experiential science: the chemistry of cooking

For whatever reason, for the past six months my kids have been utterly intrigued by baking.  Not only do they want to help bake, but they want to create their own recipes, as well.  Of course, their recipes always generate wet, gloppy, unappetizing messes.  So when I asked what they’d like to learn about, I was not especially surprised to hear “how to make a recipe” as a top choice.

While we could have merely gone the direction of baking lots of things and memorizing the types and proportions of ingredients, I thought I’d take a more scientific angle and come at the topic from the perspective of chemistry.  Because it’s alliterative, I liked calling this study The Chemistry of Cooking.

chemistryWe began at the very beginning, which has always been a notoriously good place to start.  In chemistry, the rational beginning place was the Periodic Table.  From Ellen McHenry’s The Elements, we learned about the elements, how they were discovered, how they are arranged on the Table, and what different element types are like.  Thrown in with this were some fun activities to help us learn the abbreviations for common elements, among other topics.

While we were learning about the Periodic Table, we thought it would be fun to memorize it.  This YouTube video from AsapSCIENCE helped us learn all of the elements in order–with the added benefit of including informational tidbits about the uses of many more common elements.  (We can sing the whole thing except a section at the very end–from Berkelium to Copernicium is so fast we haven’t yet managed to keep up without mumbling!)

If you want do dig deeper into studying the Periodic Table and the elements, consider The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin D. Wiker, which provides a more in-depth history of the development of the Periodic Table related in a conversational tone.  In addition–especially for kids old enough to understand the humor–Basher Science The Complete Periodic Table personifies each element to make it more memorable.  I put both of these aside until later, deciding that my kids would get more out of them in a few years.

chemistry2With a little bit of basic chemical understanding under our belts, we were ready to delve into the world of cooking.  For this portion of our endeavor, we used Edible Science: Experiments You Can Eat from National Geographic Kids, the American Chemical Society’s free Get Cooking with Chemistry PDF online, and  the downloadable manual for the Thames and Kosmos Candy Chemistry kit.  (We used our own supplies and thus didn’t need to buy the kit, but if you don’t have candy-making supplies, the kit may be handy.)  The kids loved making ricotta cheese, fizzy orange juice, ice cream, and various candies, among other things.  And with a newfound understanding of chemistry, much of what was happening made sense to them.

For older kids, Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Science of Cooking by Simon Quellen Field or What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke were recommended to me (the second one several times).  I looked them over but decided to hold those until we come back for a second round of chemistry in some future year.

Now that we’ve wrapped up our chemistry unit, we need to figure out what we’re going to study next!

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printable activity pages for kids

If you’re headed on vacation and need something to fill the hours spent traveling–or if you’re merely trying to find something to fill a rainy day–there’s a wealth of fun to be had just a printer away.  Here are some of the options I found in a quick search.  (As of my search, these sites were functional and safe.)

Sudoku

  • Activity Village offers number or word sudoku at various levels of difficulty.
  • Science Kids has a page with a selection of sudoku puzzles from easy to hard.

Logic Puzzles

  • LoveToKnow has a page with a few different puzzle types: traditional logic puzzles, nonograms, and sudoku puzzles.
  • Printable Puzzles has free samples of their logic puzzles at four levels of difficulty.  You can access four of the easier types and two of the harder types for free; if you find yourself addicted, you can always pay a few dollars to access a few dozen more.

Connect-the-Dots

  • Coloring.ws has connect-the-dots sheets organized by theme or by difficulty.  You can connect the letters of the alphabet or numbers, and they range from 9 dots to 45.  You can even choose to increase the challenge by counting by twos, fives, or tens!
  • Raising Our Kids offers sixty free connect-the-dot pages.  The easiest have ten dots, while the hardest ones have more than one hundred.

Coloring Pages–for all ages!

  • Step ColorinG provides a searchable database of images, from very simple pictures for little ones to complex geometric designs for older kids (or adults!).
  • Super Coloring has images organized by theme.  Each animal kingdom is represented (plus dinosaurs), and there are also categories for flowers, fruit, and cartoons.

