Sex Ed For Five-Year-Olds in the Age of Ben 10

BEN 10 wallpaper

I admit, a month ago, I didn’t know who Ben 10 was. Then, at the bots’ request, I downloaded a Ben 10 video game onto their LeapPads. What I have learned since is that Ben Ten “was just an ordinary kid” (that is what the rockin’ theme song tells us, or is it “is no ordinary kid?’ None of us can tell). At any rate, he found an alien watch with special powers that can turn him into ten different aliens with superpowers by mixing the alien DNA in the watch with Ben’s DNA. In my experience, at least with boy children, this sort of thing happens all the time, so I’m guessing the theme song says he’s an ordinary boy.

So yesterday, while I was making an omelet for Gbot and scrambled eggs for Mbot, Mbot asked: “Mom, how come some chickens have chicks, and some just lay eggs that we eat?”

I batted blind. “Well….if a chicken lays an egg, then it’s just an egg that we eat. But if a rooster fertilizes the egg, then it hatches and a chick comes out.”

Mbot, the farmer’s son: “Oh, I know what fertilizer is! So he POOPS on it?”

Me: “Well….no. ‘Fertilize‘ means that you make something grow better, so the rooster makes it grow better, and it grows into a chicken.” I continued preparing breakfast, terrified that I would have to start explaining process.

“Mbot: “Oh, yeah! Like the rooster’s DNA mixes with the chicken’s DNA!”

Me: “That’s exactly right!”

Mbot: “So could you make a half-eagle/half-chicken?”

“Me: “Well….”Scientists are working on it.”

And then we ate our eggs. The kind without rooster deoxyribonucleic acid.

Apparently, this is what results when DNA combines.

Apparently, this is what results when DNA combines.

Advertisements

Recycle Robot League Takes Over Local Kindergarten Class

1-2014 April and March 232

The Collector-Bot reports to class.

After a winter in hibernation, the Recycle Robots have returned, just in time for Earth Day.

When Eileen Kelly, a kindergarten teacher at nearby Archway Trivium Academy, called to ask if I’d help her students make recycle robots, I happily agreed. I built a Collector-Bot, which the children spent the next week feeding with recyclables they brought daily from home–cardboard tubes, yogurt containers, lids, cracker boxes, water bottles, vinegar bottles–anything that could fit in its mouth.

I watched while Mrs. Kelly demonstrated what happened when she dropped a bottle cap in its mouth (the bottle cap dropped into the see-through “stomach”, whose latched door we then opened to retrieve it). The “oohs” and “aahs” would have made you think she’d made the Statue of Liberty vanish and reappear right there in the classroom. She did the same thing with a yogurt cup, and got the same reaction. She did the same thing with a paper towel tube, and got the same reaction. I knew we had a hit on our hands.

This week, I returned to the classroom to help the kids build their own robots fr1-2014 April and March 217om the loot they’d fed the Collector-Bot. And what a pile it was. Thirty-odd five- and six-year-olds sat in a big circle, taking turns picking out robot parts: bodies, heads, legs, and extra bits and pieces that caught their eye. It looked to me like they were just reveling in the opportunity to play with trash. But each one chose main body parts with great thought, and it was fabulous to see their imaginations at work as they visualized the bot they would create.

Then Mrs. Kelly and I armed ourselves with hot glue guns, and construction began. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the kids at work, which is a shame, because the enthusiasm was inspiring. But I did have a chance to scribble a quote midway through. Watching me tear a scrap of tin foil from the lip of a yogurt drink container she’d chosen as her robot’s legs, one student thoughtfully said, “I have a story about that gray stuff. One time my dad left some of that gray stuff on some butter that he heated up in the microwave. It caught on fire. It was AWESOME.”

Fortunately, none of the robots caught on fire, but every single one was awesome, from the six-legged robo-deer to the Mountain Dew Monster with munching jaws; from the red-headed milk-jug robo-dog to the graceful, long-necked Minute-Maid with a turning head; from the Q-tip Crusader to the Capri-Sun Creature with the smiling mouth that opens and closes.

