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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

June 2016

Kids go to work to explore urban gardening

The annual NIEHS Bring Your Kids to Work Day offered hands-on discovery of urban gardening, serving almost three dozen kids.

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.”

child playing with a test tube The young researchers added reagent to kid-safe test tubes and shook them until a color change revealed nutrient content or acidity. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Kids playing with wood chips Hands-on exploration was an effective way to learn the different materials that are combined to make compost rich in microbes. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Sharon Beard Beard was a natural with the kids, as she taught techniques for staying safe outdoors. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Heui-Chen Lao Lao, left, pointed out that different plants had varying needs for nitrogen, phosphorus, and soil acidity. “We need to understand nature to live in harmony with nature,” she said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
child and parent performing science experiment Parents and grandparents accompanied the children throughout the event, letting them take the lead as much as possible, and stepping in to assist when necessary. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
child participating at event Discovery was one of the delightful experiences the day held for kids and parents alike. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
children with parents at event Organizers ensured efficient progress through each activity, by laying out all the supplies students would need. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
child and parent performing science experiment It was another successful day of involving youngsters in science, helping them grow into science-literate citizens, and maybe even inspiring a career. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
children learning about pesticides Collins showed how children may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures, such as pesticides, with a clear illustration of the effects a drop of food coloring has in different sized containers. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Lenox)
children at Bring your Kids to Work day event The fun didn’t stop, even at the end of the day. This pose was followed promptly by one with everyone showing their silly side. Chances are, that is the photo that will be remembered. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
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