Limitless Learners Contest! Prizes!

Astronaut child

Child daydreams and plays to be astronaut

Education.com is my personal favorite site for kid’s learning opportunities.

The site was built with the contributions of thousands of teachers, and they have FREE activities for kids from preschool through 6th grade–activities that help them succeed in science, math, reading, writing, and social studies.

They teach with games, songs, worksheets, interactive exercises, hands-on activities, and more.

And now they have a brand-new program: they are offering $9,000 in prizes as part of their Limitless Learners Contest!

The contest encourages kids in/entering K-5th grade to think creatively about what education means to them and use their art, writing, and language skills to express their ideas. A winner will be chosen from each grade level to receive $500 for college and a free lifetime membership to Education.com for their parent or educator! The winning child can also choose to nominate their school or local library to win a $1,000 donation as well.

Here is the link to the contest details page.

How to Keep Your Child from Drowning

GrahamAt the beach last weekend there were lots of small children playing happily in the waves, parents up under their umbrellas reading and relaxing, everyone enjoying their vacation.

I was terrified. They had no idea how quickly things could change, forever.

So, water safety:

Stats:

Drowning is probably every pediatrician’s worst nightmare. It is currently the fifth leading cause of accidental death. An average of 700 children drown each year: about 2 each day. Most are under 4 years of age; 80% are male. For every death, there are 5 more who drowned but survived, commonly with irreversible damage to their brains.

How does it happen?

Infants and toddlers drown in bath tubs, buckets, toilets – all you need is about an inch of water, just enough to cover their nose and mouth. Older children drown in pools, rivers, lakes, and oceans.

How do I keep it from happening?

Never, never, never leave any child alone for even a moment near open water, whether it is an ocean, a bathtub, or a water bucket. All it takes is one moment of inattention for a child to slip away.

If there is open water, you need to be within touching distance and focused on your child. The story I have heard over and over is, “We were right there, just talking, but nobody noticed anything until we realized he was gone.” Keep your kids in sight, and don’t let yourself get distracted (The child in the picture is my grandbaby, and I had to crop because his dad was just there to the left.)

Be especially careful at the end of the day, as the water empties and people are gathering up their belongings and leaving. Children will want to swim just a minute more, or will attempt to go back for that last toy floating in the water.

Pools should be fenced in and closed off with a self-latching gate at the end of the day, and all the toys should be put away. Life vests are fabulous for a parent’s mental health and relaxation (swimmies and floaties are not life jackets). Life preservers and a shepherd’s crook should be placed obviously nearby wherever kids are swimming in a pool.

Evelyn2Sign your kids up for swimming lessons, even if you are afraid. A middle schooler or teen will never admit to their friends that they don’t know how to swim. They will fake it, sometimes unsuccessfully. Don’t, however, trust a young child to remember his or her swimming lessons when they need them. If they are startled or scared, they will forget everything they learned and just sink to the bottom.

(This is his twin. Big ocean, right?)

What do I watch for?

Know what to look for. In real life, drowning does not look like it does in the movies. It is not impossible to miss someone drowning right in front of you if you do not know what you are seeing.

They do not shout for help and wave their arms. They tire, and panic. A drowning child might never make a sound, but quietly slip under the water. An older child might keep themselves above the water for a while, but their head might be low in the water, with their mouth at water level, or perhaps with their head tilted back. Their eyes might be blank or closed. They will sometimes hang vertically in the water without paddling their legs, or appear to paddle with no purposeful movement.

A drowning person is very easy to miss if you are not vigilant; and easy to help if you are.

Somebody should know CPR—why not you? Your local fire department or hospital will have classes. Knowledge and the ability to act can save a life.

Swimming is a necessary skill, fun, and excellent exercise; it is also a time for close observation and care.

If you would, please share this blog and the information within. Thanks!

All the Answers about Sunscreen: Why? Which one? How much? How do I pronounce Octocrylene?

little cute girl near the pool with a circle for swimming

Octocrylene. Octo (like the lady with 8 kids) – cry- lean.

