Science camp shows kids different side of kitchen

Erin Wood

Lauryn Ross didn't mind the "The Rise and Fall of Raisins" or "Purple Cabbage Magic," but her favorite of the day was "Strange-Colored Celery."

These titles might seem like contenders for a grocery store theme song, but they're actually just a few of the experiments 9-year-old Ross and her fellow mini-scientists conducted Thursday afternoon. After just an hour, Ross was so full of newly absorbed information she couldn't pick out her favorite part of the lesson.

"I learned a lot of neat stuff," she said. "Salt and pepper sticks to a dry spoon. Corks come from trees, and eggs float on salt water."

Ross and about 20 other young girls experimented with a wide array of kitchen materials from vegetables to molasses before discussing their observations and recording them in their booklets.

The group of girls is part of 3,000 other local first- through eighth-grade students taking part in a summer treasure hunt sponsored by the Peoria Academy of Science. Participants received booklets in May challenging them to do simple science experiments and visit a variety of central Illinois sites.

"It gives them an opportunity to discover," said Roseann Tomko, president of the Peoria Academy of Science and leader of Thursday's experiments. "They're a really hands-on group."

For the more than 10 years the summer scavenger hunt has been around, kids have mostly accomplished it by themselves, Tomko said. But the South Side Mission decided this summer to get its roughly 100 day camp children involved as a group.

The campers often load up on buses and visit various local treasures, such as the United States Department of Agriculture research laboratory, Forest Park Nature Center and even Springdale Cemetery.

The scavenger hunt participants are required to visit at least eight of 20 sites listed in the booklet, but the kids of the South Side Mission day camp, a low-cost, summer-long program, already have hit at least a dozen places.

"Some of these kids have never gotten the experience to get out of the comfort zone of their own neighborhood," said Sheree Lyles, associate executive director of youth services for the South Side Mission. "We're keeping them really, really busy."

Thursday's classroom experiments accomplished another part of the scavenger hunt booklet, which the participants will turn in at the end of the summer. At the end of the summer, prizes ranging from gift certificates to personal computers will be given out to 100 winners.

Mz. Dnija Johnson, 8, raised her hand just about every time Tomko asked a question or needed volunteers. Her favorite experiment was "The Liquid Sandwich," which showed that water, oil and molasses separate when poured into a glass. Johnson said she likes summer camp, even though she has to spend some days in a classroom.

"I like this better because we're always doing stuff with our hands," she said. "And we don't always have to work."

Erin Wood can be reached at (309) 686-3194 or