Wednesday, June 17, 2015


My husband often says that my metaphor for understanding health and nutrition is the best parenting tool I have come up with so far. It all started a few years ago when we watched an episode of Curious George called "The Inside Story." The story is a bit like the Dennis Quaid/Martin Short/Meg Ryan movie from the 80s called "Innerspace." Curious George has a dream where he shrinks down and has an adventure inside his body where he meets a blues-singing germ called "Toots." That episode was a jumping off point for me. Since then my metaphor has snowballed into a very powerful tool for discussing health, nutrition, disease, medicine, and so much more. It is, of course, based on preschool engineering concepts.

Toots and the Germettes, Curious George episode 66, "The Inside Story"

The Cast 
Good Toots is a germ that lives in your body. He has a large family and a lot of friends. They all have jobs to do. Some build block stacks; some keep the hoses clear of debris; some fight off Bad Toots.

Bad Toots is a germ that lives outside your body. He also has a large family and a lot of friends. They all have different mischief they like to get into. Some knock down block stacks; some make giant piles of block stacks where they don't belong; some just like to fight Good Toots.

Good Toots and his friends like a balanced diet. They need all sorts of materials for making block stacks and other structures in the body. Just like us! We like to have Squigz, Twigs, Magna-Tiles, and Legos at our disposal. Good Toots needs protein, calcium, and vitamins and minerals. Good Toots and his buddies like colorful blocks, too. The only way he and his good buddies get the materials they need is if we eat the right food. So that is why it is important to eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, potatoes, bread, meat and cheese. It is also why we need to be sure to drink a lot of water.

Bad Toots and his friends like sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. If it is on your teeth then Bad Toots has a party there and gets all crazy and ends up punching holes in your teeth. If it is in other parts of your digestive system then he gets all crazy there. Bad Toots is made stronger by sugar so we have to be careful about how much sugar is on our bodies for him. If all the Good Toots have enough of their favorite foods then they are strong enough to fight the Bad Toots team.

In this metaphor, medicine nominally receives the same treatment as nutrition. Good Toots needs the right building blocks to keep very dangerous and common Bad Toots away. I realize that this isn't biologically correct but it serves the purpose of making information accessible to my young children.

The Good Toots team is essentially a team of engineers. Using calcium they make block stacks of bones. Using oil (from fish) they keep the gears in your head spinning smoothly. Some are in charge of transportation and send the appropriate blocks through your arteries and veins to where they need to be. Electricians are in charge of the electrical signals sent to and from your brain. Others are soldiers who need to search and destroy any Bad Toots that infiltrate your body.

The Bad Toots teams accounts for most diseases. Cancer Bad Toots makes huge messes of block stacks where they don't belong. Party Bad Toots like to get silly on your teeth and end up knocking holes all over the place. Flu Bad Toots block the path to your stomach and throw building blocks (the ones you are eating to give to Good Toots) right back out of your mouth.

Some Examples
Here are a couple short stories about how I use this metaphor...

Eating Healthily
"I don't want to eat my fruit," says Mikey.
"But Good Toots needs all kinds of building materials. And you haven't had any fruit yet today. Please give him some fruit," I reply.
"Ok," concedes Mikey.

"Why does ___ have to go get medicine every day?"
"Because there are Cancer Bad Toots in his/her body and the Good Toots team need special materials that only doctors can give."

Good Toots in Action
The other day my daughter fell on the cement. Her knee got a good scrape. "It is HOT!" she cried through tears.

I turned and looked at her and said, "Good toots is rushing to your skin! They are running fast and fighting all the Bad Toots who are trying to get in. They are moving so fast that they are getting hot (just like you get hot when you run)." I go on to explain (again) that we put bactine and/or neosporin on the wound to get important block stacks to the Good Toots team as quickly as possible." (I animated the story with fighting punches and exciting voice changes.)

Later, in the bath...
"Look Mama, what are these bumps on my knee?" said Anna.
I reply, "At the end of the battle Good Toots set up construction cones and a protective fortress (scab) so they can work to fix the skin-block-stacks. When the boo boo is all healed, Good Toots will take down the construction cones (just like the road workers we've been watching work) and move on to other work."

And On and On
So you can probably see why my husband loves this metaphor. It is powerful, versatile, and has helped us to be persuasive. It has helped us explain difficult subjects. Plus, it is fun to use!

Tell me...what metaphor have you used to help parent and/or educate your young child?

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