trust that they will find things they like.  In the long term, when conflict and power struggles are gone, they will begin to expand their eating repertoire.

5.   You are not a short order cook.

Stop catering to the limited palate of the picky eater.  Make your menu, provide at least one safe food and serve it up without apology: “When you sit down to foods you actually want to eat, not only do you expose your child to a wider variety of foods, but you can also authentically model enjoying different foods.”

6.  Model healthy eating.

Eat what you love and relish it.  Avoid labelling food “good” or “bad.”

 

I have put some of these very concrete steps into place in our home, and I’m loving the results.

  • I put platters and bowls of food in the centre of the table, and, sure enough, the kids were more willing to serve themselves a taster of something new.
  • After I told them about some of the tortuous strategies used to teach children table manners, like knives in the backs of chairs to enforce good posture (learned watching a documentary about the making of Downton Abbey!) we laughed about table manners from days of old, and the boys planned a night of eating fancy: dress up and pretend to be aristocrats.  This is to be followed by a night on which we eat like cavemen, with fingers and no manners at all.
  • My “picky eater” planned a cheese tasting for dinner when he had a friend over, and he went to the cheese store and spoke to the owner and tried five new cheeses.  He helped slice the fruit and veggies, lay out the cheese board and the cracker tray.  He ate like a horse, and his friend very gamely tried all of the cheeses, even the blue.  It was a huge success.
  • I’ve stopped calling my picky eater a picky eater.  Take the label away and the behaviour will follow!

 

Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating is published by New Harbinger Publications.  We were sent a copy for review.

Theme Week: A History of Our Families, Through Objects

One of my abiding delights of late is to listen to podcasts while I take my long walks.  Beth-Anne has mentioned our obsession with NPR’s wildly popular and record-breaking Serial, and her love of the comic Grownups Read Stuff They Wrote as Kids.  I get my science fix with the Quirks and Quarks podcast from the CBC, and I am so enamoured of interviews with authors that I have exhausted the archives of Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers and Company, as well as all of the archived episodes of the Guardian’s books podcasts and the BBC’s World Book Club.

A-History-of-the-World-in-100-ObjectsWhat I love about all of these podcasts is their standard of excellence, and you really cannot do better than Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects for podcast excellence.  (You can download it here.)  In this series, MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, tells a history of the world through 100 of the objects housed there.  I have not only listened to all 100 episodes, I have read the book that accompanies the podcast and gone back to listen to some episodes for a second time.  In each episode, he considers one object, and that object becomes a prism through which to explore past worlds and the men and women who lived in them.  The stories are, truly, mind-bending; I was so often startled by what I learned.  It is so difficult to choose an illustrative example, because I really did love them all, but in the episode on the Gold Cape found in Mold, in north Wales, for instance, my sense of the isolation of the British Isles was thoroughly upturned.  The cape, made in 1900-1600 BC, is a beautifully intricate object made of gold, extremely sophisticated in its execution, and it was buried with amber and bronze objects that point to a web of trade and exchange that reached not only from Wales to Scandinavia, but even as far as the Mediterranean.  Nearly 2000 years before the common era, artisans were making and trading at levels of sophistication I knew nothing about.

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MacGregor’s approach is decidedly not that of the Guns, Germs and Steel variety, in which history is told as a series of conflicts and conquests.  Rather, his approach is to examine the globe’s common history, to look at synchronicity in the history of the world, to examine our commonalities.  In his introduction to the series, MacGregor describes the “necessary poetry of things”:

It is, as we know, the victors who write the history, especially when only the victors know how to write.  Those who are on the losing side, those whose societies are conquered or destroyed, often have only their things to tell their stories.  The Caribbean Taino, the Australian Aboriginals, the African people of Benin and the Incas, all of whom appear in this book, can speak to us now of their past achievements most powerfully through the objects they made: a history told through things gives them back a voice.

Taking in our cue from MacGregor’s poetry of things, this week at 4Mothers, we will be telling a piece of our family history through a single object.  We hope you will enjoy them.

In the mean time, be a podcast addict’s enabler!  What are your favourite podcasts? 

Fun with Non-Newtonian Liquids: Liquids That Act Like Solids

liquidHere’s a slippery slimy activity to do with the kids for the month of April Fool’s: make a liquid that acts like a solid.

Non-Newtonian liquids are liquids that act like solids when pressure is applied to them, and you can make one with just two ingredients from your kitchen: water and corn starch.

Materials

small pitcher of water

measuring cups

molasses

corn starch

food colouring (optional, add it to the water if you want a coloured mixture)

two plastic trays or baking trays with a lip

Method

Begin by looking at how different liquids move.  Pour 1/4 cup of water from one container to another.  Pour 1/4 cup of molasses from one container to another.  Both are liquid, but water moves faster because it has a lower viscosity.  Ask kids to name the things in the house that act like water (vinegar, juice, milk) and the things that act like molasses (shampoo, ketchup, syrup).

Make your non-Newtonian substance by mixing 1 cup of corn starch with about 1/2 cup of water.  Gradually add the water to the corn starch until you have a mixture that pours like honey.  Pour this mixture from one container to another and observe how quickly it moves.  Is it more like water or molasses?

Ask kids to predict what will happen if they squeeze the mixture?  Will it run through your fingers?

Now scoop some of the mixture in your hands and squeeze it.  The harder you squeeze, the more solid the mixture becomes.  Force makes the liquid act like a solid.  Now stop squeezing.  What does the mixture do?

