Newton’s Laws of Parenting?

Before I became a Stay At Home Dad I was a teacher. I taught fifth grade for one year and then seventh grade science for five more years. I absolutely loved my teaching job as I was paid to get hormonally-challenged 12 and 13 year olds excited about science. Why would I love that? Because I got paid to blow things up and/or light stuff on fire. Okay, there was also a lot of actual scientific stuff but that’s not the point. Despite my love for fire (safety, of course!), my favorite unit of the year was the six weeks we spent on Physics, studying Newton’s Laws of Motion, among other things. I’m guessing that many of you are having trouble reading this because your eyes are starting to glaze over at the mere mention of science. Please, stay with me. I promise I’ll try to make it fun. You might even recall learning about Sir Isaac Newton, that famous guy who is credited with “discovering” gravity when he observed an apple fall from a tree. Sadly, it didn’t actually fall on his head like those Saturday morning cartoons portrayed it.

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He also contributed mightily to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century in the fields of mathematics, physics and philosophy. You might also remember learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion. Words like inertia, force, mass, acceleration, rest, motion, action, reaction. I’ll wait for you to rub your eyes. Ready? Here’s where I hope it gets fun. It dawned on me recently that Newton’s Laws of Motion could easily be applied to parenting, especially if you happen to have teenagers in your house. So,buckle up! (Yeah, that was a nerdy Newton reference. Seat belts.)

Newton’s First Law, also called the Law of Inertia. Simply put, a body at rest stays at rest and a body in motion stays in motion, unless acted upon by another force. This could be renamed the Law of Sleeping In. Or the Law of Not Helping With Chores. Or the Law of Netflix. If you have teenagers in your life then you know that asking them to do anything before noon during the summer or weekend is pretty much not going to happen. Unless it’s something that they want to do, in which case they can be up and at ’em by 7 am or earlier. Trip to Six Flags leaves at 6:30 am? No problem. Could you please take out the trash by 8 am? No way. I’ll be sleeping. The motion part of this applies to toddlers/preschoolers. Once they’re awake it’s GO TIME! There is no slowing them down. They run (or crawl) everywhere. Sit down to eat? Maybe for a couple of minutes but they’re going to be squirming the whole time. Stop playing and go use the potty? Not a chance. And don’t bother trying to get them to wash their hands. And don’t get me started on bed time. Ha! Of course, Newton understood something that we as parents often forget. We have power. Use the force! (Wrong force, but I had to drop that in there.) Amazingly enough, we can help direct our children to change what they’re doing through a variety of methods, hopefully more creative and kinder than using actual force. Unless you lick your hand…it’s a joke my 10 year old taught me. Be the force that changes lives for the better.

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His Second Law states that Force = mass x acceleration. You unknowingly apply this truth whenever you drive your car or even toss a ball to your child. If you want your car to go faster you need to press the gas pedal giving it more force. If you want to throw the ball down the hall so your kid has to go farther to retrieve it so you can play several turns on Candy Crush (shame on you, pay attention to you kid!) then you know that you have to use a small ball (less mass) and throw it with enough force. Hopefully you have good aim. But how does this apply to parenting? It doesn’t. It’s about motion. Kidding. Really, though, I like to think of this as showing that you don’t always have to use a lot of force to be a good parent. Sometimes being strong and forceful isn’t what’s needed. Maybe your kid needs you to lighten up a little bit and change the pace from the usual big bad wolf parenting that’s easily assumed. Run around with them. Have a sense of humor. Keep them on their toes. Be quick-witted. Push them to succeed without being oppressive. It’s a delicate balance that may need to be tweaked daily. If you’re too heavy-handed in your approach then you might force your child away. By the same token, you can draw your children to you (think of it as a reverse force or gravity) if you’re full of love and joy and patience.

