Archive | August, 2012

Talk Body Science Before Heading Back To School

Not something you expected to be covered in a back-to-school series, but I’ve been thinking of ways to talk more openly about sex with my kids over the summer with new questions arriving and finding I didn’t have the answers I wanted or the right words in that moment. Funny how you can be so close to your children and get to the point of discussions about your body, sex, body parts, etc. and not be able to communicate properly. Something that surprised me because I’m very comfortable talking about most things with my kids. After checking out Meg Hickling’s book called Boys, Girls, & Body Science and also her SUPER helpful DVD where you watch Meg give her presentation about body science to parents/teachers and then a difference presentation to children – I learned a different approach that I honestly wish I had learned 7 years ago when my oldest started preschool. Because as Meg says multiple times, preschool aged children are the easiest to discuss these topics with and I totally agree. If you tackle the topic of sex and stick to treating it like body science, rather than an uncomfortable topic….you are on the path to open, honest, and must easier dialogue with your children.

 

What has taken me so long to initiate more conversations on this topic? My children don’t get sex education in their school, unlike most of their peers, which is really too bad. A lot of parents I’ve talked with rely on their children receiving sex education at school, because the topic has been avoided at home. After learning my body science from Meg, even if you’re children do get the talk at school, you should be asking questions and keeping the dialogue open. I was really surprised to learn that children as young as Grade 2 and 3 can start having nocturnal emissions or start menstrual cycle. If you are like me and will be handling sex education at home, I urge you to check out Meg’s lecture & books via your library or the websites listed at the bottom of this article. She empowers you with the ability to find the words to properly express body science. Do you still think children of a certain age are ‘too young’ to learn about body science?  Here are some facts I learned from Meg that convinced me that younger children are ready and a great audience for sex education:

– sexual abusers admit that they target children that are uneducated about body parts because it proves a gap in communication between child and parent increasing the chances of abusers not being ‘told on’ .

– children as young as 7 years old can experience a period (girls & scientific name menstruation) or wet dream (boys although the scientific name is nocturnal emission) and worry that something is wrong with them.

– dispel myths that friends or cousins have taught the child. If they aren’t learning body science at home or school…where do you think they are getting information?

– give children the opportunity to understand mechanical curiosity.

– whoever says ‘no’ rules.

What is my recommendation on speaking about sex? Gather a group of like-minded moms together and order the DVD as a group. It’s a really great launching pad and I’ll be sharing my copy with many of my friends who have expressed discomfort. Having a copy of the DVD among a few families is cost effective and a great resource.  The relief you feel at understanding this can be explained as ‘science’ is really liberating and the stories and tips from Meg with have you laughing out loud wondering what the big deal is! And why you weren’t saying “the penis goes into the vagina to deliver the sperm to the ovum” from the time your kids were in preschool. And if you are like me and all your children are older than preschool, don’t worry – there are many chapters in the book “Speaking of Sex Book” that can help with speaking to older children. Meg gives you the body science tools to initiate body science discussions with kids of all ages and I’m already thinking of questions I can ask my kids to test their body science. The only people experiencing discomfort are adults and when you are given the tools to provide factual information with easy-to-understand words, the discussions get so much easier!

To find a copy of the book called Boys, Girls & Body Science you can simply click here or it’s available in many bookstores across Canada via www.chapters.indigo.ca, www.amazon.ca and via the website www.harbourpublishing.com

Meg Hickling on DVD, The New Speaking of Sex can be found by clicking here or visiting www.woodlakebooks.com

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Litterless Lunch Solutions

I’ve been asked for my opinion on what is the best litterless lunch solution for back-to-school and with so many great options it comes down to each lunch solution being compatible with different foods a family enjoys packing. I have several lunch containers from reviews over the years so I thought I’d photograph different combos and share with pictures rather than descriptions – sometimes a visual is more helpful. I do have a few rules I stick to with packing any food for my children (and self) so I’ll list these before the pictures:

– I don’t use plastic. I don’t care if it’s BPA-free, phthalate free, recycled, etc, etc. At the end of the day, I don’t trust plastic or want it near my children’s food.

– Ditto on the plastic for water bottles. I also don’t use aluminum water bottles that have liners. I trust 18/8, stainless steel bottles and these are what I use for myself and children. On hot days, I include a couple of ice cubes (made from stainless steel ice trays) into their bottles to keep water icy cold. This is a great trick for back-to-school and keeping water delicious.