The kids will take them home–along with, maybe, a new way of looking at what most of us consider trash, a feeling of power that they can create fun in unexpected ways, and a realization that they can help shape their world.

My favorite moment of the afternoon came near the end when a shy, quiet boy considered his finished creation of toilet paper tubes and Chobani containers, and said to me, in a tone of deep surprise, “I didn’t think mine could turn out so cool.”

Recycle Robot League: Mission accomplished.

1-2014 April and March 2211-2014 April and March 2261-2014 April and March 2191-2014 April and March 2291-2014 April and March 225

Meet the Recycle Robots!

Meet Omega-3, Heinz, and Joebot. (copyright Betsy Andrews Etchart)

The pioneers: Omega-3, Heinz, and Joebot. (copyright Betsy Andrews Etchart)

Once upon a time, sometime in August, I made three friends.

It was not long after Mbot’s fifth birthday. It seemed all the toys he’d received at his party were breaking because they had outlived their unwritten life-expectancy of three weeks, or collecting dust, because they’d entered the boring zone.

The idea of robots originated with Mbot’s very first show-and-tell, over two years ago.

Heinz door open

On the eve of his first show-and-tell, we (I use the term very loosely) made a recycle robot for his first preschool show-and-tell–not because we were trying to be clever, but because we were panicky and desperate (again, the term “we” used loosely). I documented that event in my post, Recycle Robot vs. Sister Mary Villus. Ever since, I secretly wanted to make more.

So I’d been piling recyclables in the garage–not all of them of course, but the choice items with interesting shapes or moving parts (cardboard tubes, ketchup bottles, wipies lids), in preparation for a recycle party that we hadn’t had. I envisioned inviting over some of the bots’ friends and making cool stuff out of all the cool stuff that other people thought were trash.

We have yet to have our recycle party, but I started partying with recyclables by myself. While During the seven weeks that I was going through radiation, I promised myself that I wouldn’t push myself too hard. I wouldn’t try to make headway on any of my writing projects. I would be kind to myself. I would have fun. I decided it was time to get out the pile o’ trash. I made these three dudes as toys for the weebots. They’re all about twenty inches tall (antennae not included) and have swiveling heads, moving arms, grasping hands, and secret compartments. I avoided using brads or any metal parts, for safety reasons.

What I didn’t know before I made the recycle robots is that they would turn out to be the perfect toys. Why?

1. They are cheap. They are made out of garbage!

2. When they break, I can fix them myself, because I made them in the first place!

3. When the bots get bored with them, I can change them! They will seem new again!

4. They can serve as friends, targets for Tae Kwon Do kicks, storage containers for other toys, or piggy banks. And it’s always nice to have a friend who’s also a piggy bank.

6. They can double as décor by adding a test tube filled with water and a flower.

Heinz 2

Wouldn’t you love to have him holding out a flower to you all day? (No test tube in this picture; I added it later.)

7. They have turned my own weebots into lean, green, recycle machines; their favorite craft now is collecting junk, gluing it together, and adding eyes. They can, literally, make their own friends.

Fresh off his shift as a sparring partner, Joebot becomes a handy Lego container.

Fresh off his shift as a sparring partner, Joebot becomes a handy Lego container. (At far left, Mbot’s speedboat, complete with a hatch that opens into a raisin box filled with ninjas that look a lot like wine corks.)

My friend Solveig, who’s been around since the failed Scotch sewing machine days, dubbed the robots–and we who make them–the Recycle Robot League.

Thanks to St. Peter’s Montessori Fall Festival–where, after three weeks of collecting recyclables, the children built their own recycle robots–there are now nearly fifty members!

It is very cool to have a hungry robot bigger than yourself greet you at school!

It is very cool to have a hungry robot bigger than yourself greet you at school!

Next week, I’ll post pictures of the kids’ robonderful creations. Toilet paper tubes have never had such a shiny future.