The Third Law is the Action-Reaction Law. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” It’s rocket science. Really. Balloons whooshing through the air if you let go of the untied end after blowing it up. It’s that toy that you see with five steel balls in a row suspended by string. One of my favorite toys from my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. This one is pretty easy to apply to parenting. Ever try to tell a toddler or teenager “no”? What’s the usual response? They do the opposite. Please don’t eat the dog food. Chomp. Chomp. Please set the table. Please leave your brother/sister alone. I suppose it’s all part of the push for independence in our kids. At some point they’re probably going to have to make decisions on their own and they won’t always be the ones we would choose for them. But, here’s the thing. As parents, we can help guide the direction of our young “rockets”. They don’t have to be like the aimless balloon going crazy all over the place. With some self-control and perhaps a fair amount of tongue-biting we can help give some direction to our children, starting when they’re young and innocent and continuing on all they way into their teenage years and beyond. My oldest is 19 and moved out two days after graduating from high school about 14 months ago. Yet, my parenting with her is not finished. She still calls and texts me (almost daily!) to ask for advice or simply to talk. Just because she’s not living at home now doesn’t mean my job is finished. My influence may not be as evident with her now as it is with my toddler, preschooler or my school-age children still at home, but it’s still significant. And all six of my kids are watching my actions just as much as I’m watching their reactions. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, our actions influence the lives of our children.

I hope my nerdy application of Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion to modern parenting was as entertaining for you as it was in my mind. If you like my action here, please give me some reaction by commenting, liking or sharing this across social media.

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Book Review: Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments

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Author Mike Adamick has done it again, following up his successful Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects with the newly released Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy of his book a few weeks ago. Upon opening the package from Amazon the book was literally yanked from my hands by my children so they could check it out. It was music to my ears to hear them excitedly discussing which experiments they were going to do that afternoon. You see, before I became a Stay At Home Dad I had a short (5 year) career as a 7th grade Science teacher. So, naturally, I try to encourage the natural curiosity in my children through formal and informal experiments. One of the things that I really like about this book is that Mr. Adamick encourages us to “have fun, try, fail, learn and try again” in our experimentation. The 30 experiments are divided into five categories: Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Planet Earth and The Human Body. There are colorful pictures and excellent explanations for each experiment. As a bonus, there are several suggestions for extensions or additional challenges. Some of the labs are designed for immediate payoff and others take days or weeks to complete. As a Science teacher it was always fun to gauge an experiment’s success based on the “AAAAH” factor. Several of the experiments my kids tried delivered it in a big way.

The first experiment they decided to try was Volcano Time!, which is pictured above. We happened to have a flask in the basement so I used that to make it look more scientific. For fun I also let the kids use a tall shot glass  “graduated cylinder”. The results were similarly fantastic. While I could have done a more professional job I found it pretty nice that my kids, ages 12, 9 and 3, were able to set this up with minimal help from me. While it still worked out, I observed that using two-ply TP like we did made the experiment take a little longer. (Video of Volcano Time!) If I did it again I would simply separate the TP into one-ply thickness. And adding food coloring made it just a little bit more fun for the kids.

The second experiment we tried was the Floating Grape. Using three glasses of water we were able to successfully float a red grape at three different levels by adding varying amounts of sugar to the water, changing the density and causing the grape to float. This didn’t have the “aahh” factor but it was fun to see my 3 year old’s reaction when the grape finally floated. It took a surprising amount of sugar and she was getting a little discouraged that it wouldn’t work. But she kept going with it and, fueled by a spoonful or two of sugar in her own mouth, she achieved success! Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of the floating grapes so you’ll have to trust me that it worked.

The final experiment my kids tried for this review is another classic: Mentos and (Diet) Coke Rocket. While we had the materials at home to make the rocket, my kids lacked the motivation to actually create one. So it ended up being a Diet Coke geyser in the back yard, which was still pretty cool. (Video: Mentos and Diet Coke) The only drawback was that the person putting the Mentos into the bottle had to move away pretty quickly or get a Diet Coke shower.

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In summation, I would highly recommend getting a copy of Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments for your child(ren). You can order it on Amazon starting on April 18, 2014. But be warned: If you get this book and your kids see it they’re probably not going to leave you alone until you make a lot of fun (and possibly messy!) memories while you experiment together.

 

 

****Author’s Note****

I, Carl Wilke, am not being paid to endorse this book in any way, although I wish I were! The thoughts expressed are my own and were in no way coerced. The only “compensation” I received was a complimentary advance copy to review.