Hidden Pictures, Crossword Puzzles, Color-by-Number, Mazes

  • All Kids Network has all of the above and then some.  Drop in to find the right activity and difficulty level for your kid!
  • Raising Our Kids also features a wide variety of activity options, particularly if you have a preschooler (though they also have puzzles that are better suited to older kids).  Several of these activity pages are ones I’ve seen in the generic coloring books you can buy in most stores.

 

road trip tips: a survival guide for parents

Four years ago (!) I posted some of my road-trip tips for traveling with young kids. While some of those tips and tricks are ones I still use, I thought it was about time for an updated version including suggestions for older kids, especially since we’re anticipating a 20-hour drive back “home” to see ‘Love’s family again in a few weeks.

Goober has NEVER been a good car rider.  As an infant, she couldn’t even make it the five minutes to Grandma’s without screaming.  Last year we made it 30 minutes into our first day of driving when she announced, “I’m done sitting in the car.  How much longer until we get to the hotel?”  Knowing her personality, I always make extensive preparations for car entertainment.

Let me say right from the start that I have the world’s only children who do not sleep in the car.  Since that’s the #1 road-trip tip I hear, I figured I’d best include that one up front. If your kids are car sleepers, consider yourself lucky and take full advantage. For anyone whose children are odd like mine, here are some alternative suggestions.

There are some items no child-carrying car should be without on long trips.

  • Baby wipes.  No baby, you say?  No matter–take them anyway.  They come in handy if the gas station restroom is out of soap, if someone has greasy or sticky hands after a snack, if someone pukes in their lap…
  • Gallon Ziploc bags.  An odd one, perhaps, but handy.  Kid feeling queasy after eight hours in the car?  Hand him a bag.  If he uses it, you can conveniently seal the bag and contain the smell.  Toss his shorts in a second bag if his aim was off.  The bags are also handy for transporting wet swimsuits, containing opened snack packages, keeping the twelve hair-ties your daughter HAD to have in when you left and can no longer stand an hour later, and more!
  • Sunglasses for all!  You’d hate to get to a rest stop only to have the blinding sun prevent anyone from running off some energy.  Toss these in a Ziploc and keep them at-hand just in case.  Toss in sunscreen and hats if your skin is sensitive enough to burn in 15 minutes.  No one wants sunburn!
  • BandAids.  Hopefully you’ve got a stash of these in your car already, but if not, toss them in.  A reckless kid at a rest stop will often find a way to make them necessary.  Pull out the baby wipes to clean off the dirt, and slap a BandAid on top.
  • Your favorite pain reliever–for yourself and the kids.  What could be worse than driving through rush-hour traffic in the blinding sun at the end of a long day while your kids argue in the back seat?  Doing the above with an aching back or a searing headache.  And you know how cranky your kids get when they’re feverish or headachey?  Better throw in something for them, too.
  • Food, water, and entertainment–but you knew that.  See below for more tips on this particular category.
Road Trip

A good road-tripper is well-prepared.

Use rest stops to play, NOT to eat.  I start feeding my kids about 45 min-1 hour before we plan to stop.  (I bring sandwich fixings or crackers, fruit, veggies, cheese sticks, or even Lunchables for meals.  Snacks consist of non-crumbly granola bars, Teddy Grahams, mini pretzel twists, Nilla Wafers, Goldfish–anything that can’t melt and either doesn’t crumble or can be eaten in one bite.)  A small cooler crowded by my feet in the front comes in handy, or I’ve used the cooler as a footrest for someone sitting in the center of the row behind me.)  Usually this is the point at which the kids are getting restless and food helps stretch their “sit” by a little.  By the time we stop, liquids have made their way through the kids’ systems (or will before the stop is over).

We try to find rest stations with lots of open space or a playground or a fast food joint with a play area (and the adults have a snack).  I even research rest stops along the route to find out which ones are closed for renovations, which have a reputation for cleanliness, which have space for kids to roam.  I often list several top choices so we can shorten or lengthen our time between stops as needed.  We spend 15-20 minutes playing hard (with adults chasing kids if necessary to make sure kids use maximum energy) and using the bathroom.

