Marshmallows and Q-tips

When we enrolled our youngest (now 5) at her current preschool the things that really sold us on it were the merry-go-round out front and the wicked tall slide at the top of a tall tower. All the climbing bars helped too. The yard was huge and filled with all sorts of things that she could get into (healthy) trouble with.

Inside the building they had a science room with birds nests, animal skeletons, owl pellets and some kid-safe, non-toxic chemistry stuff.

They had all the usual pre-school amenities as well; teachers, food, books, musical instruments. But it was these little extras that hinted at a school that allowed and encouraged exploration, growth, and the occasional injury or sickness that really appealed to us.

Since that time a few months back I have realized, once again, that appearances are deceiving.

Yes, my daughter loves the merry-go-round, but she hasn’t been allowed to use it in months because it’s winter and they’re not going outside. (Despite snow pants, boots, gloves, hats, scarves, jackets…) Ditto the tall slide and monkey bars.

I haven’t heard much about the science room or any “spearmints” going on in there. (We do regular “spearmints” at our house, so I know I’d hear if she’d tried a new one.)

Now that winter aka “germ season” is here there are tubs of hand sanitizer littered throughout the school so that no child is ever further than arms reach from the goop. My daughter has to wash her hands so many times every day that they have begun to crack and bleed. Yet, when we sent her with a bottle of lotion to use after each washing we were told we would have to sign a waiver to allow her to use it at the school. (But anti-bacterial hand soap and hand sanitizer are perfectly OK for them to use without parental knowledge or consent. I can’t even begin to say how totally F’ed that is.)

I was coping with all of this and writing it off as “the sad new child-proofed America” when the latest assault on my child’s development came home with her.

They made sculptures at school yesterday. The materials they were given were marshmallows and… Q-tips.


Not toothpicks, like back in the day. Nope, Q-tips. Because we wouldn’t want anyone to poke their finger or get a splinter, right!?!

I can only imagine the frustration of trying to stab a marshmallow with a Q-tip and run it through. And don’t even get me started on the message there, that somehow toothpicks are more dangerous than marshmallows. Last time I checked toothpicks (properly used) actually helped prevent cavities and gum disease. No one I know ever died from a toothpick injury, however overdosing on marshmallows has been shown to lead to diabetes, heart disease, and of course, rotten teeth.

Think about it, when the Ghostbusters had to choose their own demise, it was the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man they chose, because he seemed so innocuous. How could a marshmallow man hurt anyone…

I don’t want them to do away with marshmallows as building materials. I’m glad there is at least one truly dangerous item left in the school. But ridding the school of toothpicks is ridiculous, our kids need to be learning how to navigate a world that is filled with sharp edges, pokey things, splinters, objects that will trip them up, make them fall, skin their knees, knock out teeth, break the occasional bone or worse.

Life is not all padded edges and air-bags. Life is tough, and if we keep taking away things like toothpicks our kids are going to become soft mushy little teens who become soft mushy little adults who wither at the slightest hint of danger or discomfort.

If toothpicks are so dangerous, how are we ever going to convince my daughter to pick up a scalpel and become a surgeon?



Filed under Kids

12 responses to “Marshmallows and Q-tips

  1. Great post. Oversafty drives me nuts.

    However, I’m curious. What is spearminting?

    • JaneW

      I assume “spearmint” is kidspeak for “experiment.

    • thinkbannedthoughts

      As Jane noted, “spearmint” is my kid’s word for experiment. Despite our many attempts to draw out the word when we say it, and even have our kiddos practice, “spearmint” has stuck.

      Speaking of experiments – does anyone know how to get a hold of REAL chemistry sets for kids, not just those cheesy, overpriced boxes of baking soda and beet powder that are all the rage right now!?!

