Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's time for a Green Halloween®

[Note: The following article, in slightly different form, first appeared at Natural Family Online in 2007. At that time, I was fortunate enough to interview Corey Colwell-Lipson as she began her adventure with Green Halloween®. Today, Celebrate Green! has nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter. Corey and her mom Lynn have been interviewed by such journalistic heavyweights as U.S. News and World Report, National Public Radio, and ABC News, along with many other media outlets. I remain awed and impressed with Corey and Lynn's perseverance and tenacity. Despite their new-found fame, the message of Celebrate Green! remains profound, yet simple: Let's create eco-friendly, sustainable holidays.]


It’s nearly dusk on Halloween and, once again, you’re running behind. You sprint into the nearest grocery store and scan the shelves, looking for something to hand out to your trick-or-treaters. You find your resolve weakening. Sure, you’d like to hand out treats with less packaging, something not laden with sugar. But the bulging bags of candy look so tempting …

Hold it right there. With a little help from Green Halloween®, an eco-friendly, not-for-profit movement, you can avoid this situation entirely.

What is Green Halloween®? Founder Corey Colwell-Lipson puts it this way. “Green Halloween® is a community movement to create child and Earth-Friendly holiday traditions, beginning with Halloween. Green Halloween® incorporates choices from at least one of three considerations: child-friendliness (including health), Earth-friendliness, and people-friendliness (the people who grow or make the products we buy or use). Ideally, Halloween choices and purchases would take all three areas into account but that is often hard to do. We suggest that families do what they can and what will make their Halloween and their consciences happy.”

Corey Colwell-Lipson was inspired to start this grassroots movement while taking her daughters trick-or-treating in 2006. While most houses handed out typical sugary Halloween fare, a few gave her daughters non-sweet treats like bubbles and stickers. As she recalls on her website, “I was so thrilled that someone thought outside the candy-box.”

She vowed to visit these homes the next year, but soon forgot which ones they were. An idea dawned. “I mentioned to a nearby parent, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there were a sign you could place on your door or window that notified trick-or-treaters that their upcoming treat would be healthy?’ This way, parents could seek out those homes and turn trick-or-treating into a scavenger hunt – a hunt for treasures rather than treats.” And thus, a community movement was born.

Green Halloween® launched in 2007 in the Seattle, Washington area. Local businesses jumped on the bandwagon, asking to use the Green Halloween® logo for their products. “[We want to] make our logo a recognized symbol which will be used on holiday products such as for trick-or-treating, birthday and holiday gift bags items, and stocking stuffers,” says Colwell-Lipson. “[In 2007, you saw] our logo on a few items. [Now], we hope that our logo will be meaningful to the masses: when parents see our logo, they’ll know that the item they are buying meets our standard of child/planet/people friendliness. In addition, whenever our logo is used, a portion of the sales of that product will go towards helping others and or our planet.”

Colwell-Lipson was encouraged by the response she’s received from other parents, local organizations and businesses. She decided to tackle other holidays next. She and her mother, Lynn Colwell, co-wrote Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Traditions and Celebrations for the Whole Family and launched the Celebrate Green! website in 2008.

“The use of petroleum, palm oil and non-recycled tree products are examples of unsustainable practices that we hope to change,” she says. “All traditional holidays, including Halloween, make ample use of products made from these unhealthy or environmentally unfriendly materials, and yet numerous alternatives exist. Our planet has a limited ability to regenerate itself. [We seek] to reduce our eco-footprint by using our collective creativity, flexibility and common interest in the planet to create new holiday traditions while maintaining the heart and soul of our holidays.”

She adds, “My broader goal is to integrate easy, affordable, fun, kid and Earth-friendliness into all holiday traditions such as birthdays and Christmas. I hope that being ‘green’ all year long will become a notion embraced by mainstream America.”

So, how can you get started this Halloween? Here are just a few ideas from Green Halloween®:
* Make your own bags to take trick-or-treating.

* If you are hosting a party, keep your focus on fun rather than treats. You might dunk for apples or build your own scarecrow.

* Hand out items to trick-or-treaters that are environmentally sustainable, healthy for kids, and made using fair work practices. Think spinning tops, stickers, or seashells over candy.

* If your heart is set on handing out candy, Colwell-Lipson suggests Endangered Species Chocolate (a portion of the proceeds go to charity) or Yummy Earth’s candy drops.
Colwell-Lipson says, “Putting some green into your Halloween does not have to be difficult or costly. In the continuum of being green, all families can hop on board! You can start wherever you already are. For example, if your family already eats organic and shops mostly locally, Green Halloween® offers additional ways you can make your holiday even healthier and more green … If your family has yet to try healthy alternatives, this is a great year to start!"