– Stainless steel is my favorite reusable material for back-to-school lunches. I like using single walled stainless steel systems for most days – I find it keeps food at just the right temperature. Ice packs, etc. normally aren’t required. To keep food hot however, double walled stainless steel is needed. All thermos systems I’ve seen that keep food hot, have a bit of plastic around the top. I tried out the Laptop Lunches system from Organically Hatched and like the size for when I pack soup or leftovers for the kids.

– With lunch bags I’m sticking with organic cotton. I wrote an article months ago about non-stick diaper bag liners and discovered some brands contain teflon. It’s really turned me off of lunch bags – no knowing what they are insulated with. I love the Graze bags…I used them all last year when sending kids with a hot lunch and needing somewhere to put a stainless steel utensil.

– I love tiffins. They are my #1 system because I’m very rushed in the morning and don’t have time to work within the set confines or spaces that other systems offer. They are air-tight, fun for the kids to use and we’ve never lost a piece because kids can’t close the system unless the containers, lid, and latch are ready to be secured. I’m also making more items from scratch for lunches so these foods tend to be larger in size and won’t fit into traditional systems. Also note that tiffin is the name for a style of system – it’s not the brand name. There are many different suppliers making tiffins, I can only vouch for and recommend the tiffins sold via Green Planet Parties.

– Encourage your school to only be using reusable products for food, snacks, and lunches. If you’ve been asked to provide plastic sandwich bags with your back-to-school supplies, supply a few cloth bags as an alternative.

Now here are some pictures!  First up, you know it’s going to be tiffins. Here are two pictures so you see how a full apple (or larger whole fruit) can go in the top container because the lid is domed. This picture also shows how you can easily partition a container to separate fruit, veggies, etc. – I use parchment paper.

This sized tiffin is recommended for preschool to all elementary school aged children for back-to-school. A light-weight system that gives plenty of options with three roomy containers.

The next most common question I get asked with back-to-school is how to transport hot food (soup, left-overs, stir-fry, etc.) with back-to-school. In order for food to stay hot you need to have a double walled system. I picked up a Laptop Lunches thermos from Organically Hatched and it’s very roomy, stainless steel, and will grow with your child because it’s not marked with commercialized characters. It’s great to have a lunch bag to accompany a thermos because normally you need a side container of fruit, cutlery, and a cloth napkin to include. I used my Graze organic cotton lunch bags for this all last year when bringing left over Shepard’s Pie for my kids or soup. I love knowing they can be composted when they are tattered and torn. Here is a picture of this system:

My last visual is for parents that love to pack multiple smaller, separate containers for back-to-school. You’ll definitely need a lunch bag to keep them all together. I know parents love the lunchbots. I’ve had them leak on me before, so I tend to gravitate to a container that has clips and a silicone ring; this usually means that it’s airtight. You can find lunchbots here and greentainers (with clips) here:


For tips on navigating through greener back-to-school shopping, check out these articles:

Limit Your Food Packaging: Make Your Own Granola Bars


Save Money & Green Back-to-School Supplies!

How To Bring Green & Healthy Values Back-to-School

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Limit Food Packaging – Make Your Granola Bars

Sometimes saying words out loud and not in your head gives them more merit or purpose – for me anyway. Talking with a friend today I was reminded of something that will help you make healthier shopping choices with meal planning for back to school. We know that what isn’t good for the environment is also bad for human health right? Well anything you buy that gives you convenience is also not the best for human health. Think back among the years of materials that have bought us time and convenience: telfon, non-stick, plastic, drive-thrus, etc. What first appeared (and was marketed) as an amazing time saver has become toxic for our families! This is why so many green bloggers are talking about packing litterless lunches with back-to-school. Not just because many of the litterless lunch systems are made from stainless steel, but it encourages parents to limit packaging surrounding children’s food which very quickly improves the quality of the nutrition, etc.

