8-Year-Old Scientists Publish Study in Journal

Hey Readers! As you know, one of the things I talk about a lot is not only that kids are SAFER than we think, but they’re also more COMPETENT than pop culture leads us to believe.  Here to remind us just how clever kids can be is this story, of 8-year-olds who studied whether bees can learn patterns and colors. Then they got their research published in a peer-reviewed journal. That’s the buzz for this morning. Enjoy! — L.

The bees that the kids studied were smaller. And flew.

Outrage of the Morn’: High School Students Not Allowed to Light Bunsen Burners?

Hi Readers ! This just in. Read it and…give your kids some matches! (Yes, yes, properly supervised, of course.) — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a high school science teacher, parent, and grandparent and a former cubmaster, and I couldn’t agree with you more!  This summer I taught a workshop on building model rockets for 12 to 14 year-olds. None of the 17 kids in the workshop had ever sprayed spray paint, most had never used a utility knife, and two did not know how to tie a knot.

Many of my high school students light their first match in my class when lighting a Bunsen burner ( a task many teachers will no longer allow students to perform). If we deny kids the ability to use tools, we make them crippled.  If we deny kids any risk, they will make their own through risky behavior. — CDB

My question: How did they make it to middle school without ever tying a KNOT? — L.

P.S. This post goes really well with this cartoon!

Pacifier Aggression

Hi Readers — Boy, your letters keep blowing me away. Here’s another one that made me think — and fume.  It reminds me of a great essay by Spiked Online contributor Nancy McDermott (Spiked is sort of Britain’s Slate) about how this generation of parents treats every childrearing decision as a Nobel-worthy research project. McDermott calls it the “tyranny of scientific parenting.” I’m sure it’ll sound familiar to any of us who’ve ever said, “Aw, let’s not sweat it. ” Read on!

Dear FRK: I am a first time mom of a four month old son.  I wouldn’t think of raising him to be anything other than a Free-Range Kid.  I find my parental philosophy differs greatly from the other moms in our baby group.  When my son drops his pacifier, I dust it off and put it back in.  I figure he’ll be crawling around and shoving everything he can get his hands on right in his mouth in a few more months anyway.  Besides, whatever happened to the five second rule?  You’d think I was purposely trying to kill him by giving him back the pacifier.  If you think I’m exaggerating, read this transcript from one mom’s facebook page:

“From what I’ve heard you should try to keep the binkie as sterile as possible. They can be real transmitters of diseases to infants… [Use] hot water if you got nothing else, but mostly keep that thing sanitized…especially if you’ve been out in public. Scenario: you’re walking down the beach boardwalk, your child takes the pacifier out of her mouth. A passerby with a Streptococcal infection in the early stages sneezes and some droplets get on your baby’s pacifier. You reach down to check on your baby and see that the pacifier has fallen to the bottom of the stroller, you don’t have any hot water nearby, and even if you did the gram-positive bacteria does not get washed off and is a thermophile so does well in hot temperatures anyway. I’m just saying, if you put that pacifier in the baby’s mouth and if it’s a listeria type of strain…you’re going to have some serious life threatening problems on your hands. Use a binky, just keep it clean, boil it before use, keep a second or third sanitized one on hand. Even if your baby doesn’t get sick or doesn’t show symptoms, she can still carry a bacteria or virus that can be transmitted to someone else who is not as resistant.”

Seriously?  All I could say when I read this is “WTF?!”  You hear about so many kids dropping dead from contaminated pacifiers these days, right?  It would be laughable if they weren’t so serious about it.

I suspect they won’t be asking me to watch their kids anytime soon. — D. in California

If baby drops her pacifier, it's a 3-day donkey-ride to the closest Purell!

Outrage of the Week, Cont’d: Kids in Developing Country Doing Better Science!

Hi Folks — Here’s an update from Bree, the Boulder, Colo., mom who sent in her daughter’s No-Science at the Science Fair rules (see post below). Turns out Bree’s parents are living in Myanmar (formerly Burma, as in Shave, as in something you do with a sharp object that children should never get anywhere near) and they happened to visit a local  science fair. Writes Bree:

They told me that not only was EVERYTHING on this restricted list allowed, kids there were actually outperforming kids here in innovation, outlandish ideas, and actual science!!  And they don’t even have electricity, computers, or potable water!  But they were allowed not only to experiment, but also to bring those experiments into their school.