Hmm.

Sunscreens have been around forever, mostly in the form of plants and dirt people rubbed onto their skin. Not terribly effective, sadly. Ancient Egyptians used aloe vera, extracts of rice, and pounded out calcite and clay to protect their skin. In the Philippines borak was used – made from water weeds, rice and spices. Zinc oxide has been around for thousands of years.

The first synthetic sunscreens were created in the 1920s, and were made commercially available by L’Oreal in 1936.

Sunscreen became more popular after WWII, when we sent a bunch of pale skinned soldiers to the Pacific Islands. Ouch.

These original sunscreens are estimated to have had an SPF of about 2. Also not terribly effective.

 

Why do we use sunscreen?

We use sunscreens to prevent sunburn, skin cancer, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.

The incidence of melanoma has increased in the 15-39 year age range by 3% per year since the 90’s. It is the 2nd most common cancer for women in their twenties, 3rd for men. Dr Sophie J. Balk (Former Chairperson, AAP Committee on Environmental Health) writes that this was caused by the thinning ozone layer, the fact that people are wearing less clothing, intentional tanning, and tanning beds.

Skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and possibly basal cell carcinoma can be prevented by using sunscreen – if you use the right one in the right way.

 

Who should use sunscreen?

Everybody.

It is especially important for children and people with fair skin, fair eyes, freckles, sun sensitivity, moles, or a family history of melanoma.

But really, everybody.

 

The Science: What Does the Damage?

Sunlight has wavelengths between 290-3200 nm; the light that we see, or “visible light” runs between 380 to 740 nanometers. Wavelengths in the top, violet part of the rainbow are 380-450 nm, so the wavelengths shorter than violet are called “Ultraviolet.”  UVB rays are the 290-320 range (about 5% of the total); UVA rays are 320-400 (95% of the total).

UVB rays burn, leaving you with redness and pain, and these were traditionally the rays we tried to block. UVB does contribute to skin cancer but since it does not penetrate as deeply as UVA it seems to not be the cause of the most deadly of skin cancers, the melanomas.

UVA light does not cause reddening or pain, and most conventional sunscreens do not block it. It does however penetrate deeply into the skin to cause the damage to DNA in cells (melanocytes) that can lead to melanoma.

UVB is more intense midday (from 10AM – 2PM), in the summer, closer to equator, and at high altitude. UVA light is constant through the day and year.

Window glass absorbs UVB, not UVA.

Both reflect off water, sand, snow, and concrete to increase exposure.

UVB and UVA penetrate water to a depth of about 60 cm (about 3 feet).

 

How to protect yourself from these evil rays?

Best, of course, is to avoid them. Stay out of the sun, especially between 10AM and 4PM.

Cover up. Light weight, long sleeved shirts and long pants are protective while they are dry. There is a UPF rating for fabrics, from UPF 15-50. Above 30 is considered sun protective, and more is better. There are swim shirts for kids that are protective even when wet.

Wear a hat with a brim.

Wear sunglasses with 99% UR protection.

Use sunscreen. Sunscreens absorb or reflect the sun’s ultraviolet rays, depending on the ingredients.

  • Sunscreens come in lotions, gels, or sprays.
  • They generally last about 3 years on the shelf.
  • SPF should be 30 or higher.
  • The words “broad spectrum” should be on the label, since only these have UVA protection that is proportional to the UVB protection.
  • The only chemical sunscreens available in the US that protect from UVA are avobenzone (which can be irritating and allergy producing) and Mexoryl SX and XL, available only from L’Oreal (they have a patent). Outside of the US, Tinosorb S & M and Uvinul A Plus block UVA. Mineral sunscreens also block UVA.
  • Look for “water resistance” on the label as well, especially if you will be swimming or sweating.
  • Apply sunscreen 20 min before exposure so that it has time to form a thin, even, protective film.
  • Apply 2 mg/cm2: this is about 2 tbsp for the average adult (about a shot glass, per the Dermatology Association), and about 1/4 tsp for the face. If you put on less, you get proportionately less protection.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hrs or if you sweat, swim, or rub it off; stronger sun screens do not last longer and while newer sunscreens are very photostable, they do still rub off.