What are the biggest toxies I can think of? The two biggest culprits that come to mind are string cheese and yogurt tubes. Why? They have been packed into a bendy plastic that is loaded with plasticizers that are leaching into the food. These items are long gone in our fridge but with our busy schedule during the school year, I’m guilty of always having granola bars for my kids to snack on. Granola bar wrappers are not recyclable or compostable and this can be a red flag about the food inside the wrapper. Most granola bars are loaded with sugar, soy, artificial flavours/colors and contain preservatives so they can last on store shelves. I’ve been playing with different granola bar recipes over the summer and finally have a recipe that my kids LOVE. The homemade granola bars, unlike store bought are nut-free so appropriate to bring into schools with allergies and are more like a powerbar, packed with whole foods that are filling & heavy making them the perfect snack. My thanks to the site allrecipies.com for the original recipe and I’ve incorporated some changes and love the results. I noticed in the comments that some parents even remove the 1 egg so it could be further modified to be sensitive to more allergies if necessary.

I now double the recipe every Sunday and the bars usually last until Thursday in this house. I plan to double this batch and make banana bread on Sundays each week to minimize feeling the need to buy store bought snacks. The fact that my very fussy 1st born loves these granola bars so much is very gratifying. It’s funny because my 2nd son was helping me make the bars and noticed me adding apple sauce. First thing he says to me is “don’t let Francesco see what you’re putting in these” since he knows his brother so well. It’s easier to trick even the fussiest of eaters with the different modifications and here’s how!

Ingredients:

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour (I use half and half with whole wheat flour and all-purpose)
3/4 cup raisins (optional) (I use chocolate chips)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup apple sauce

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Generously grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.
In a large bowl, mix together the oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour, chocolate chips and salt. Make a well in the center, and pour in the honey, egg, oil, vanilla, and apple sauce. Mix well using your hands. Pat the mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
Bake for 20-30 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bars begin to turn golden at the edges. Cool for 5 minutes, then cut into bars while still warm. Do not allow the bars to cool completely before cutting, or they will be too hard to cut.

I cut into square and leave in an air tight container on my counter. These bars are gone in days and fit into any size lunch container for lunch packing. Buy these ingredients in bulk if you don’t already have them – you’ll be making them a lot!

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Meadows Maze – My Happy Place

I’m sharing my happy place with you. For my readers that aren’t local – please enjoy the pictures and I hope this place inspires some happiness for you! My happy place is a community called Pitt Meadows – the ecosystem is so healthy and there is nothing like parking your car and watching frogs leaping out of gutters, checking out local dairy farms, and feeding / watching chickens run to greet you. I can find all of these things in Pitt Meadows plus one big attraction that recently opened is Meadows Maze. Owned by the Hopcott family – this beautiful farm is such a great outing for kids of all ages. This year they’ve made some magical additions so I just have to share pictures and little tidbits about why you need to go for a visit.

Two new attractions this year are pig races and a beautiful education center. The pig races start this Saturday, Aug 25th which will be fun and the new education center (inside a beautiful huge barn) is very impressive and would be a wonderful field trip in the Fall. The concept is to have children learn about agriculture, farming, and finish with learning about farmer’s market. Kids are given a bucket and go through the stations of the education center collecting items to sell at market…once they complete the stations (digging up potatoes/carrots, picking apples, collecting honey, etc.) they ‘sell’ their items and are given pretend money that gives them a treat inside the Corn Maze office. I had children from ages 6-13 with me and they all LOVED this!  The other highlight is the huge slide when you first arrive, barrel rides, the potato cannon and petting farm. There is more but these are our favorites!

The kids favorite ride is upcyled barrels that have seat-belts and are pulled together by an ATV. You go through a portion of the corn maze and it’s so bumpy and fun! Bring swim goggles to wear if dust bothers your eyes!

Next up is the education center. There are approx. 8 stations as described above that all include beautiful wooden structures, food and scenery. My kids loved digging through dirt finding potatoes and pulling carrots!

 

Next the petting farm is awesome! There are donkeys, chickens, pigs, goats, bunnies, and a baby bull & ponies. Not all are available to pet and hold but it’s wonderful to visit a petting farm that has so many happy animals to watch and play with. My girls just fell in love with the lion haired bunnies (shhhhhh – Isabella got special permission to have a snuggle with this bunny).

All the kids loved the potato or corn canon – it’s always fun to try and hit targets. This is extra $$s not included in the admission but was a huge favorite with the older kids in my group!

And because your children won’t want to leave (we can spend 4 hours there easily) they have this amazing outdoor slide that you ride burlap sacks off to the side of the parking lot. You tell the kids to take a slide and it will minimize any fussing about leaving this amazing place. Oh – why is it called Meadows Maze you ask?  Because it has a huge 8km wide corn maze that takes 2.5 hours to complete!  It’s huge and a great challenge for older kids or teens!  The oldest kids in our group tried it, but we find all the other activities keep us plenty busy. We’ve already been to visit twice and the pig races haven’t even started yet. . . it just gives us another reason to go back for more fun!

