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Kids camps foster a love for science, learning

By Mike Frankel
December 21, 2009

Nicolas Rios. now 9. attended Youth Science Institute summer camp, where he learned from instructor Amado Hipol, above, about launching rockets with pressured water and an air pump. Nicolas, who lives in Cupertino, now loves science and nature.

Shortly before sunset, among the buckeyes and oaks alongside Vasona Lake, Nicolas Rios is bursting with information. He's explaining how this lush landscape in Los Gatos is so different from his family's third-floor apartment. He's pointing out things to touch — those cottony purple flowers called Mexican sage — and not to touch — beware of the beehive hidden in a tree stump and that clump of poison oak.

He's going on about how Mrs. Khan, his fourth grade teacher at Cupertino's Eaton Elementary, is "very sciencey," and how he caught the nature bug when he was 5 because he was "finally smart enough to take note."

Then, suddenly, for a moment, there's silence, and you wonder if Nicolas has been mesmerized by a great blue heron or a hawk soaring through the sky. Instead, he's casting his enormous brown eyes toward the ground.

"You might want to watch your step," Nicolas says . .. precisely ... at the moment ... you ... step ... in ... goose poop.

"Awareness," he says, proud of his wisdom and clean soles. "Always be aware."

Just another one of the lessons Nicolas and hundreds of other campers learn each summer at the Youth Science Institute, one of the South Bay's most beloved after-school and day camps, now in its 56th year.

If he's lucky, this summer, Nicolas, 9, may return to YSI to carve his name in wood, leach the tannin from an acorn nut and gaze up at the redwoods at Sanborn Park. He may mingle with Thor, the resident great-horned owl, or Tosh, the red-tailed hawk, or the other injured animals nursed back to health at YSI's nature centers.

He may dabble in chemistry, physics, engineering, or, of course, his favorite: bake brownies, just like he did last year, in an oven he built powered entirely by the sun.

Last Update:
5/3/11 9:58 AM

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