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Using Shaving Cream in the Classroom

The “Shaving Cream” Article

(because trying to come up with a cute clever title just got too distracting)


By Lisa Murphy


So here’s what started to happen, I would begin to demo a shaving cream activity and as I reached for the can my brain would go into this slow-mo matrix kind of feel because I could already feel the energy change in the audience!  I would brace myself, and say (to myself)  “Here it comes!  Be ready!”  And sure enough, as soon as I would start to shake the can… BAM!   It started!!  One hand up.  Two hands up.  Three hands up!  Then I’d say to myself, “Here we go…”   And the comments that followed were always the same.




I try very hard to not displace my frustration onto the workshop participants.  They didn’t make the rule.  They are trying to figure it out.  Trying to find a compromise. Trying to change it.  (Or break it!) My frustration is typically not with people in the audience, it’s with the people (and, for the record, who are they anyway???) who are making the rules.


I look at the can of shaving cream.   I think to myself, “Good grief!  Why is it under such attack?”   I step away from the activity tables and announce, “We are now, once again, deviating from our regularly scheduled program so that you can hear my now oft-presented monologue about shaving cream!” From California to New York, from Florida to Minnesota I hear the same thing over and over… no more shaving cream.  What I do not hear is honest to goodness justifiable reasons why this (supposedly) deadly toxic hazardous substance is not allowed anymore.


In Florida this issue built so much momentum that folks actually started to think (to be told?) it was a law.  Audiences began telling me that the Florida State Department of Health had issued a statement that it was no longer OK to use shaving cream in preschools.  So I called them.  No one in the department was aware of such a statement.  I asked if they would put it in writing and mail it to me.  They did.  In a letter dated December 23, 2005 the Florida Department of Health stated, “The Department of Health/School Health Program does not establish regulations for preschools and child care facilities.”


I also called Colgate Palmolive, headquartered in New York City on December 21, 2005.   I spoke with Emily Lowenstein in Consumer Affairs who informed me that, “Shaving cream itself is non-toxic and not harmful in any way to human life.”  I asked for a follow up letter on company letterhead.  In a letter dated January 6, 2006 she wrote, “You can be assured that Colgate-Palmolive will introduce products into the marketplace only after their ingredients have established an exhaustive scientific record of safety and efficacy.”


My concern is that as early childhood educators we are giving up our power.  And, with all due respect, giving it up to people who have never done our job.  As a profession we are guilty of accepting too many rules, regulations and policies at face value (1) without being a part of their design and selection and (2) without questioning, investigating or reflecting on them prior to implementation.


Quite frankly, we let people boss us around.


Now this is not permission for us to become rude and defiant.  It is a push for everyone in early childhood to become better advocates for good policy and good practice, and to start standing up for ourselves!  The real issue at hand has nothing to do with a can of shaving cream per se, it’s about finding our collective voice and, here’s the hard part, using it.


Reality check:  Starting to question things does not mean that we spend all day challenging everything and everyone that comes into the room!  But it does mean, by golly, that if people start telling you “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” we need to start asking, “WHY?!”




So in no particular order I will provide for your information reference and reading pleasure, my stock (yet still heartfelt, honest and true) responses to the most frequent comments I get regarding the use of shaving cream in the classroom:



FIRST COMMENT:  The can says, “keep out of reach of children.”


RESPONSE:  First off, so does toothpaste and hand soap. And I don’t point this out to be snarky.  Just truthful.  If we are going to (potentially) get rid of and make rules about one of the things in the building that says “keep out of the reach of children” then I want everything in the building with that label to be treated the same way.  Not just the things that someone might find “messy,” fun, inconvenient or whatnot.


Secondly. Yes. The can does say that. (Loophole Alert!) So, keep the can out of reach of children.  When it’s time for shaving cream activities then the adults are the dispensers of the cream.  Make sure you provide enough for exploration.  If this is the compromise, take it.  It’s better than not being able to use it at all.



SECOND COMMENT:  Shaving cream is hazardous.


RESPONSE:  The cream itself is not going to kill anyone.  Unless they eat the entire can.  And really, if you are the person who would not notice a kid hunkered down in the kitchen center noshing on a plate of Barbasol, you need a new job.  Shaving cream itself is NOT a hazardous or toxic substance. If it was, people would not be putting it on their faces and legs.  If, however, you want to get technical, it is the aerosol propellant that can be considered hazardous… IF THE KIDS ARE HUFFING OUT OF EMPTY CANS!  And, again, seriously, if you would not notice a group of four-year-olds passing around an empty can in the block center… you need to be fired.


You’re welcome.







The “Irony Essay” Challenge of the Day:  Some programs are NOT allowed to use shaving cream because of the aerosol propellant but ARE allowed to use foam paint that is propelled out via (wait for it) aerosol.  Discuss.