And just like today, after we visited Meadows Maze we stop at Hopcotts Meats down the street because we love their support for locally grown, hormone free meat and produce. You taste the difference with this meat – it’s amazing and you can see the crops growing behind the store – it’s a beautiful destination shopping experience! Make Pitt Meadows your next destination day trip – it will become your happy place and you’ll learn, discover, and love the feel of the farm land that is so close to urban dwellings.  You’ll leave feeling refreshed and back in touch with a local farmers and agriculture.

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Save Money & Green Back-to-School Supplies!

I have never ordered a pre-assembled kit of back-to-school supplies. My oldest child used to feel left out when every other child in his class was given ‘the box’ on the first day of school but now he has no problem bringing his decorated shoe box with more carefully selected school supplies inside. At this stage of my parenting journey, I’m not even sure I would pay the money to have a green pre-assembled school supplies kit provided for my children because I think we often forget about reusing with back to school. For the last few years, at the end of the school year, I parked their books and supplies in a bag or box and forgot about them in a closet. This year I combed through previous years of supplies and to my delight I won’t need to purchase many new items! Check out the sets I made from mixed sets of crayons – I have four complete sets for each of my kids!

I wasn’t sure if teachers would mind if supplies weren’t new and I was reminded by a reader and teacher on the MF fanpage that a crayon color spectrum is really more important for your children than the teacher. Purchasing Crayola products goes against so much of what I believe in because they are a huge company that doesn’t have the manufacturing standards I usually support –  so it’s been a relief to realize it’s up to my kids if they only want 6 beeswax or soy crayons in art supplies that are made in North America and don’t contain petroleum. The Clementine brand I point to at the end of this article for crayons, markers, and glue are all manufactured in the US and that is important. I of course won’t be purchasing the soy or beeswax crayons this year because I’ve done a great job of rounding up crayons in my own home – reusing is always best! And I’ve made 4  complete sets! But when you need to purchase new, avoid the petroleum, plastic, and antibacterial crap on the market and become your child’s eco warrior with back-to-school shopping!

Where else can you easily up-cycle with back-to-school supplies?  You know the little interlined work books for elementary school?  I have found more than 10 of these from previous years that only have a few pages filled out . . the rest are blank! I’ve ripped out these pages and will be sending the rest of the blank books with my kids. I have blank printer labels and will be applying these to the front of the books to eliminate the name, grade, subject information my children wrote from previous years. There is a cost savings here and think of the amount of wasted paper each year?!

Other supplies that are still in great condition that we are reusing from previous years? Wooden ruler, O’bon coloured pencil crayons, pencils, duotangs (empty and reuse), scissors, and paint! Now here are some tips for purchasing new back-to-school supplies. This is a great time to talk about commercialism with back-to-school. If you want to keep rolling over school supplies each year, stay away from the licensed folders, pencil cases, backpacks, water bottles, etc. That cute little monkey design or Dora and SpongeBob print might be cute for Grade 1 but they are not babies anymore by Grade 2 and might feel embarrassed by bringing what they once loved at this age. Keep supplies classic and simple – there is a secret to longevity by doing this. I would also encourage not to bring small children back-to-school shopping with you. If it’s just going to be a tantrum or fight for the supplies they don’t understand are poor quality and toxic – let kids stay home. Bring older kids with you and explain why and how you are making decisions on what to buy. Have older children go through supplies from the previous year and save what they’ll reuse. Also have them participate with decorating the up-cycled shoe box to bring supplies in.