RRL Montessori Fall Fest 11When a friend asked for step-by-step instructions so she could make them with her eight-year-old homeschooled twins, I sat down to write them, and at her prompting, made them downloadable on Etsy.com  for $.99. The process that actually made the robots better, because I wanted to make sure to include tips on how to reinforce their bods to make them as durable as possible. Because while it’s great to be able to whip out a glue gun for a quick fix, it’s even better not to have to!

My Fashion’s Wearing Off! Long Live My Fashion!

Against all odds, I remembered this morning that today is Picture Day.

I wonder that the School Picture hasn’t gone the way of the Scratch ‘n’ Sniff t-shirt in an age where a teacher can just whip out her cell phone during class and upload, but apparently, there is still a market for generic photos of overdressed children.

They are hard to take seriously.

Even so, I pulled out the bots’ wedding outfits–buttondown shirts and nice pants. We attended a beautiful family wedding this past weekend and I took no pictures, so I figured I’d let Special EFX capture the bots’ Wedding Look.

But everyone knows you do your hair first.

Mbot’s coif was in its usual morning Harry Potter look-alike mode, so I dribbled a little water on it while he was rinsing toothpaste out of his mouth, and plugged in the blow dryer. He was excited about the blow dryer. He wanted to do his hair himself. I set the switch to “cool” and figured it’d be safe to go finish packing lunchboxes.

Silly me. I’d thought “cool” referred to temperature.

Several minutes later, the following conversation ensued over the sound of the blow dryer:

Gbot: “Mbot, are you done yet? Your hair looks completely perfect!”

Mbot: “I’m trying to make a Mohawk. Where’s the water, Gbot?”

Gbot: “I can get the water cup and fill it up!”

Pause.

Gbot: “Here is the water!”

Mbot: “Okay, pour it on something!”

Gbot: “You mean your hair?”

Mbot: “No, a towel!”

Pause.

Gbot: “I brought you the towel!”

Mbot: “Now, pour water on it!”

Pause.

Mbot: “Thanks!”

Just another day at Salon des Petites Coiffeurs

Just another day at Salon des Petites Coiffeurs

Now we're gonna have to start a boy band.

Now we’re gonna have to start a boy band.

Then it was Gbot’s turn with the blowdryer.

The updo, re-imagined.

The updo, re-imagined.

Then, for some reason, perhaps because he likes playing with water, Gbot dampened his hair again.

But he didn’t realize the effect applying water would have.

Gbot: “Oh, my hair is back to curly! My fashion’s wearing off!”

Mbot: “I’m going to try to cool it outside.”

(Rushes out the front door to cool his hair.)

Mbot (rushing back inside): “Oh, I need to see if my fashion’s wearing off!”

(Disappears into bathroom.)

Mbot: “Oh! It’s not!”

hair 10

Gbot, having doused his hair again, enjoys watching Mbot trying to add more lift.

They spent the ride to school discussing which world they were going to choose to have their picture taken in. These were their world choices:

Yikes.

Yikes.

I decided that DP140 was the lesser of the cheevils (cheesy evils), because, with the fanciful mushrooms and far-off castle, at least it didn’t look like it was trying to fool us into thinking it might be real. Mbot was very excited by the possibility of going into Mushroom World. Then I had to explain to the bots that they would not, in fact, be going into Mushroom World. The mushrooms would be added on a computer. They took it pretty well. Although, when we get the pictures back, Gbot, who preferred River World, might be disappointed to find that I sent him to Mushroom World instead.

When we hugged goodbye at school, Mbot was concerned that I not mess up his hair.

Mbot: “What if someone else messes it up?”

Me: “Then just say, ‘Hands off the ‘do, Dude!'”

Pause.

Mbot: “I think I would feel a little bit foolish saying ‘Hands off the ‘do, Dude.'”

Me: “Then just ask them nicely not to touch your hair.”

And off they went, leaving me very glad I live in Bot World, and that it’s not just in my computer.

Don’t touch this. (And yes, up at the very top, that’s Gbot in the mirror, getting his fashion on.)