Three “Let’s Be Proactive” Tips:  (1) Make a list of all the amazing things you can do with shaving cream.  For bonus points, drop in some of the concepts children are learning about and being exposed to when you use shaving cream in the classroom, (2) Compile letters of love from past clients, parents, families in support of activities such as shaving cream, (3) Ask to be on the agenda of your next staff meeting or school board meeting and present your findings.


A potential compromise (and/or) something neat to explore:  Use the old fashion shave cream.  The what?  Get shaving POWDER and add water and then let the children mix it in a shaving cup with a shaving brush!  This is a neat experience in and of itself!  Look for these items in a drug store or ask the pharmacist. Take pictures.  Post on your blog. Celebrate your loophole discovering ability!


Reminder of the Day: If we are going to put our eggs in the “we can’t use it because it’s hazardous” basket then we must be consistent and examine ALL the products in the school environment that have a cautionary label.  (Kitchen ingredients, bathroom supplies, bug sprays, pest control products, yard sprays & chemicals, air fresheners, cleaning products, etc.) Not just the shaving cream!



THIRD COMMENT:  But we are not allowed to use it.


RESPONSE:  Who told you that?


COMMENT:  My director, boss, lead teacher, co-teacher, principal, etc.


RESPONSE:  Who told them that?


COMMENT:  I don’t know.


RESPONSE:  Find out.


Seriously! Are you being held accountable to something that is real? And by real I mean a written policy, a handbook, a written rule, a licensing reg, etc. Or is it someone’s personal preference?  As in, “I don’t like it, so I am going to tell all the new teachers that it is not allowed, so they won’t do it, but really no one said it’s not ok, I just don’t want to be bothered.”


Find out.



FOURTH COMMENT:  Licensing says we aren’t allowed to use it.


RESPONSE:  Have you read your licensing regulations? Do you have a marked up, oft-referenced copy on hand as a go-to resource?




If you have not read your regs then someone else has all the power and you have to take their word for it.  And by “read the regs” I don’t mean memorize, I mean be familiar enough with them to know if a specific regulation stating YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO USE SHAVING CREAM is actually written in them.


The main job of licensing is to enforce the regs, not interpret them.


For what it’s worth (and I know that many of you already know this), I have recently embarked on a self-assigned project of reading the childcare licensing regs for all 50 states.  I have gotten through 28 states and NOT ONE says that you cannot use shaving cream.  If we don’t know, we cannot challenge, disagree or debate.  We have to take someone else’s word for it and too much of that can be a dangerous thing.  We must take responsibility and do our homework.



FIFTH COMMENT:  We do ECERS.  We are not allowed to use shaving cream.


SIDEBAR:  So here is something you need to know, and this is a very specific mentor-teacher, teachable moment kind of moment.  When people say this it tells me something HUGE. It tells me – and granted, potentially through no fault of their own – it tells me that they are being held accountable to a document they have not been exposed too/trained on/given a copy of/read.  And seriously, all humor aside, that’s a problem. 


RESPONSE:  Nowhere in ECERS does it say that you can’t use shaving cream.  I know this because I’ve read it.  Numerous times.  And I don’t say this to be all like rubbin’ someone’s nose in something. I say it to stress the point that the reason that I can say, with confidence, “Show me where it says I can’t use it” is not because I’m a smart mouth.  It’s because I’ve read it and because I have read it I know it doesn’t say anything of the sort.


He who owns the language owns the debate.


If you are accountable to the ITERS guidelines or the FCCERS guidelines then yes, it does specifically call shaving cream a “toxic substance.”  This means that if you are seen using it when your evaluator is on site you will get a 1 in that category.  It doesn’t say you can’t use it.  It says you will score a 1.  Choosing a 1 is different than getting a 1.  And in my world this is a matter of intention, not semantics.  So what does that mean?  It means that if I have hired a staff of people who just so happen to be up to their elbows in shaving cream when the evaluator walks in, I’d rather have a team of people who can articulate the thought process behind their choice of materials and activity than people who run and hide and freak out because someone with a clipboard walked in.  In other words, I’ll take a 1 along with articulate staff ANY DAY over staff that isn’t able to articulate what they are doing and why they are doing it.


And besides, common sense, not a policy, guidebook or regulation sheet, would dictate that we aren’t doing shaving cream with the babies.  Duh.


Moment of “Increased Inconsistency Awareness”:  And at some point we must address the fact that shaving cream will not have a negative impact on an ECERS score but will bring down a FCCERS score; even when the shaving cream is being used with children of the same age group!


I’m sure if I see you in the next few months you will get to hear my shaving cream position statement monologue first hand!  But until then, I thought I’d repost the article online so anyone who was interested could give it a read and possibly use it as a resource.  You are doing great work!  Stay strong.  Keep your chin up and know that you are surrounded by friends and colleagues who share your views and encourage your passion.


Original article © 2006 Lisa Murphy, Ooey Gooey, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Revision © 2011 Lisa Murphy, Ooey Gooey, Inc.  All rights reserved.


Lisa Muprhy, CEO & Founder of Ooey Gooey, Inc.


Ooey Gooey, Inc.

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