"The Green Halloween® website offers even green-newbies fun, easy and affordable ways to start new holiday traditions your whole family will enjoy,” says Colwell-Lipson. Visit Green Halloween® and download a Guide for Parents (this is a .pdf file) or stop by Celebrate Green! for other green holiday ideas. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wishing you a happy fall ...

Today, I watched my kids enjoy autumn. One of our little friends wanted to share and dropped a pile of leaves in Baby Princess' lap. It was fun to watch her lift each crisp leaf with an awed expression ... until she put one into her mouth! Oh, what a face she made! (Don't worry, I took the leaves away from her soon after.) Meanwhile, the boys were having "leaf fights" and enjoying burying each other and their friends in piles upon piles of fall leaves.

Little Brother buries Kerm in leaves

Wherever you live, I hope that you are taking the time to enjoy the season that you are in. Today was a good reminder for me that I don't usually take enough time to smell the roses ... or roll in the leaves.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Send your teacher to school!

Calling all 3rd to 5th grade teachers in the U.S.! This is the last week to apply for the free, all-expenses paid science training to be held at the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy next summer. One hundred teachers will get to spend five days at the Liberty Science Center networking and learning new ways to teach science using math. Send your teacher a note to let them know about the training! The last day for teachers to submit an application is October 31, 2009. Good luck!

Photo credit: Kristine Breen, (photo cropped by Mama Joules)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week!

What a busy week this is! In addition to being National Chemistry Week in the U.S. and Waste Reduction Week in Canada, my friends at the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning have reminded me that October 18-24, 2009 is also National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, "childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children" and yet it still affects over one-quarter of a million of kids in the United States. The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning says that "[l]ead poisoning is the number one environmental hazard threatening children throughout the United States."

Why is lead still a problem? I thought we banned it years ago.

Historically, lead was used in just about everything, including pesticides, pipes, gasoline, paint, and batteries. But two sources — leaded gasoline and lead-based paint — caused most of the remaining exposure risk in the U.S. today.

The U.S. government's ban on leaded gasoline in motor vehicles didn't fully go into effect until 1996. Prior to that time, exhaust from cars released lead onto roadways and adjacent soils.

Lead-based paint was banned from U.S. residential use over 30 years ago. But homes built before 1978 often contain lead-based paint. Home renovations can disturb lead paint lurking just below the surface. It is difficult to safely remove it. Traditional paint removal techniques, like dry sanding, are not recommended. Once released, lead dust can spread throughout your house, contaminating everything.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently passed a new rule requiring that contractors be certified in lead-safe practices before renovating or repairing buildings that may contain lead paint. This rule goes into effect next year.

How can exposure to lead affect me?

Our bodies mistake lead for the beneficial (and chemically similar) elements of calcium and iron. The human body can store lead in bones and teeth in place of calcium. Lead can be found in the bloodstream, substituting for iron. The effects of lead on the human body are most pronounced in the central nervous system.

The more lead in your system, the greater your risk for having adverse health effects, like cognitive impairment, headaches, irritability, stomach upset, learning disabilities, and seizures. These effects are most pronounced in children. Pregnant women exposed to lead can suffer from stillbirths and miscarriages.

I think my family may have been exposed to lead. What should I do?

Visit your doctor. Request a blood-lead test to put your mind at ease. Fortunately, the test is simple, involving a simple finger prick or blood draw.

Feed your family a good, nutritious diet high in calcium and iron. The more calcium and iron in your system, the less likely that your body will take up the lead.

Maintain your home.
If you think that your home contains lead-based paint, damp-mop areas that may contain lead dust, like windowsills or doorways.

Keep dirt outside. Have family members remove their shoes when coming in from the outdoors. Wipe the paws of your pets before they come inside. Wash your hands after gardening or playing in the dirt.

Avoid cheap costume jewelry. Some items, simply put, are frequent offenders of the lead paint ban. It is best to avoid giving them to children. If you have concerns about a toy, check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if it has been recalled.

For more information:

Visit The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning for more tips on how to protect your family.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer these Lead Poisoning Prevention Tips.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an entire section of their website devoted to the topic of lead. They also have a nice page detailing different Lead Prevention Week activities scheduled across the country.