Sunscreens come in two basic forms, and combinations of the two forms.

Mineral (physical, inorganic) sunscreens include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They are usually better for sensitive skin, but they can leave a white cast and tend to be thick. They work more by reflecting sunlight, although they do absorb some. They do block UVA as well as UVB – zinc oxide more effectively than titanium dioxide.

The second type is Chemical or Organic sunscreens. They apply more like moisturizer and don’t leave a white cast. They work by absorbing sunlight’s high energy rays, although they do scatter and reflect some in the same way as mineral sunscreens.

Common Chemical/Organic sunscreens in the US:

  • P-Aminobenzoic acid
  • Padimate O
  • p-Aminobenzoic acid
  • Cinoxate
  • Dioxybenzone
  • Oxybenzone
  • Menthyl anthranilate
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate
  • Sulisobenzone
  • Trolamine salicylate
  • Avobenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Octyl salicylate
  • Ecamsule
  • Homosalate
  • Mexoryl SX & XL

Common questions about sunscreen:

For much of this information I have to thank LabMuffin, because I am no chemist. She is a PhD chemist who educates on the chemistry behind skin and beauty products. She is amazing, and I highly recommend checking her out!

Don’t kids need sunshine to make vitamin D?

Yes, but they only need 5-30 minutes in the sunshine about twice a week, depending on their skin tone. Also, vitamin D is in milk and comes in pill form.

Should we worry about nanoparticles from mineral sunscreens?

The nanoparticles made from grinding up the mineral sunscreens (so they don’t look white on the skin) are too big to penetrate the stratum corneum and get to live skin cells.

What ingredients are the most irritating or allergic?

  • Avobenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Oxybenzone
  • PABA
  • Padimate O
  • Enzacamene

Which ingredients are the least likely to break down in sunlight?

  • Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M (not in the US yet, hopefully soon!)
  • L’Oreal’s Mexoryl SX and Mexoryl XL
  • Mineral sunscreens

But don’t sunscreens have hormonal effects?

Yes, some of the chemical/organic ones do, but very little. One of the worst is oxybenzone, and to have a hormonal effect we would have to use it continuously for 277 years. Enzocamine, Padimate O, octinoxate, and homosalate also have hormonal effects in minuscule amounts.

Don’t some medicines make people react more to sunlight? 

Yes. A short list of meds on which you should avoid sunlight:

  • NSAIDS (ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • tretinoin (retinols)
  • tetracyclines
  • phenothiazines
  • psoralins
  • sulfonamides
  • thiazines

Aren’t there plants that make people burn more easily?

Yes. Plants that produce furocoumarins, like limes, can cause a burn and hyperpigmentation when exposed to sunlight.

Can I use a sunscreen/insect repellent combination product?

The AAD recommends purchasing and using these products separately — sunscreen needs to be applied generously and often, whereas insect repellant should be used sparingly and much less frequently.

Are sprays safe and effective?

Current FDA sunscreen regulations do not apply to sprays, so I don’t know. They should not be used near heat or open flame (no smoking!), and should not be inhaled.

What will the UV index for tomorrow be? Check out www.weather.com.

 

What those labels mean:

SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor,” and measures sunburn producing UVB rays. The number is how much burning radiation penetrates through the sunscreen. An SPF of 20 means that 1/20th of the rays reach the skin. Above an SPF of 50 you don’t see any real difference.

SPF Equivalence requires UVA protection of at least 1/3 the SPF for UVB. This labeling is seen more in Europe.

PPD is “Persistant Pigment Darkening.”

Star ratings are used in UK and Ireland, between 1 and 5 stars.

PA is “Protection Grade of UVA”, used in Asia, between PA+ to PA++++.