On a related note…non-melting candies (especially things that go slowly, like DumDums) are good distractions between snack and meal times.  I’m not usually one to load my kids up on junk food and candy, but road trips are my once-a-year exception.

Stop as few times as possible. We fill up on gas each time we stop–whether we need it or not–so we don’t have to make an extra stop for gas later.  Even a quick gas stop or potty break will likely add at least 15 minutes to your trip, and on a long trip, no one wants extra time in the car.  Remind those with suspiciously wimpy bladders that every stop will take away from evening pool time (see below) or at the very least add to the length of the drive time.  If nothing else, maybe the groans of their siblings will help to delay their demands to stop RIGHT NOW.  If you do stop, require everyone to try using the bathroom lest you get back on the road and have someone else claim a bathroom emergency twenty minutes later.

Make sure each day ends with a pool.  I reserve a hotel with an indoor pool because I remember as a kid being heartbroken when we drove all day and then it was too cold or stormy to swim.  Swimming even for an hour uses tons of energy and helps everyone sleep better, as well as giving everyone something to look forward to all day long.  On the plus side, most hotels with indoor pools also include a hot breakfast, so while you may be paying more for the night, considering that extra $25 bought everyone some pool time and as much breakfast food as they can fit (not to mention something to look forward to all day and enough exercise to sleep well), it’s not a bad deal.

Long car trips are a time to make exceptions about tech use.  We have a tablet that we let everyone have a 20-minute turn on–sometimes once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Last year I also played a DVD on my laptop toward the end of each afternoon when everyone was getting really restless. (Sadly, my DVD-ROM drive seems to have died.)  Those prolonged distractions were lifesavers!

Contain your paper clutter while providing ample activity options.  I make each kid a binder (built-in hard writing surface) with coloring pages (cool geometric designs for older kids), mazes, blank paper, logic puzzles, sudoku, crosswords, dot-to-dots (everything from simple to extreme)–anything I can find that they might like–and include colored pencils plus a little sharpener (with a securely-attached case to catch shavings) in a zipper pencil pouch at the front.  (Why colored pencils?  Crayons melt in a hot car and markers tend to accidentally bleed or have their caps left off or get dropped and leave marks or “accidentally” form designs on children’s skin.)  Though I looked at various books available for purchase, I ultimately searched online for free sample pages and was able to print off and put together a book with more variety than I could have purchased.  I put together a list of activities and where I found them, if you want me to save you some legwork.

Magnetic trays work well for lots of activities.  We have jelly roll pans (cookie sheets with a lip around) that are magnetic (not all are–test before buying!).

  • When my kids were little, I printed a picture of one of those rugs with the roads on it (sized to fit my tray) and laminated it for the kids to use while playing with cars. I even hot-glued magnets to the bottom of the cars so they would stay where they were driven. My 4-year-old still loves this, and even the older two will play around with it for a while.
  • I take a baggie of magnetic letters for the little guy and a baggie of magnetic poetry for the older two.  They enjoy trying to outdo each other by making ridiculous, nonsensical stories or sentences.
  • Have some tangrams or magnetic puzzles?  The tray is handy for spreading out pieces and keeping spare parts from getting lost between the seats.
  • I pack each kid a small container of Lego pieces (with a base piece hot-glued to the lid).  The tray offers plenty of space to place the small tote on one side and use the remaining space to build.

Ponder favorite game options that would work well for travel.  Many games offer specific travel versions, but games like Guess Who?, Rush Hour, Rory’s Story Cubes, Mad Libs, and others can easily be enjoyed on the go.  And don’t forget the classic Road-Trip Bingo cards!  I picked up a few in Target’s dollar section recently.

Use your ever-changing location to spark interest!