Pour enough water onto one of your trays to make a thin layer of water from edge to edge.  Ask kids to predict what will happen if you bang your hand onto the tray.  Splash!

Now do the same thing with the mixture on the second tray.  Will the mixture behave like the water?

Hit it and find out!  (There is a video here of the experiment if you want to see it before you try it in your own home!)

Experiment with different ways to exert force on the mixture: touch it softly, quickly, stir it slowly, hit it with the spoon.  You can even hit it with a hammer.

Clean up

This can get a bit messy, especially if you are using food colouring, so be prepared to wipe up spills and splashes.  Also, DO NOT POUR YOUR MIXTURE DOWN THE DRAIN.   It will clog your pipes.  When you are done, scrape your mixture into the garbage for disposal.

Kid Craft: Make Your Own Natural Lip Balm

We discovered Pueblo Science during the Ontario Culture Days events in the fall.  They hosted a Painting with Science event, and the kids and I had so much fun making art and learning about the science behind the ways that colours were made and mixed.

Pueblo Science is all about getting kids interested in science through hands-on experimentation, and what could be more hands-on than making your own lip balm from scratch?  The facilitator I met in the fall told me that they had a recipe up on their blog, but I wasn’t able to find it.  Instead, I surfed around and got a sense of what goes into natural lip balms.  Then I started experimenting.

My husband put a lovely pot of pure shea butter from Little House in the City into my stocking for Christmas, and I’ve been wanting to make lip balm for months, and with the deadline for this post AND Valentine’s Day looming, I finally got it together to make some with Youngest last week.  We decided that pots of lip balm would make great Valentine’s Day favours, so that’s our plan for this year for the Grade 1 and Grade 4 classes my sons are in.  Youngest asked if they could be flavoured like Skittles.  (I have not bought the necessaries for that yet, but I’m thinking that essential oil of orange or lemon would work well.  If you have done this, and you have ideas, let me know!)  For three nights, while his brothers were at hockey, we experimented with different recipes to find the perfect consistency and aroma for our product, and I’m now happy with what we’ve got.

Here’s what we did and what we learned:

Our first attempt taught us how to deal with failure gracefully and with no swear words.  We did pretty well on that front, actually, when our double boiler capsized spilling molten wax into the boiling pot of water.  We did not swear even a tiny bit while we cleaned that sh*t up.  Melting waxes and butters is messy.

Our second attempt taught us that there is a good reason for experimenting in small batches before beginning mass production.  Our first batch was too waxy and hard to apply.  It also did not smell and taste all that great–not bad, but not great– making us realize that there’s a good reason for the scents that get added to beauty products.

Three is the magic number, and we got the recipe almost there with our third attempt.  I used too much honey, making the batch a bit too soft, so the recipe below, from our fourth and final batch, has the perfect proportions.  I also used vanilla extract for flavouring the third time.  That’s not the way to go.  Vanilla extract is suspended in alcohol, which is not only drying, it does not incorporate well with the wax and oils.  If you want to scent your balm, I recommend using an oil.  The fourth trial, I used vanilla oil in a jojoba suspension, and our final product is as delicious as it is nourishing.  I wiped up the spills and rubbed it into my hands and cuticles, and it works wonderfully for those applications, too.

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Nathalie’s Lip Balm Recipe

Ingredients (the amounts in parentheses yielded enough to fill six lip balm tubes)

one part grated beeswax (one teaspoon)

one part honey (one teaspoon)

two parts shea butter (two teaspoons)

two parts jojoba oil (two teaspoons)

a few drops of your favourite edible essential oil (two drops per teaspoon of mixture)

a mother’s patience

That is one teaspoon of melted beeswax. Almost invisible, but oh so fragrant. My first double boiler capsized while I was looking for a popsicle stick, so this one is over-sized. That is a long toothpick in Youngest's hand.

That is one teaspoon of melted beeswax. Almost invisible, but oh so fragrant. My first double boiler capsized while I was looking for a popsicle stick, so this one is over-sized. That is a long toothpick in Youngest’s hand.

 

Materials

You will need a double boiler (after my little glass jam jar capsized, I put a big mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water), a popsicle stick for stirring, and pots or tubes for the balm.  I got my tubes at my local health food store for $o.69 each, and glass pots from Little House in the City for $1.30.  I also washed out some small pots I had half-filled with cosmetic samples for my experimental batches.  I just used a steady hand to pour, but you might also want a glass eye-dropper to fill the lip balm tubes.

Method

Melt the grated beeswax in a (very firmly anchored) double boiler.  Turn off the heat, but keep the beeswax in the double boiler to keep everything warm.  Add the shea butter and jojoba oil.  Once those ingredients are melted and well incorporated, mix in the honey.  Mix well.  Add scented oil last if desired.  Pour into lip balm pots or lip balm tubes.   Allow to set, then put on lids and you’re ready to go!

The balm setting in the tubes.

The balm setting in the tubes.

 

Some Science

  • beeswax is a solid at room temperature, but becomes liquid when it is warmed
  • oil and water do not mix
  • wax and water do not mix
  • beeswax is occlusive, it seals in moisture and protects lips from becoming dried out by environmental factors (dry air, cold and wind)
  • honey is a humectant, it helps to retain moisture by attracting and absorbing the moisture in the air, and drawing the water vapor beneath the surface
  • jojoba’s chemical structure is similar to human sebum, the oil our bodies produce to waterproof and lubricate the skin
  • shea butter has been in use for thousands of years as a cosmetic for hair and skin, references date back to Ancient Egypt