Science for Kids Sparks Insights, Enthusiasm

From surface tension, skulls, and dry ice rainbows, to the inner workings of owl pellets and polymers resembling slime, a wealth of fascinating topics were explored (and explained!) at the standing-room-only Science for Kids Fair (SFK) poster session. The hard work of students, all members of the Chester Children’s Chorus (CCC), on display marked the last week of a day camp held at Swarthmore every summer.

In addition to swimming, reading, music, and dance, the children here are immersed for five weeks in lessons including robotics, biology, chemistry, and engineering with the guidance of faculty, students, staff and alumni.  

It is an integral part of the chorus’ summer learning program, says Kirsten Halker-Kratz, executive director of the CCC.

“Science for Kids gives the children a chance to be hands-on scientists, working with some of the finest Swarthmore students and professors, learning to make thoughtful observations and wonder more about the world around them,” says Halker-Kratz. “It is an opportunity to see themselves as inventors and researchers, and that could inspire them in the years to come.”

The innovative program for fifth to eighth graders ignites and builds on an interest in science among its young participants, and it gives Swarthmore students and faculty a chance to share their knowledge and enthusiasm.

“Working with the Science for Kids program was really special because the way it’s designed really shows how much the kids are growing over the course of the summer,” says Krista Smith-Hanke ’19, a biology major from Kensington, Md. “Being able to see their interest in STEM and excitement about science increase so much in just five weeks was incredible. The kids were so fun to work with and SFK made me excited to continue being involved in science education.”

Staff and faculty attending the poster session were also engaged by the detailed presentations at Eldridge Commons.

“I go to the Science Fair every year because I love seeing the young people's energy, curiosity, and learning in action,” says Ben Berger, associate professor of political science and executive director of the Lang Center Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility. “It never disappoints. I gain knowledge, inspiration, and humility in one visit, and always leave with a bounce in my step.”

The College has hosted the program for the past 14 years, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as well as from a Class of ’66 gift that provides an honorarium for the Swarthmore students who are working with SFK, in addition to a full research stipend.

Professor of Biology Elizabeth Vallen has been instrumental in leading the program since its beginning. The experience, she says, is both a privilege and pleasure.

“The Science for Kids program has grown from one class focused on biology with less than a dozen students, to five different science levels with more than 50 students,” says Vallen. “Swarthmore College faculty, lab instructors and students get to share our love and interest in science by guiding and giving hands on experiences to the members of the Chorus. This is a benefit for both the CCC and the Swarthmore College community.”