If “Water resistance” is on the label, it should say whether it is resistant to swimming or sweating and for how long.

 

If you can, please share this blog. The sun is shining outside and sunscreens can be very confusing!

 

Summer Activities to Enrich Your Child’s Learning

Today’s blog is brought to you by Sam Casteris, a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ:

little cute girl near the pool with a circle for swimming

When school gets out and parents are on the hunt for kids’ activities that encourage learning (while still encouraging fun, of course!), there are tons of enjoyable, enriching things to do, from being outside and going on trips as a family to enrolling your kiddos in camp or other special summer programs. Here are some of our favorite activities to enrich your child’s learning in the summertime.

1. Get outside and learn about the great outdoors

Today, many school-age kids have jam-packed schedules that allow for little to no downtime spent outdoors (it’s school, extracurriculars, homework, rinse, repeat!) This is why one of the best, most enriching activities you can do as a family is to simply get out in nature. Go for a family hike, go camping, and just enjoy being outside together. Or, if you live near one of our country’s national parks, you could enroll your child in a Junior Ranger Program. The NPS Junior Ranger program is designed for kids between the ages of 5 to 13; by completing a series of activities, kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge and certificate. This is a fantastic (and fun!) way for youngsters to learn more about their environment.

2. Sign the kids up for music lessons

If your child has shown an interest in music, summer is the perfect time to sign them up for music lessons. The benefits of learning music from a young age are astounding, really. Learning an instrument can improve a child’s memory and concentration, expose them to culture and history, and nurture their creativity and self-expression. Most of all, though: Music brings kids (and everyone!) joy.

3. Head off on a road trip

Road trips are wonderful for seeing the world, yes…but they’re also a wonderful way to learn about cars! If you want to teach kids the ins-and-outs of car mechanics and care, a family road trip is a prime time to do so.

4. Grow plants in a garden and learn about the natural world

It’s never too early, or too late, to teach children about the beauty of the natural world. One of the best ways to encourage a kid’s inherent curiosity and interest in nature is by growing a garden together. Giving children the opportunity to grow and harvest their own food has all kinds of benefits, from improving academic results (talk about a great way to learn about plant science!) to improving their overall health and well-being. Plus, this is such a fun activity to do as a family.

5. Enroll in a summer camp

The sky’s the limit when it comes to summer camps. Is your child interested in science, horses, making movies, art, writing, math, music, or any number of other activities? Enroll them in a summer camp that aligns with their interests. If they’re not sure what they’re interested in or they’d prefer something a little less specialized, there are dozens of traditional camps out there to pick from—ones where kids can do water sports, land sports, arts and crafts, performing arts, and other broad-based activities. No matter which type you choose, sleepaway camp is always a great way for kids to explore, make new friends, enjoy a little independence, and have fun.

6. Volunteer and be an active citizen

It’s crucial to instill a sense of civic duty and gratitude in your child, and there’s no better way to do this than through volunteering. Getting involved in their community helps kids to understand that their world extends far beyond what they see and know, and to appreciate what they have. Pick a cause that your family holds dear and sign up for a few volunteer slots this summer—not only will you be teaching your kids an important lesson, but you’ll truly be making a difference together.

 

Free Summer Break Activities! (Don’t Tell Them They’re Educational)

boy with baloon2-01Summer break has been going on for quite a while now.

Running out of things to do? Counting the minutes until school starts again?

Help is here!

One of my favorite sites for kid’s activities is Education.com. The site was built with the contributions of thousands of teachers, and they have FREE activities for kids from preschool through high school–activities that help them succeed in science, math, reading, writing, and social studies.

They teach with games, songs, worksheets, interactive exercises, hands-on activities, and more.

For example, Education.com let me use the printable maze below for this blog. Doing mazes helps kids learn problem solving, fine motor control, visual motor skills and confidence–all while they think they are just playing a game.

Also check out Education.com for great summer break learning resources for every age child, from helping kindergarteners create stories to geography challenges for sixth graders.

