Ten children crowded around a table to watch a feather be dipped in water on Monday at the township YMCA. The campers are enrolled in the Junior Enrichment Camp at the Y, a daily program in which academic lessons are blended with interactive physical activities to create a 10-week summer learning experience.
The children, who are entering kindergarten or first grade in the fall, were participating in a lesson sponsored by the Siemens Caring Hands Foundation. Representatives from Caring Hands and the separate Siemens Foundation visited the Junior Enrichment Camp to demonstrate the effects of oil spills on wildlife, and teach the campers how to take care of the environment.
“They do this on a volunteer basis,” said Cindy O’Neill about the programs offered to the Junior Enrichment Camp by the Siemens Caring Hands Foundation. O’Neill is the director of operations at the Edison YMCA.
On Monday, Caring Hands sponsored an “Oil Spill Cleanup” demonstration and interactive activity. Next week, on Aug. 22, the representatives of the Caring Hands and Siemens Foundation will return to provide the kids with a “Hole in One” engineering demonstration and activity.
As part of the demonstration on Aug. 15, Ana Caneira, who oversees Caring Hands initiatives, poured oil and water into a bowl. Children watched with rapt attention as she dipped a feather into the dirtied water, with many pronouncing the resulting oily feather as “yucky.” With this demonstration, campers learned how oil spills can be damaging to birds and other wildlife.
The children were then divided into two groups and given various materials to try and remove the oil from the water.
“There’s no right or wrong answer,” Caneira told the children, encouraging them to experiment with the products to see which one was the most effective. They were given a baster, a sponge, some sawdust, twine, cotton balls, fabric and dishwashing liquid as props to soak up the oil.
“The kids are always here learning and having fun,” O’Neill said about the Junior Enrichment Camp.
She added that parents appreciate this program because it educates children while providing physical activities, as well.
“They’re very interested, they’re very curious,” said Debbie Stoler, the teacher for the children at the Junior Enrichment Camp.
She believes that providing children with opportunities to learn about STEM topics allows them to enter school with a strong educational foundation.
“It’s like they’re learning and they don’t even know it,” Stoler laughed.
Renee Molloy, the Siemens Foundation manager for philanthropic programs, administered the “Oil Spill Cleanup” activity with Caneira. She said that the Siemens Foundation and Caring Hands want to encourage children to develop a passion for science, then pursue STEM careers in the future.
“When they grow up, all the jobs are going to require this,” she said about STEM skills. “Our goal is to get out there and to get kids interested.”
After the children had tested the various methods of removing oil from water, they spent some time discussing which materials had been the most effective, answering questions from Caneira and Molloy. The two then passed out boxes of crayons, Siemens plastic water canteens, and ribbons with plastic “gold” medals that said “#1.” Having learned the techniques of cleaning up oil spills, the children were awarded for their efforts.
“We’re all winners,” one little girl shouted after being handed her medal.
Next week, Caneira said that the campers will be designing their own hole-in-one miniature golf courses in an activity that will teach engineering and physics skills.
“We’re hoping to encourage them that it is fun,” Caneira said about STEM activities for children.
Judging by the laughter of campers as they tested methods of removing oil from water, the children find learning and experimenting to be fun. With the Siemens Foundation and Caring Hands, the Junior Enrichment Camp at the Edison YMCA teaches about STEM fields in a nurturing environment.
To learn more about the STEM activities done by the children, visit www.siemensscienceday.com. Many of the activities are easy, kid-friendly and can be done at home. To learn more about Edison YMCA programs, including camps that occur during the school year, visit www.ymcaofmewsa.org.