Category Archives: Health

What’s an Appendix For?

madelineappendixWe were reading one of our favorite books, Madeline, and were wondering about something that happens to her in the story. Madeline wakes up crying and when the doctor comes he says, “Nurse, it’s an appendix!”

What is an appendix, and what is it for? Everyone is born with an appendix. It’s attached to a pouch, called the cecum, that is part of your large intestine. Your intestines are part of your digestive system, which helps you process the food you eat and eliminates waste. Nobody really knows what the appendix is for, although some scientists think it may have been used by early man “to digest tough leaves and bark.” They call the kind of organ that no longer serves a purpose a vestigial organ.

Sometimes the appendix can get inflamed and cause us to get sick, like Madeline did. Since the appendix doesn’t serve a necessary function, her doctor removed it in a procedure called an appendectomy.

Right after we were talking about Madeline’s appendix, the grandson of Madeline author Ludwig Bemelmans was on the radio, talking about his new book Madeline and the Old House in Paris. What a coincidence! We can’t wait to read it!

UPDATE: “Long denigrated as vestigial or useless, the appendix now appears to have a reason to be — as a “safe house” for the beneficial bacteria living in the human gut.” Read more at Thanks Randy, for the tip!


One of our favorite dress up games is playing Pirate. Pirates get all the cool sayings, like “Yo ho ho” and “ARRRR!” and “Scurvy knaves!” We didn’t realize scurvy was a “thing” until we saw this video on “Spongebob Squarepants”

Spots on your back and teeth falling out? Gross! And what’s that stuff about a lemon tree?

Turns out scurvy is a real disease, and spots on your skin and spongy gums (EWW!) are two of the symptoms. It happens when you don’t get enough vitamin C. Long ago pirates and other sailors who were at sea for long periods had to live off preserved foods like dried meats. They didn’t get many fruits and vegetables, and so they would develop the kinds of health problems like scurvy that happen when you don’t eat a variety of good healthy foods.

Scurvy is pretty rare in modern times. Eating a variety of fruits (especially citrus fruits like oranges and lemons) and vegetables helps, and so does taking a vitamin C supplement. Drink your orange juice and you won’t have to worry about being a “scurvy knave”!

Musical Minds

Oliver Sacks We can’t stop thinking about an episode of the PBS show “Nova” we watched a couple weeks ago called “Musical Minds”. Oliver Sacks is a famous neurologist, a doctor who specializes in treating the body’s brain and nervous system. In “Musical Minds”, he talked with a young autistic man who is a brilliant piano player, a man with Tourette Syndrome whose symptoms stop when he plays the drums, and a woman who just heard noise when someone played music for her. The coolest story was about the man who got hit by lightning and suddenly was able to play beautiful music for the first time in his life.

You can watch a video clip, read a transcript of the show, and see Dr. Sacks’ answers to viewer questions on, a great site for kid scientists to get information!

Photo credit: Mars Hill Church Seattle

Ouch, Sunburn!

We went to the beach last weekend and got a sunburn on a spot we missed with sunscreen. What causes sunburn, and how does sunscreen help stop sunburns from happening?

When you’re outside, your skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation (sometimes called UV radiation) from the sun’s rays. Even on cloudy days! Covering up your skin with long sleeves or a hat can help protect it from UV radiation and sunburn. Sunburns can be really painful, and can cause some types of skin cancer if you get too many of them in your lifetime. Some of the more common effects of a sunburn are redness, itchiness, and peeling skin. Your skin literally dries up and peels off! (EW!) Really bad sunburns, like other kinds of burns, can give you blisters on your skin.

Your skin has melanin, or pigment, that gives it color and protects it. You notice that the color of the skin on your arms is different from your friends, or even your brothers and sisters and mom or dad. If you have very pale skin, especially if you have freckles, you will be more likely to get a sunburn when you’re out in the sun. People with darker skin have more melanin. When they’re in the sun their skin may get a little darker and they’ll get a suntan. Many doctors say that even a little suntan is too much, and advise you to always wear sunscreen and a hat when you’re going to be in the sun for long periods.

Sunscreen coats your skin and blocks out the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Your bottle of sunscreen probably lists its “SPF” or “Sun Protection Factor”. The higher the SPF, the more protection it gives. Many sunscreens for kids have an SPF of 50 or higher. You need to apply more sunscreen after you’ve been swimming or if you’re sweating a lot. Staying out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. will reduce your risk of sunburn.

