The science center, 18022 Dixie Highway in Homewood, has a giving tree decorated with cards. Patrons can select a card, buy a STEM-related toy from the HSC PopUp Science Shop and the toy will be given to a student in the Restoration Ministries after school program.
There will be an extra opportunity this week to participate as the HSC shop will be open Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 19 and 26 in addition to its regular hours of noon to 7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
HSC Administrative Coordinator Brandi Hardin can testify to the effectiveness of the STEM toys in the shop. She has been trying out some of the toys offered by the shop with her 7-year-old daughter, Kacie, who she said is “not a fan of school.”
She started with a game called Math Dice Jr., which has five traditional six-sided dice plus a 12-sided die with numerals. Hardin said the simple game worked at getting her daughter engaged in math learning.
“She lost the instructions so I made up some rules. We started playing the game and very quickly she started picking it up,” she said. “She said, ‘I can add and subtract, mommy. I’m great!'”
The two then kept the fun going by creating their own vocabulary-building game using the math dice.
That sense of excitement while learning is something Julia Martin said the kids served by Restoration Ministries in Harvey need. Martin, of Homewood, is the director of youth programs and human resources for the agency.
She noted that many of the 100 kids in the after school program have fewer opportunities for learning in part because their parents often work multiple jobs and cannot provide the resources the kids need.
She also ticks off the names of a half dozen students she knows who ended up going to prestigious colleges to major in STEM fields.
“There’s interest and there’s aptitude, but there’s not the background,” she said.
The HSC giving tree will help provide some students with a new opportunity to learn.
She said HSC has been a wonderful partner with the program, creating chances for students to explore Izaak Walton Nature Preserve, participate in HSC’s Girls STEAM Ahead event and have fun at HSC PopUp Science activities.
HSC Executive Director Edie Dobrez said the giving tree project is a real win-win situation. The non-profit science center benefits from the sale of toys, and the toys donated to Restoration Ministries provide a STEM learning opportunity for kids who need more learning resources.
“Parents can feel confident that they are shopping not only for something really fun for their child but something that’s secretly teaching them,” she said. “There’re lots of ways to inspire scientific learning, and this is another way.”