“Oh Mom, I don’t want to miss the space tomatoes on Friday!”
Not your average response from a seven-year-old in the middle of summer break. Yet that’s exactly what Taeyn told her mom, Keena, this past July. She and her friends at the Bkejwanong Children’s Centre were enthusiastic about the prospect of planting, caring for and observing the growth of seeds that Taeyn said “went to space and came back.”
Erin Kelly, the First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) Initiatives Coordinator for Let’s Talk Science, earned her nickname as “The Science Lady” by volunteering her time on weekly visits in July and August, engaging these 4 to 10 year-old children in hands-on, minds-on STEM learning activities like Tomatosphere™.
“The children benefitted in so many ways from this enhancement to our summer program,” explains Michelle Laprise and Pam Williams, two of the teachers at the centre that is nestled on Walpole Island First Nation on Lake St. Clair in Southern Ontario.
These students were among the 10,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth across Canada this year who benefitted from Let’s Talk Science’s free Outreach Programs, available to all Canadian youth and made possible through donations from caring individuals, corporations and foundations including funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
“The Tomatosphere™ research project brought meaningful work opportunities for the children—inside and outside the classroom this summer,” adds Pam. “The children learned how to grow tomato plants and their self-esteem grew too,” she notes.
“Our young people experienced a great lesson in responsibility by caring for the 50 plants they helped to grow,” Michelle recalls. “They created a watering chart and took turns following it, and made sure the plants got the sunlight they needed to grow each day. It was a terrific project to get them involved with our new Bkejwanong Community Centre Garden.”
At the beginning of the Tomatosphere™ project, Erin found a creative, concrete way to teach the children about caring for both groups of tomato seeds—those that only spent time on earth and those that had spent time in space—with the same amount of water and sunlight, so as not to skew the results of their research project.
“I helped the children organize themselves into two teams for a water race,” explains Erin. Each team’s goal was to move water from one bucket to another. While one team was given measuring spoons to use, the other was given measuring cups.
“Both teams were super excited. It wasn’t long before the team with the spoons called out, ‘Hey, they’re moving more water! Our spoons are small!’” notes Erin. “Even the little ones were saying, ‘Yeah, give me a bigger cup!’”
Tomatosphere™, by Let’s Talk Science and the creativity of Let’s Talk Science Community Outreach volunteers like Erin, inspires and engages children across Canada about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in a fun and memorable way.
The opportunity to inspire the children at Bkejwanong held a special connection for Erin, who grew up in this First Nation community and completed a B.Sc. and a B.Ed. at Western University in London, Ontario. Erin recalls finding out about Let’s Talk Science through the Indigenous Services at Western. She was eager to contribute her knowledge and skills to offer STEM-based enrichment for children in JK to Grade 12.
“Erin was a tremendous role model for our children this summer,” recalls Michelle. “She easily connected with the families here and she knew so many of them personally too. I noticed how Erin was able to capture the children’s attention, spark their interest in science, and show them how science can really be fun. They were very interested in everything that Erin brought for them to do,” she explains.
In addition to Tomatosphere™, Erin led these young scientific minds in other activities, like mixing simple ingredients to make slime and gak and comparing the different solutions; building and testing two sizes of smoke-billowing air cannons from common household objects; and testing the properties of absorption using water and materials like wash cloths and diapers.
“It was wonderful to watch their faces light up with excitement,” Erin notes. “After making their own mini air cannons out of paper, some of the littlest ones ran over to the other teachers, calling out ‘Look what I made!’ The kids were all very successful in each experiment – both in learning and having fun.”
“I think that introducing children to science in their early years is very beneficial,” says Keena, who noticed her daughter coming home and talking about the experiments each week. “Taeyn really liked the concept that she was working with tomato seeds that had been in space,” she adds.
“These hands-on activities are how children learn best. This is how they will learn to love science and the discovery process without being intimidated,” remarks Pam. “We’re all very grateful to Erin and Let’s Talk Science for this learning opportunity. We hope to have Erin back again next year.”