Portions of this post previously appeared in Blood Level Basics: What You Really Need to Know in the October 2006 issue of Washington Parent magazine.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Waste Reduction Week 2009

Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street has been spotted roaming the Great White North again, and you know what that means. It's time for Waste Reduction Week in Canada!

The beloved spokes-muppet was reported missing at the end of September, and video has cropped up on the Waste Reduction Week website indicating that Oscar is secretly learning about trash in Canada. So far, he has been spotted in Toronto and Vancouver.

You, too, can learn about the 3 R's -- reduce, reuse, and recycle. Visit Waste Reduction Week to download a resource kit for your school (this is a .pdf file) with forms to complete a waste assessment and ideas for a waste reduction action plan. You can also learn how to make recycled paper, build a composter, enjoy fun and games, and more.

(My thanks to The Muppet Newsflash for reminding me about this important annual event.)

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Waste Reduction Week 2008

Save Your Trash

Reduce comes first for a reason

Got waste? Check out TerraCycle!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Get ready for National Chemistry Week!

National Chemistry Week is a community-based annual event hosted by the American Chemical Society. The theme for this year's National Chemistry Week, running from October 18-24, 2009, is "Chemistry -- It's Elemental!" to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Periodic Table of the Elements.

The ACS has some great stuff on their website, including this free 12-page chemistry booklet, an interactive periodic table that can be printed in different languages, and October's issue of ChemMatters, which celebrates National Chemistry Week with games and articles (you can order a free copy using the “subscribe” link). For more fun, be sure to drop by ACS's Science for Kids section.

Looking for multimedia about chemistry? Check out Bytesize Science, over 40 short video and audio clips by the ACS on topics like honeybees, allergies, yak cheese (!), and the artificial mouth. Also, MEET ME AT THE CORNER has released a short video about perfume in honor of National Chemistry Week.

(My thanks to Donna Guthrie of MEET ME AT THE CORNER for letting me know about this event.)


P.S. I can't resist adding this. Check out this video and Meet the Elements!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What is global warming?

Climate change is impossible to avoid. Scientists know that the Earth has been both colder (think Ice Ages) and warmer (the days of Titanoboa) at different times in the past. When people talk about the problem with climate change, though, they are talking about the recent, rapid increase in temperature across the planet. The majority of scientists think that the rate of change is unnaturally fast because of things people are doing, like burning fossil fuels (such as gasoline and coal).

Why does burning gasoline make a difference to the planet? When talking about climate change, it helps to remember that the Earth is a closed system. We only have so much carbon on our planet. Some of it is in solid form -- carbon-based life forms like you and me and the trees outside -- and some of it is in the atmosphere in gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4).

When we burn fossil fuels, carbon that was in a solid form is released and enters the atmosphere. Atmospheric carbon can then be "breathed in" by trees, grasses, and other plants to enter a solid form again. This is a rather simplified version of the carbon cycle. (In the real-life model, there's a bunch of carbon "missing" -- unaccounted for in the cycle -- and no one knows exactly where it is going [although forests seem a likely place]. But that's a topic for another blog post!)

Image credit: NASA, revised version obtained through Wikipedia Commons

The problem with the carbon cycle is that we are changing the ratio of solid carbon to gaseous carbon. When we use drive a car, cut down trees, or burn coal to heat our house, we are moving carbon to the atmosphere. Carbon isn't leaving the atmosphere as fast as it's entering it. And that's a problem.

Carbon dioxide, along with other gases in the atmosphere, acts like a shield. The sun's rays deliver heat to the Earth's surface, but the heat gets trapped in the atmosphere. Just like in a greenhouse, this reflected heat bounces back down to the earth's surface. This warms the Earth, which is a good thing because it keeps us from freezing. But adding too much carbon dioxide to the mix makes the Earth's atmosphere trap too much heat, which causes temperatures to rise. This is known as the greenhouse effect.

Image credit: NASA (taken from a 2002 online press release)

Scientists that study the atmosphere can show that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are steadily and rapidly increasing. No one knows for sure how the Earth will adapt to these changes.

Image credit: Dr. Pieter Tans, NOAA/ESRL (

Think of the earth as a big mixing bowl. The sun's rays are beating down on the Equator, heating up the middle of the planet, while the poles are cold and snow-capped. These differences in temperature drive our weather.