I noticed last year and again this year, companies are doing a lot of marketing for Microban and antibacterial products. Examples of this are pencils, scissor handles, water bottle lids (the worst of all in my opinion), and binders. Normally Microban in plastic contains Triclosan which is a chemical that does not belong in back-t0-school supplies. The original use for Triclosan, a strong chemical, was used in surgical rooms. Why would we turn a classroom into the equivalent of a hospital with antibacterial properties? Skip this chemical (look for antibacterial or Microban marketing) and if you are asked why by school administration you can reply “this is a pesticide linked to hormone disruptions, allergies, asthma, skin irritation, eczema, and thyroid problems”. I have found when you explain to teachers the reason behind limiting your children to chemical exposure – that you’re not trying to be difficult – they are very understanding. Probably the biggest product linked to antibacterial and might be on your school list is hand sanitizer. This is an important one to make eco-friendly and the easiest way is to not purchase anything and request that your child is given the opportunity to wash their hands more often. If you are more comfortable knowing he can disinfect quickly – send Cleanwell wipes or spray in your child’s back-to-school kit. Again, unleash your eco-warrior and don’t let the marketing of ‘germs’ pressure you into purchases that use endocrine disrupting chemicals that could lead to an allergy. Here is a personal story about hand sanitizer. The brands that have perfume or strong scent will trigger a reaction with a person (like me) with chemical sensitivities. A person in one of my children’s classes had just applied hand sanitizer (apricot scented) and the 2 minutes I was in the classroom delivering hot lunches, I felt dizzy and left with a headache. Please be aware of the effects of using strong chemicals – if not for yourself but other people.

I’ve also noticed some ‘non-stick’ marketing with back-to-school supplies. Does anyone need teflon on their scissors? I’m not sure what the inner coating of lunch bags that are marketed non-stick but I stay clear! Remember my article on teflon lined diaper bags? Since researching this article I’ve been wary of non-stick lined products that are marketed to clean or wipe up quickly from spills. I stick to 100% organic cotton lunch bags in place of this and love that they are machine washable. Sticking with cotton is just a great way to go with backpacks, gym bags, and sandwich bags because at the end of their life, you cut off the zipper and plastic velcro and compost. That is a great full cycle story for a product…reuse, reuse, reuse and then compost.  It’s my favourite kind of story.

The last tip is the most important for back-to-school supplies shopping. Avoid plastic. All plastic. I don’t care if it’s marked free of everything; BPA, phthalates, PVC, etc.  At the end of the day, at the end of it’s shelf life – it’s still plastic. We are experiencing the greatest problem in our history with ocean pollution and the leading cause is plastic. Our health has never been so clouded with problems: cancer, asthma, allergies, diabetes, skin sensitivities, endocrine disruption, and more. I don’t trust plastic. Studies have found that many products labeled BPA-free still released chemicals that mimic estrogen.  PVC plastic is a known poison to human health and the environment so if you are purchasing backpacks or supplies made from plastic, please ensure it’s marked PVC-free. Summon your eco-warrior and use your nose if buying plastic…don’t put anything in your cart with that strong plastic smell.  Did you know that coloured paper clips contain PVC coating? With all supplies, including litterless lunch systems, stick with plain stainless steel. Most supplies like rulers, folders, duo-tangs, and binders have non-plastic alternatives in stores. Pens and markers still appear to be the toughest plastics to avoid with back-to-school. Search out recycled plastic options to lesson your environmental impact. If you see a specific plastic request on your child’s school supplies list from the school, try substituting it with a material you are comfortable with. On my children’s list I see a plastic containers to put supplies. Every year I use a shoe box, my kids decorate it with a best memory from the summer and I’ve never received a complaint. Sometimes the supplies lists we are receiving haven’t been tweaked in many years so it’s more of a guideline. The below picture is of my oldest son’s supplies box from last year. It’s in such good shape we are using it again this year!

 

I reviewed soy crayons a few years back and loved them!  You can find Clementine Soy Crayons via Organically Hatched. These crayons are literally like using butter – they just glide. If your child is happy with streamlining their color selection to 6 – then you should be happy too! And minus the petroleum and colorants used by traditional companies! Actually, you could pickup non-toxic glue, crayons, markers, and paint all at the same time shopping here. There isn’t anything eco-friendly about the plastic surrounding the Clementine markers but they are additive free, without scent. Having discussions about what has influenced your purchases with back-to-school products is a wonderful time to educate children. I’m hoping by going through supplies from previous years and re-using what you can, the ability to afford the slightly higher prices for greener back-to-school supplies is manageable. Your children will become your voice and echo the education. My child was the one in Grade 2 last year telling his teacher that the cleaning supplies they were given to clean their desks were toxic and gave him a headache. We donated bottles of diluted Dr. Bronners for our children’s classrooms until the school switched over the Green Seal certified cleaners. A child’s voice is important and matters – give your children the wisdom and help create Eco-warrior children that inspire change!

Related Articles:

Back To School Eco Backpacks

End of School Sustainability

Teflon Lined Diaper Bags


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