Hands-on discovery was the name of the game April 28 when NIEHS held its annual Bring Your Kids to Work Day. Activities centered on the theme of urban gardening, providing the pint-sized participants with first-hand experience in the scientific process.
The event included almost three dozen children and was targeted at those 6 to 12 years old. Lead organizer Cathy Jamison, support services specialist in the NIEHS Office of Management (OM), worked with colleagues in the Administrative Services and Analysis Branch (ASAB), including Claire Long, A’tondra Carree, and Cynthia Radford, to plan the day.
Long reflected on the day that saw the institute brimming with youngsters. “So many adorable tiny scientists,” she said. On a more serious note, Long observed the benefits of a quality workplace for both employees and families. “We have all these brilliant scientists here, and they’re happy to spend an afternoon with kids.”
After being welcomed by Acting Executive Officer Chris Long, the kids took their parents on a photo scavenger hunt around the campus. By the end of the day, those photos had been compiled into a slideshow. The kids watched with eagle eyes, pointing out the shots they took or appeared in, and shared in the camaraderie that developed among participants.
Engaging mind and body
Activities oriented around the urban gardening theme helped build awareness of environmental health. Sharon Beard, industrial hygienist in the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) Worker Training Program, led a session on safety in the garden. She displayed personal protective equipment (PPE) items, such as safety glasses, rubber gloves, and Tyvek jackets.
As with all the activities, participation was the name of the game. “Let’s say PPE!” Beard called out. “PPE!” the kids shouted back.
Participants were asked what threats each item might protect them from. “What is something dangerous you might find in a garden?” asked Jenny Collins, program analyst in DERT. “Tomatoes,” came one enthusiastic answer. Well sure, but she also pointed out insects, poison ivy, dirt in the eyes, pesticides, dehydration, and injury from equipment or falls.
By encouraging the children to search for answers to open-ended questions, the leaders engaged imagination and wit, and helped the kids hone their scientific skills.
An activity focused on nutrients involved tests on soil for potassium, nitrogen, and acidity. Huei-Chen Lao, K-12 science education and outreach coordinator in the Office of Science Education and Diversity, explained how healthy soil was important for growing healthy food.
Once they knew the pH of one sample, Lao asked what they could say about the soil across all of North Carolina. “We don’t know yet,” said one participant, indicating that Lao’s lessons on scientific method, and cautions about drawing conclusions from observations, might be taking root.
Throughout the event, parents and grandparents accompanied the children. Program Analyst Elizabeth Ruben, from DERT, was asked if it was a problem to take her young children out of school for the day. She watched them shake test tubes, examining the color to determine nitrogen content of the soil, and replied, “They can’t learn this in school.”