Now, let's say that global warming has increased temperatures around the world. This may not seem like much of a problem at first, especially if you hate winter. But here are three specific concerns:

1) The Earth's weather is going to change. The polar ice caps are melting. The mechanism that drives our weather -- these differences in temperature across the globe -- has been altered. The ratio of the earth's liquid water to ice has changed. These changes are affecting the world's weather. And we have little control over the changes.

South Cascade Glacier, Washington State, United States.

Photo on top taken in 1928, photo on bottom from 2006. Note that the lower part of the glacier has melted by 2006.

Photo credits: 1928 - USDA/USGS; 2006 - USGS, cropped by Mama Joules)

Weather is not easy to predict as it is. Adding more confusion isn't going to help us develop good climate models. Although we have ideas, we don't know exactly how the weather is going to change from increased temperatures. As anyone who's watched a weather forecast knows, climate models can only predict so much.

Sometimes, a model completely fails to guess what's going to happen. Climate models are at risk of failure because so many factors (even the amount of volcanic ash in the sky) drive climate change. We know that weather can cause big problems -- things like typhoons, tornadoes, flooding, and drought. If we can't plan for the future, we will be unprepared for disaster when it strikes.

2) Some plants and animals may face extinction. The rate of temperature change might be too rapid for some species on Earth to adapt. Animals that currently live in the coldest climates on Earth -- like polar bears and penguins -- have no where else to go.

Photo credit: Dave Olsen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

3) The composition of ocean water is changing. Melting polar ice caps create another problem -- they decrease the salinity of the Earth's oceans. The increase in planetary carbon dioxide is also changing the ocean's acidity. The plants and animals that live in the ocean are at risk from these changes. These changes may also affect the way that the ocean functions, like how it deals with pollution or how nutrients cycle through the marine ecosystem.

What can we do? These problems facing our planet can seem overwhelming. But here are some concrete things that you can do to make a difference:

Learn about the greenhouse effect and climate change. Over 7,000 blogs have chosen today, Blog Action Day 2009 to focus on climate change. Check them out!

Reduce your carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases (like CO2) that is being released into the atmosphere because of your behavior. If you carpool, turn off the lights, recycle, and shop locally, you will be reducing the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere.

Let your voice be heard! Join organizations that are working to understand climate change. As soon as you are old enough, vote! Support candidates that understand the environmental problems facing our planet.

Study science, math, and engineering. Scientists are already finding ways to sequester carbon (moving carbon from the atmosphere back into a solid form). Someone like you can invent a new and wonderful way to help address our planet's carbon problem!

(My thanks to Kerm and Itinerant Cryptographer for providing helpful comments on early drafts of this post.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change

Over 6000 bloggers have signed up (along with me!) to write about climate change on October 15, 2009 for Blog Action Day 2009. One of the goals of this campaign is to draw attention to -- and show support for -- the international United Nations climate change negotiations planned for this December in Copenhagen.

Want to add to the global conversation? Join me and sign up today!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Website of the Week: Neuroscience for Kids

I haven't posted a Website of the Week in awhile, but I couldn't resist this one. Alexandra at Happy Hearts at Home pointed me toward this great page of neuroscience coloring pages which are part of Neuroscience for Kids, the brainchild of Dr. Eric Chudler of the University of Washington.

The brains behind this site have thought of everything:
*Check out these experiments and lesson plans.

*Explore the nervous system.

*Color a neuron or brain online.

*Solve an online jigsaw puzzle and send the resultant wacky brain-themed postcard to a friend.

*Watch the BrainWorks TV show!


*Don't miss these brain-themed creative writing projects.

This year's drawing contest is over (check out the wonderful drawings of the brain!), but the Neuroscience for Kids Poetry Contest is coming in November 2009. (Yes!!)

Get a head start on next year's Brain Awareness Week (March 15-21, 2010) with these brainy lesson plans. And if you're near the University of Washington, mark your calendar now to attend next year's Brain Awareness Week Open House on March 11, 2010. Information about registration will be available soon.

If you've got a neurology question, head over to the question/answer page, where Dr. Chudler and his staff will pit their brains against your questions.

Does Neuroscience for Kids grab you, too? Sign up for the free newsletter to stay informed. (I think I'll do that now!)

Look! My synapses are on fire!

Image credit: (top) Neuroscience for Kids website, (bottom) titus tscharntke, through
Bad joke courtesy of Mama Joules

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Homeschooling & science

I found this article through Happy Hearts at Home and I thought it might be helpful to some of my readers. I was struck by Landry's comments about science education.


This article may be published on web sites and
in publications as long as it's reproduced in
its entirety, including the resource box at the end
of the article. Thanks!