What Do a Chicken Pox Shot and a Boxer Have in Common?

Not long ago, we had to have a vaccination for chicken pox. Another word for vaccination is immunization. It is usually given to you by your doctor in a needle (also called a shot), and we were a little scared. It helped to know why we needed the shot.

polio_vaccination_in_sweden_1957A vaccine is usually a weak form of a virus, like chicken pox or measles. When your body detects the virus your body’s immune system learns how to fight it off, so if you’re exposed to the disease later you don’t catch it and get sick. Your body has already fought it off!

Chicken pox is one of a number of diseases that used to be common childhood diseases. Even a mild case would make you feverish and itchy for days and days. We definitely wouldn’t want to go through that! Vaccinations have helped eliminate diseases like polio, which used to be common and were very dangerous.

We think the way a vaccination works to help your body fight off disease sounds a lot like a boxer training for a fight. A boxer starts training by working out and punching a punching bag, and pretty soon he is strong enough to knock out another boxer with one punch!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Why Do We Have Feelings?

“Good Grief” by camps

Today we were wondering about feelings. It’s fun to have good feelings, like the excitement you feel when you realize the end of the school year is a few weeks away. But sometimes we have bad feelings, too.

We talked about grief, the feeling you get when you lose something, or when someone close to you goes away. Why do we have feelings like grief? Wouldn’t it be better if we never felt bad? After talking about it for a while, we decided that grief has a purpose — it reminds us to value and love our family and friends while they’re with us.

Throughout history, people have wondered about their feelings. Poets and philosophers try to make sense of how we feel. But there are also scientists who investigate the way people feel. These scientists are called psychologists. Some psychologists are like doctors for your feelings; they try to help people who feel bad. Other psychologists do research to figure out why people feel different ways in the first place.

How Do Trees and Plants Help Us?

Tree by nickatkins

When you take in a breath, what happens? If you take a big breath, you can feel air going into your body through your mouth. But why do we breathe? We breathe because our bodies need something in the air called oxygen. Oxygen is like food for our blood. You can’t see oxygen, but it’s there in the air, and people and animals need it to live.

Your body changes oxygen into a different gas called carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is what comes out of your body when you breathe out. You breathe in oxygen, and you breathe out carbon dioxide.

Trees and plants don’t breathe oxygen as we do. They take in carbon dioxide and they put out oxygen — just the opposite of people and animals. So having lots of plants around is good for people and animals — plants and trees make the oxygen that we need to breathe.

How Do Doctors Learn About the Body?

Doctors know a lot about how to help people who are sick or injured. But how do they learn how to help people? It takes years of special schooling to learn how to be a doctor. In medical school, doctors learn about peoples’ health from books and classroom discussions, but they also learn by doing experiments, just like other scientists.

To really learn about what’s inside our bodies, student doctors sometimes cut up dead bodies. Bodies that are used by student doctors are called cadavers. Before they die, people sometimes give permission to medical schools to use their bodies to teach doctors. Cutting up a dead body may seem gross, but doctors become accustomed to it. Using cadavers is the best way for a doctor to learn what goes on inside our bodies.

Why Do We Bleed?

You’ve probably noticed that sometimes when you cut yourself, blood comes out. But what is blood, and why does it come out when we cut ourselves?

Blood is made of many different parts. These parts of the blood are tiny — smaller than you can see. One part of blood is made of red blood cells which carry the air you breathe throughout your body. Red blood cells also give blood its red color.

Blood Cells

You can see what blood cells look like under a microscope in the picture at right. (Because this picture was taken by a microscope, which makes tiny things look much larger, the cells look bigger than they do in real life.)

When you get a cut, sometimes tiny creatures that are too small to see can try to get inside your body through the cut. If some of these creatures get into your body, they can cause an infection, which makes the cut hurt a lot more. Your blood helps keep those bad creatures out. There’s another part of your blood, called white blood cells, which help keep the bad guys out of your body. Like red blood cells, white blood cells are also too tiny to see. The job of a white blood cell is to prevent bad creatures from coming into your body through a cut and infecting you.

Whenever you cut yourself, you should get help from an adult (like one of your parents or a teacher) to clean the cut and put a bandage on it.

Getting a cut is no fun, and you probably don’t like to see blood come out when you cut yourself, but remember that the blood is there for a good reason.