When I first signed up to volunteer at the after-school program, everyone was very excited to learn that I am studying chemistry, because they figured I could help implement the weekly required STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) projects. What they did not tell me, however, was that I would be leading these projects and explaining them to students.
I was caught off guard completely when I came in to work and they told me the experiment was waiting for me to prep; I didn’t know they were planning on doing a STEM project or what it was about. The second I found out, I was frantically preparing a lesson that I made up on a whim and wasn’t sure would even make sense to the students. I despise public speaking, and although I had thought about being a teacher when I was young, I really didn’t want to stand in front of these students and explain the complex chemical reactions of the experiment to them.
I looked at the materials and discovered that we were simply making slime and the procedure would be easy to follow– as long as the kids actually paid attention and listened. I set up all of the ‘equipment,’ Googled some general properties of the chemicals being used and any household products they might be used in, so that the students would feel familiar with them, and before I knew it, it was time to start.
Nervously, I approached the whiteboard at the front of the classroom where I had written the names of each substance, and drawn a basic diagram of what was happening during their experiment on the chemical level. I went through my lesson and the students already became very intrigued by what they would be doing. I kept things short and concise because I knew they really only wanted to make the slime and play with it (who wouldn’t?).
After my simple explanation, we began the experiment and the students were very excited and even asked me some very in depth questions about what they were doing. I obviously obliged with answers that I could give to the best of my abilities and we completed the experiment using the recipe given with the kit. At the end of the experiment, we realized we still had plenty of time left, so I decided to let the students create their own slime recipes to see how it changed the consistency of the slime. I explained the importance of taking detailed notes in a notebook and had the students make notes of the recipes they tried. While some scoffed at this idea, others lit up and told me they wanted to go to college for chemistry just like me because they were having so much fun with the experiment. The latter reaction was very heartwarming and reminded me why I was doing all of this volunteering.
After everything was cleaned up and the students were preparing to leave, one young girl, Joy, brought her slime over to me and said “I wanted you to have this because I can tell you truly love science and, since you didn’t get to make any yourself, you need some slime.” She smiled and handed me her slime in the heart shaped container she had brought for it. “I think what you do is really cool,” she continued, “and I think being a scientist someday would be a cool job. I might think about that.”
This interaction simply left me speechless, and I was somewhat surprised it had even happened. I had only spent a few days volunteering to help these children and already, we were all changing each others lives in both big and small ways.
I look forward to returning to the after-school program more than ever now because I always seem to leave in a much better mood despite the extreme apprehension I felt during my first visit.
How has experimenting with kindness in your own life been going? Feel free to tell your story in the comments!
**Disclaimer: Names of students have been changed in order to protect their identities.**