  • As soon as my kids started reading, I always printed a map of where we were going and highlighted our route.  Now my kids have their own atlases, and Peatie spends most of the trip simply looking for each town as we go and telling us how far away things are and what we’re passing.
  • Having the kids look for needed signs (exits, interchanges) is great even for littles who just know a few letters (“We’re looking for a sign with a word that starts with S!”)–except if they get too competitive.
  • If you’re driving past or stopping at any points of interest, part of each day could be spent talking or reading aloud about what you’re going to see and why it’s important/exciting.  My kids always enjoy destinations more when they’re primed.
  • Classic activities like the alphabet game (you know–where you find your ABCs in order as you drive) are always good bets.
  • When I was a kid, my siblings and I would keep statistics on various things.  We’d note which state license plates we’d seen and how many of each, or we’d track vehicle types or colors throughout the day.  I suspect my kids may be old enough to start enjoying this now.

Use your stereo system to the fullest. 

  • Audiobooks can entertain many a child for hours at a time, whether they’re following along in a book or simply enjoying the story.
  • My kids don’t like audiobooks, but they do like to sing along to favorite songs.  If I can get them doing motions, they work off some energy at the same time.
  • I’m hoping to snag some good educational songs on CD or MP3.  If we can memorize the state capitols, books of the Bible, elements of the Periodic Table, multiplication tables, or some other glorious facts whilst we pass the miles, all the better.
  • Classical music can work magic.  When everyone is angsty from too long in the car, someone is always unhappy about the CD we’re listening to.  For some reason, no one complains when I pop in classical music.  The kids talk about the instruments they hear, what the music makes them think of, which songs are their favorites, or simply sit and mellow out while looking out the window.  Daddy sighs with relief that he doesn’t have to listen to kid-safe, peppy music.  I love it!

Books hold a multitude of possibilities.

  • While my kids balk at audiobooks, they love to listen to me read aloud for long stretches of time.  (Go figure!)
  • A few new books can be special treats.  Especially engaging are books with detailed pictures (anyone’s littles LOVE Richard Scarry?) or new books from a favorite series.
  • Search-and-find books are good for whiling away the hours.  ‘Love still had his old Where’s Waldo? books and we’ve picked up a few I Spy books, as well.  Even if they’re not searching for the items, the kids enjoy looking at all the details in the pictures.

Sometimes they just need to fidget.

  • Our pin art toy is a perpetual favorite for car trips–though my sister-in-law tells me that her plastic version is quieter and thus less irritating to fellow passengers.
  • I keep a couple squishy balls or animals from the dollar store on hand for trips.  Even if you can’t really DO anything with them, they’re fun to squish through your fingers while looking out the window.
  • My cousin said for road trips she always buys each of her kids a roll of masking tape.  Apparently it keeps everyone busy for quite a long time, from the preschooler sticking it all over himself to the older kids attempting to create clothing, jewelry, or other items by sticking pieces together.  I may try this!

baby steps to success for a (very!) picky eater

Dinnertime was torture for me as a kid. While my family termed me “picky”, I considered myself merely to be a keen observer of flavors and textures–with a distinct idea of which ones I liked and didn’t like. I can remember many meals at which my mother griped, “I hope you have a little girl just like you some day!”

20160606_230024Well, she didn’t get her wish. While I do have a little girl, she eats far better than I did. Instead I have a little boy who is a pickier eater than I could ever claim to be.

He didn’t start out that way. He started out loving every big-people food he could get his mouth around. But something started causing him to writhe all night long (and none of the very-expensive specialists could figure out why), and slowly my happy baby turned into a perpetually cranky little guy who began refusing more and more foods. By the time he was three, he ate almost nothing besides peanut butter toast and Life cereal–and he was very particular about how he consumed those.

My pediatrician proposed eliminating peanut butter and Life from our home in order to force him to eat something else, but since my child absolutely flipped his lid if I even placed another food too close to his seat at the table, I knew that this extreme would cause a huge emotional upheaval, and that was not the way I wanted to go. Instead, I’ve blazed a far more gradual route–but it’s brought progress in a far less stressful manner.

In case you might find it helpful, here’s what we’ve done.