College Professor Critiques Homeschoolers
copyright 2009 by Greg Landry, M.S.

I teach sophomore through senior level college
students - most of them are "pre-professional"
students. They are preparing to go to medical
school, dental school, physical therapy school,

As a generalization, I've noticed certain
characteristics common in my students who were
homeschooled. Some of these are desirable,
some not.

Desirable characteristics:

1. They are independent learners and do a great
job of taking initiative and being responsible
for learning. They don't have to be "spoon fed"
as many students do. This gives them an advantage
at two specific points in their education;
early in college and in graduate education.

2. They handle classroom social situations
(interactions with their peers and professors)
very well. In general, my homeschooled students
are a pleasure to have in class. They greet me
when the enter the class, initiate conversations
when appropriate, and they don't hesitate to
ask good questions. Most of my students do
none of these.

3. They are serious about their education and
that's very obvious in their attitude, preparedness,
and grades.

Areas where homeschooled students can improve:

1. They come to college less prepared in the
sciences than their schooled counterparts -
sometimes far less prepared. This can be
especially troublesome for pre-professional
students who need to maintain a high grade
point average from the very beginning.

2. They come to college without sufficient
test-taking experience, particularly with
timed tests. Many homeschooled students have a
high level of anxiety when it comes to taking
timed tests.

3. Many homeschooled students have problems
meeting deadlines and have to adjust to that in
college. That adjustment time in their freshman
year can be costly in terms of the way it affects
their grades.

My advice to homeschooling parents:

1. If your child is even possibly college
bound and interested in the sciences, make
sure that they have a solid foundation of
science in the high school years.

2. Begin giving timed tests by 7th or 8th grade.
I'm referring to all tests that students take, not
just national, standardized tests.

I think it is a disservice to not give students
timed tests. They tend to focus better and score
higher on timed tests, and, they are far better
prepared for college and graduate education if
they've taken timed tests throughout the high
school years.

In the earlier years the timed tests should allow
ample time to complete the test as long as the
student is working steadily. The objective is for
them to know it's timed yet not to feel a time
pressure. This helps students to be comfortable
taking timed tests and develops confidence in
their test-taking abilities.

3. Give your students real deadlines to meet in
the high school years. If it's difficult for students
to meet these deadlines because they're
coming from mom or dad, have them take
"outside" classes; online, co-op, or community

Greg Landry is a 14 year veteran homeschool dad
and college professor. He also teaches one and
two semester online science classes, and offers
free 45 minute online seminars..

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thinking about "improbable research"

Are you familiar with the Nobel Prize, that wonderful award which caps a great scientist's career? Well, how about the Ig® Nobel Prize?

Yesterday, Improbable Research awarded the 19th First Annual Ig® Nobel Prizes. How were the winners chosen? According to their website, "[i]mprobable research is research that makes people laugh and then think."

Improbable Research finds the most unusual studies in over 20,000 publications and summarizes those most worthy in the Annals of Improbable Research. The best part? Each magazine comes complete with this handy-dandy Teachers' Guide.

This year, one of the Ig® Nobel prize winners was a UK team that discovered named cows produce more milk than unnamed cows. I loved this researcher's response to finding out that her group was a recipient. As reported by the BBC, she said that she was a great fan of the prize. She then praised UK dairy farmers for their humane treatment of their animals. Finally, "Dr. [Catherine] Douglas dedicated the award to Purslane, Wendy and Tina - 'the nicest cows I have ever known'."

If you happen to be in Cambridge, MA this Saturday, head on over to MIT for free seating at the Ig® Informal Lectures and learn more about this year's prize winners.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Design a poster for the National Zoo!

If you are between the ages of 8 - 14 and live in the United States, consider entering the poster contest at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Copies of the winning poster will be displayed at the zoo and at schools in the DC area. You and your poster could be honored at a special ceremony and you would win a gift basket with six tickets to this year's opening night of ZooLights!

According to the website, in order to be chosen, your poster must be the best at showing these three things:

* the Zoo is a wonderful place to see animals, trees, and plants,
* does a lot to save wildlife,
* and is always FREE.

Your poster must be at least 8.5" x 11" and no larger than 11" x 17". You can scan your work and enter online, mail in your entry (you'll need to include this entry form -- this is a .pdf file), or you can hand in your work at the Visitor's Center at the zoo. Contest entries must be received by November 12, 2009 and you can enter more than once.

Good luck!