      I want real chemicals that are dangerous if mixed improperly. My daughter will be 8 next year which is the age I got mine at. I still remember the first explosion…

  2. Word. Just that. Word.

    I’m so glad that a) Australia doesn’t seem to have caught the over protective bug as badly as America has (yet) and b) regardless of whether the rest of Australia has or hasn’t gone that far, the school we chose certainly does not wrap the kids in cotton wool. They even have a mud pit in the Wild Space area and one of the rules of the Wild Space is “get dirty in the mud pit.” In fact, a hot topic at the school is what kind of dirt to get carted in in order to make the best mud for the mud pit. πŸ™‚

    • thinkbannedthoughts

      Thanks so much! And yes – we think often of taking our children to places where the biggest decision of the day is what kind of dirt to use in the mud pit to create the biggest mess.
      Someday… Hopefully before they are too brainwashed to appreciate it!

      • My son even cooked soup with his class of 4 year olds last year. They let them use real knives, too. At home, a few weeks after this activity, I accidentally cut myself while cooking dinner and my son told me “That’s why I’m *really* careful when *I* use the sharp knives at school.” Yeah, thanks, kid, I really needed the lecture. LOL

    • thinkbannedthoughts

      I used to run a cooking school for kids – Playing with Food. (
      We cooked on a gas range with open flame, used sharp knives, etc. It really freaked the parents out.
      My favorite thing to teach was Stone Soup. And yes, I’d make them go out in the yard and find a stone. We’d rinse it in the sink, but not sterilize it, and then we’d use it as the base for our soup.
      Lots of talk about dirt, germs, bugs, etc. As well as minerals and the benefits of eating a little dirt now and then.
      I think that one upset the parents even more than the sharp knives their kids used to cut the potatoes for the soup!

      • How fun! I’ll do that with my son! REAL stone soup! (though our fave version of that story is Bone Soup … book)

        You don’t run the cooking school anymore?

        As for dirt, we used to wipe the dirt off fresh carrots from our garden onto our jeans before eating them. My mom was a nurse and she always maintained dirt was very good for our immune systems. Not to be confused with things like sharing microbes from getting a cold, cold sore viruses or fecal matter… πŸ™‚

        Thanks! Mmmm…. stone soup!

        • thinkbannedthoughts

          Nope, had to give up the cooking school for other roads.

          Glad to have inspired you! Stone soup is always a good time!

  3. Wow, and the funny thing is that Qtips are actually more dangerous, as the wee cotton bits can come off the ends, esp as children are likely to stick them in their mouths, esp if a marshmallow is on the end of it. I can see it now, all these kids with bits of cotton stuck in their teeth and bowels. How bizarre.

    I am changing my kid’s school next year (if we are accepted) as like you, I chose his preschool based on what I thought was a nice lived in homey atmosphere. Which turns out is just lacking in resources and personnel. 😦 Appearances (and our conclusions from them) are deceiving.

    On the other hand, our kids here were sent outside in a snowstorm at -25 celcius, which I think isn’t bad, but I was a bit surprised. πŸ™‚ Oh, and I deemed my 5 yr old old enough to cut veggies with a sharp knife last week. He’s now my super sous chef, chopping away at mushrooms, green onions, red pepper… on the way to surgery? πŸ˜€

    • thinkbannedthoughts

      LOVE IT! So glad you are encouraging your child to adventure and explore.

      We need more chefs – and surgeons! Carry on!

  4. Bee

    Yes, yes, and yes again. I remember having skinned knees all the time as a kid, and I honestly don’t remember the last time either of my children had one. There’s something kind of wrong with that.

    I taught my 11-year-old to make clam chowder a couple of weeks ago, including chopping the potatoes with my chef-quality knife. She didn’t cut any fingers off, but she did get a small burn on her finger when she poured the potatoes too quickly into the sizzling butter and scallions. The burn went away by the next day, but she’ll remember for the rest of her life why you should be careful when you’re dealing with hot grease. Worth it? You betcha.

    And if I can figure out how to repost this on my blog and link to yours, I will … so far I am not quite smart enough for that yet. (sigh)

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