And no, they are not paying me to write this–it’s just a great site.

kindergarten_maze_kayaking

kindergarten_maze_kayaking_answers

 

4th of July: 10 Tips to Stay out of the ER

Sunshine, water, and fireworks. What else could you need? To avoid the ER afterwards!

Oddly, most 4th of July injuries actually have nothing to do with fireworks, and everything to do with parents being so busy that they are not as watchful as usual. Sports are more dangerous when we want to impress cousins. Teenagers tend to get more reckless during a celebration, and young children sneak away quickly.

Most injuries are from everyday activities and household objects made dangerous by the craziness. So,…

Top Ten things that will land you in my office after the fireworks:

1.  Drowning: The 4th is all about water. Every year pediatricians see drownings and near drownings on the 4th. Never leave any child alone for even a moment near open water, whether it is an ocean, a bathtub, or a water bucket.

All it takes is one moment of inattention for a child to slip away. If there is open water, you need to be within touching distance and focused on your child. Pools should be fenced in and closed off with a self-latching gate at the end of the day, and all the toys should be put away. Life vests are fabulous for a parent’s mental health and relaxation (swimmies and floaties are not life jackets). Life preservers and a shepherd’s crook should be placed obviously nearby wherever kids are swimming. For more tips on water safety, check out my summer safety tips.

2.  Fireworks: I know, it’s obvious, but it had to be on the list. Please leave them to the professionals. It’s not worth months in the burn unit and doing physical therapy.  No-one thinks it will happen to their kid, until it does.

3.  Choking: Toddlers will put anything in their mouths. This means that everybody needs to pick up his or her stuff. Items over 1¼ inch in diameter are generally safe. Items smaller than 1¼ inch can go straight into their gut or lung. The most dangerous items to swallow are button batteries and magnets; the most dangerous to choke on are grape sized (older children’s toys, hard candy) or stretchy (balloons, plastic bags, marshmallows). Clean up!

4.  Allergic reactions: Holidays provide a banquet of things to irritate children’s allergies. Plants, foods, cigarette smoke, bonfires and other people’s homes and pets come to mind. Avoid them if your child has allergies.

5.  Fires and electrical injuries are especially common during holidays. Decorations can be flammable, candles and fires are commonly nearby. Frayed and loose wires easily start fires. I have had an astounding number of children run through banked campfires after dark. Block them off please!  Keep your eyes open for dangers.

6.  Poisonings: The one I see most is an overdose on Grandma’s meds. At Grandma’s home they are left on countertops; at your home they are in her purse. A left over drink is also a common way to poison children. A little alcohol can drop a child’s blood sugar and throw him or her into a coma.

7.  Alcohol inside the grown-up: does this really need explanation?

8.  Dehydration/Food poisoning: Watch their intake. It’s hot and the kids are running around in endless circles. Bring lots of water (the stuff mother nature made for you, not the stuff with caffeine and sugar added). Food left out in the heat for hours can grow things that cause vomiting and diarrhea. If you don’t know where it came from and how long it’s been there, don’t eat it.

9.  Scarce common sense: If it doesn’t seem safe, don’t let people pressure you into it. Make them wear that bike helmet! Trampolines and motorized vehicles (Sea Doos, dirt bikes) are never a good idea.  Feel free to let watching your kids take precedence over seeing Uncle Joe’s trophy or Aunt Mary’s vacation photos. “He’ll be fine” doesn’t make him fine. Keep an eye on him.

10.  Politeness: Feel free to be rude and head for home when the kids get tired, if a situation feels out of control, or if your child is being exposed to something you aren’t happy with. Use the munchkin’s youth or fatigue as the excuse for you to head home, relax and read a bedtime story.

The point of celebrations is to solidify relationships and give hope for the future. Focus on family, rejoice in the day and be careful.  Keep plans simple, pick fewer things to do, and do them together. Be safe and stay healthy.