The best part – no one was hurt by plants in soil.

What a relief! And I suppose that a little knowledge turned out not to be a such dangerous thing, either. Time to tell the folks in Boulder!  Or maybe they should just start studying Burmese.– Lenore

Myanmar kids make me hoppy! PHOTO CREDIT: Meneer Zjeroen flickr.com/photos/nuskyn/ / CC BY 2.0

Outrage of the Week: Science Fair Bans Most Science

Hi Folks! Here’s the latest — a brilliant Chinese plot to crush America’s lead in science and technology!

Oh wait. Seems it is just one Colorado school’s list of  science fair rules. Thanks, reader Bree, for sending it in. The list:

For safety: Project displays and posters may NOT contain any of the following:

NO: Organisms (living or dead).

NO: Microbial cultures/fungi/molds/bacteria/parasites.

NO: Plants in Soil.

NO: Chemicals.

NO: Flammable Substances.

So I guess if you are doing a science experiment involving the effect of dust on a desk, you’re ok. But beyond that, it gets very tricky.  And, worse, interesting. And so it is verboten. All for the safety of the kids, of course. — Lenore

Not welcome at the fair.  PHOTO CREDIT: Meneer Zjeroen http://www.flickr.com/photos/nuskyn/ / CC BY 2.0

Outrage of the Week: Boy Scientist Sent for Counseling

Dear Readers:  OMG, as I rarely say, because I am over 22.  Here’s the latest crazy thing, according to the San Diego Union Tribune: An 11-year-old boy did a science project on his own (tsk tsk!) and brought the results to show his buddies at Millennial Tech Magnet Middle School.  Yes, a school DEVOTED to nurturing tech-loving kids. The project was a Gatorade bottle filled with wires and when the vice principal spied it, he immediately did what any sensible adult would do: He asked, “Son, what is that?”

Oh wait. No he didn’t. Or at least there’s no indication that he did. What he DID do was:  Call the  cops! So the school gets put in LOCKDOWN. Then the arson squad careens over, interviews the boy, all 400+ kids get evacuated, the squad X-rays the bottle — and guess what? Turns out the invention is some kind of motion detector.

Too bad it wasn’t a hysteria detector — could’ve saved everyone a lot of time. Afterward:

Both the student and his parents were “very cooperative” with authorities, [San Diego Fire Department Spokesman Maurice] Luque said. He said fire officials also went to the student’s home and checked the garage to make sure items there were neither harmful nor explosive.

“There was nothing hazardous at the house,”  Luque said.

The student will not be prosecuted, but authorities were recommending that he and his parents get counseling, the spokesman said. The student violated school policies, but there was no criminal intent, Luque said.

If there’s no criminal intent, why does the boy need counseling? To convince him never to do anything on his own? And do the parents need to be counseled on how to bring up a duller kid? Couldn’t we just take away the family soldering iron and give them a big flat screen TV?

I, for one, cannot wait to see how America turns out a generation from now when the kids graduating from our “tech” magnet schools don’t invent anything anymore — or the ones that do end up in straight jackets. — Lenore

When Science Becomes So Safe That It’s Boring

Hi Readers! We’ve come a long way since the days when you could buy your kid a chemistry set with radioactive ores. Maybe too long.  When science is no more exciting that watching oil and vinegar separate, we end up with bored kids. That means a few years later we end up with an ignorant population, easily conned. We need EXCITING, slightly dangerous science, argues Theodore Gray, author of Theo Gray’s Mad Science — Experiments You Can Do at Home But Probably Shouldn’t. (A title he says is totally accurate.) Here’s his nice essay about how we overemphasize the dangers of science compared to, say, the dangers of most school athletics. He also points out, somewhat bitterly, that The Dangerous Book for Boys is completely devoid of danger. Anyway, at the bottom of his essay is a link to his book.

And while on the topic of books, I do feel holiday-compelled (tick tick tick) to remind you that Free-Range Kids is available for your gift-giving pleasure, too, in hardcover, audio download and Kindle format.

Happy reading! And exploding! — Lenore