By Jeffery Head
Considering that my lab is tucked neatly away in building 6B, it is somewhat unsurprising that prior to November of last year I had never even heard of the Children’s Inn. As far as I was concerned, the NIH campus consisted only of the monolithic Clinical Research Center, the cafeteria in building 31, and a whole bunch of other buildings that could all be completely empty as far as I knew. That is why I am thankful a fellow postbac convinced me to stray from the comfort of the building 6 complex and head over to the Children’s Inn to teach science experiments to some of the kids staying there.
The first time we went I was nervous and couldn’t stop wondering if all of the experiments we had planned would just fall flat on their face. Our participation was not compulsory—we were only going to be doing a few basic and fun experiments—and yet I was still afraid of disappointing a group of five- to ten-year-olds. What I thought was sure to be an hour of my partner and I obviously faltering in our attempts to get these kids excited about science (as I had seen far too many a substitute teacher do in middle school) turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve had at the NIH to date.
The kids were eager to participate and seemed genuinely interested in understanding why the reactions they were seeing were happening. They especially never got tired of hearing (or seeing) why dry ice combined with water produced so much “fog” (pictured above). Although it would be a stretch to say that these experiments sparked the children's lifelong love of science, I can’t help but hope that some of what they learned will stick with them.
As idealistic as this hope may be, one thing is certain—the kids are always amazed with what you show them and love the attention of every volunteer. Seeing firsthand how I could personally bring even a little joy to kids faced with unimaginable difficulty has made me feel a stronger connection with the mission of our research here at the NICHD, and I would highly recommend that everyone try leading a session.
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