Fun, Free Printables from MyraMakes.com

Today’s blog is brought to you by MyraMakes.com. Myra Makes is a creative education company based in Boulder, Colorado. Their mission is to empower kids with a love of learning and inspire them to embark on their own creative adventures. They approach education in a kid-centered way–they believe that by introducing opportunities for kids to express their natural creative potential, they can help cultivate the generation of forward-thinking innovators that we so critically need.

They brought the adventure to life with their first product, the creative learning adventure book Journey to Cloud City, available on Amazon, and they have allowed me to put some of their printables on the blog. (Reprint only for non-commercial purposed only, please!) Designed to make problem solving, empathy, and teamwork fun, their first interactive storybook was created from over a year of feedback from parents, kids, and educators.

They introduce problem-solving through adventure, in which children follow their main character Myra as she meets new friends and creates solutions to the challenges that come up along the way.

The activities below are selections from Journey to Cloud City.

  • Extend the activities by using arts and crafts supplies to build the environments, solutions, and characters in real life after you’ve drawn on the printable!
  • Use pipe cleaners, pom-poms, building supplies such as Legos.
  • Re-use materials such as bottle caps and scrap cardboard.
  • Parents, work with you kids on the activities–they’re often just as much fun for adults as kids!
  • Remember to be as open-ended as possible when offering suggestions or asking your kids questions when they’re working on the activities.

The crew at MyraMakes is always interested in connecting with others who share their passion for inspiring kids as problem solvers, and would love to hear from parents, teachers, and others with collaborative opportunities or interesting stories to share at support@MyraMakes.com.

Enjoy the activity pages below!

Myra1

Myra2

Myra3

Myra4

Myra5

 

How to Educate your Kids with Games, Art, and Fun, Part 2!

Remember Education.com? They’ve given me another project – a spelling lesson disguised as a crossword puzzle!

Your child can learn about the wonders of the sea as he or she explores the ocean-themed crossword puzzle below. For more spelling resources go to Education.com.

Education.com was built with the contributions of thousands of teachers. They have FREE activities for kids from preschool to high school that help them succeed in science, math, reading, writing, and social studies.

They teach with games, songs, worksheets, interactive exercises, hands-on activities, and more.

Check out Education.com for other innovative educational opportunities for every age child.

crossword

And the answers are …

crossword-answers

How to Educate your Kids with Games, Art, and Fun!

Astronaut child

So, Education.com agreed to let me write a blog about their site, which is way better than just telling everybody I know about it. I love this site! (And no, they are not paying me to write this.)

The site was built with the contributions of thousands of teachers. They have FREE activities for kids from preschool to high school that help them succeed in science, math, reading, writing, and social studies.

They teach with games, songs, worksheets, interactive exercises, hands-on activities, and more.

For example, they have the art activity below to help second graders identify the shapes and positional language that will start them on the road to learning geometry:

Summertime Beach Mosaic:

Second Grade Holidays & Seasons Activities: Beach Mosaic

Capture your beach memories—not with a photograph, but with a pretty mosaic made from that classic beach souvenir, the shell. Celebrate summer and practice easy geometry with a splashy beach mosaic, made with natural materials.

What You Need:

  • Cardboard
  • Collection of shells, various shapes and sizes (sand dollars, augurs, conches, clam shells, etc.)
  • Tempera or acrylic paints, paintbrushes, old newspapers
  • Hot glue gun
  • Pencil
  • Optional: sand

What You Do:

  1. Have your child plan out his beach mosaic by placing his shells on the piece of cardboard into a scenic arrangement. He may want to recreate a beach scene, using the shells to recreate waves, sand or ocean animals. If he has other favorite summer activities, he can create another scene of his choosing. Or, if he’s feeling free-spirited, he can just make an abstract design.
  2. He may want to trace around shells with a pencil on the cardboard to remember where he plans to place them.
  3. To add some unique color to his mosaic, have him lay the shells on a newspaper and use acrylic or tempera paints and paintbrushes to paint the shells. He may choose to give the shells a new color, or simply cover them with a sparkly or iridescent paint for some extra pizzazz. Paint can be used to help the shells resemble things such as a blue whale, a yellow sun, a brown bird, tan sand, or blue water.
  4. After the paint has dried (we recommend letting it dry overnight), help your child use a hot glue gun to attach the shells to the cardboard in his desired placement. If he’d like, he can also glue sand onto the cardboard to add to the beachy feel of the scene.
  5. Let the glue under the shells dry before moving it.
  6. He can share his beach mosaic with others and describe the scene he created, or see if others can guess what he has depicted!