I started by assessing where he was at and determining my goal for him. When we began, he ate a very limited number of foods and would not tolerate even the proximity of any non-approved food items. My goal for him was not to be a bold, adventurous eater, but merely to be capable of tasting new foods without a complete meltdown and (ideally) to broaden his palette. Rather than jumping straight to tasting new foods, I worked in baby steps, always telling him what I planned to do before doing it–and giving him at least a one-day warning. Our steps were as follows:

1. Tolerate the proximity of new foods. I determined a “D Day” and began talking it up. (“On Sunday night, I’m going to do something different. At dinnertime I am going to put a tiny bit of one or two dinner foods on your plate along with your toast. You won’t have to eat these foods or even touch or sniff them, and I’ll make sure they’re not touching your toast in any way. You’re getting to be a big boy, though, and I want you to get used to at least looking at new foods so that you don’t get upset when a food you don’t like is near you. If you never get used to new foods, it will be very hard for you to visit other people’s houses and share meals with them, and I think that will be important to you as you grow older.”) After spending two days providing this very specific warning of what I was going to do, when, and why, I began by putting teeny dollops of one or two foods on one side of a plate, far from his toast. Before I brought his food to the table, I gave him a final warning about what he would see. He wasn’t thrilled, but I reminded him that he knew it was coming and it would not effect his eating, so he survived. After a few days, he stopped fussing about the new foods on his plate.

2. Smelling new foods. When looking at new foods became easy, I began talking about our next step. Now, rather than just looking at the foods, he would smell them. Again, I talked about this change before I implemented it, and I gave a specific time when it would begin. At the first meal, I required him to smell one food. I reminded him that he needn’t touch it or taste it, only smell it. Again, I provided the reason I felt this to be important for him to learn. He resisted with some tears, but I calmly insisted and withheld his toast until he allowed me to pass the food within six inches of his nose. Allowing him to choose which food to smell alleviated some of his distress and gave him some control over the situation. This step took longer than the last one, and it was several weeks before he would consistently smell our dinner without falling apart.

3. Touching new foods. Again, after the previous step grew to be easy, I began talking about touching the new foods. I emphasized that I would not require him to taste the food, but that I wanted him to begin getting used to the feel of different foods. Again I set a particular date and time at which this step would begin, and I explained that I would touch a bit of food to his closed mouth. I assured him that he could hold a rag and immediately wipe his mouth. This, again, was a challenging step, and I think the only thing that made it survivable for him was that I allowed him to choose which food to touch to his lips. Frankly, I don’t care what food he gets used to, so long as he is broadening his horizons.

4. Tasting new foods. With the same warnings as before, we moved on to tasting once touching proved tolerable. Initial tastes were a quick tongue poking at a spoon of food and barely getting an atom of flavor, but it was a start. I let him have a drink ready to wash away the flavor and a rag to wipe his tongue if necessary, and again he was allowed to select the food to taste.

4b. This is a bit of an in-between step. After he was comfortable touching his tongue to new foods, I began to require him to take a teeny bit of the food in his mouth. At this stage, he was allowed to spit the food out onto his plate if he wanted to. I felt we needed some bridge between tasting and feeling the food outside of his mouth and tasting and feeling it inside his mouth BEFORE I started requiring him to swallow the food.

5. Eating new foods. Once he could handle tastes, swallowing was next. Initial swallows were minuscule–and I would listen to complaints about size and make the taste smaller if possible. Gradually–oh, so very gradually–I increased the size of his tastes.

Success? Three months after beginning this path, my child’s meals still consist mostly of peanut butter toast and Life cereal. He chooses one food to taste at each family meal, though he generally heads for the vegetables or grain products. Compared to what he was willing and able to tolerate a few months ago, however, I consider our progress a victory.

And there’s more. The other day when I was deciding what to make for dinner, little Pookie piped up with, “I think you should make beans, Mommy. I kind of like those.” And when I triumphantly placed a bowl of beans on the table that night, he pointed to one and said, “I’m going to eat this one–it’s nice and big!” And then, much to my shock, he added, “And maybe I could eat another one, too.” I now have a two-bean Pookie.  Better yet, this very night he declared that the next time we have beans, he’s going to choose three to eat.