Your kids are learning the basics of geometry while they think they are just having fun and building memories.

Check out Education.com for other innovative educational opportunities for every age child!

Now I have to go try their bouncy ball recipe with the grandkids. You can make your own bouncy balls! Who knew?

Nutrition Facts: What to Grow in Your Kid’s Garden

girl with plantIn Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” Plans and projects keep children out of trouble–or at least involve them in safer, more manageable trouble.

What could be better than digging in the dirt and playing in a spray of water on a hot summer day? What more creative than an adventure in the wilds of your back yard? Add in sunshine, fresh air and exercise, and planting a garden becomes the springtime activity of choice.

One of the best ways to coax kids into eating what is good for them is to involve them in its preparation. They are far more likely to eat the lunch they prepared with their own two hands than one you slaved over. If they help you peel and cut up carrots for dinner they will try them, and brag about their contribution while chewing.

Extend this a bit and you reap the miracle of children eating their vegetables because they grew them in their very own garden. They planted the seeds, watched over them, watered them, and cared for them. They will proudly eat the fruits of their labor and proclaim their tastiness.

Children need a variety of vitamins and minerals in order to function and grow, and the best place to get those nutrients, along with carbs for energy and fiber for bowel function, is in fruits and vegetables. Some, like beans and peas, are even excellent sources of protein. Many of them can be grown in small plots or in containers on a porch.

Carrots can be grown easily from seeds bought in your local garden store, and are very high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A helps with eyesight–especially night vision–which is why your mom always told you to eat lots. Watermelon, peas, peppers, beans, and tomatoes also have bunches of Vitamin A.

Tomatoes, peppers, and beans are high in B complex vitamins. B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, thiamine and folic acid are tiny machines that allow your body to function. They help with everything from making blood cells, to generating energy from carbohydrates, to scavenging free radicles and protecting you from cancer.

Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are high in Vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen synthesis and wound healing and is an effective antioxidant. Without Vitamin C, people get scurvy.

Minerals are also easily come by on the plant side of your plate.

Calcium to build strong bones can be found in beans.

Potatoes, beans, corn, and mushrooms are high in iron, which helps carry oxygen around your body.

Potassium, necessary for muscle contraction and to maintain your heart rhythm, is present in potatoes, berries, peas, beans, and peppers.

Essential minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc are all available in fruits and vegetables.

I’ve never seen a child turn down a pea fresh from the pod, or a strawberry plucked from the plant. Find a plant catalogue, pour through it with your child, pay attention to what will grow in your area and how much room the plants need to grow, and choose. Consider what you have room for: will these be container plants on the porch, or can you spare a patch of yard? Do you have space for a tree, or are we looking at a mushroom kit in the closet?

Some of my favorite kid friendly plants are peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and the ever popular carrot. Melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers are great if you have a little more room. Berries come in all sizes, from tiny strawberry plants fit for containers with pockets down the side, to raspberry vines best grown on trellises, to fat thorny blackberry bushes. Tires can be stacked up and filled with dirt in a tower as potato plants grow, then harvested by taking off one tire at a time.

Growing a few plants allows you to spend time with your children, get some exercise, and build some vitamin D of your own from all that sunshine. Have a conversation about science and nutrition while you are digging in the dirt. Money can be earned and financial lessons taught by naming the watering and weeding of those plants “chores.” Other lessons can be taught without any conversation: responsibility for life, the fruitfulness of hard work, and pride of accomplishment. Don’t miss this opportunity for spring plans and projects!

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