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Science Center Camps Look To Fight The 'Summer Slide'

  On second pass, 4-year-old Neyra Mesic was ready.

“I want a worm,” Mesic said, pulling her thumb from her mouth. She tugged on teacher Wendy Brenneman’s red canvas blouse. “I can do it now.”

Brenneman set a wriggly, brown garden worm on a damp paper towel next to Mesic. Like all the preschoolers attending summer camp Wednesday at the Carnegie Science Center, Brenneman warned her, “We like worms; be gentle.”

Brenneman, the center’s early childhood coordinator, said she’s accustomed to answering the tough questions. What do worms eat? Do they have tongues? How do they slither? What’s that brown stuff? She pointed to the compost bin and stifled a grin.

“That's worm poop,” she said over raucous, high-pitched laughter. “(It’s) a vital part of our agriculture. We need that."

The center hosts dozens of week-long, science-centered classes through the summer months when experts say children are at their biggest risk of the dreaded summer slide.

"A lot of the great learning experiences that take place during the school year can sort of fade a little bit,” Brenneman said. “So that by the time students come back to school they've actually lost one or two months, up to three months, in fact, of what they learned during the school year."

Center experts in construction, biology, robotics, oceanography, weather, space and even Minecraft have dedicated themselves to preventing that through day classes and free, online lesson plans for parents to try at home.

Brenneman encourages families to capture kids’ natural curiosity by asking questions and engaging in simple, memorable, hands-on ways.

"It doesn't have to be something fancy and planned with multiple steps,” she said. “It can really just be exploring the worms that you find in your yard and asking questions about them."

Camps are scheduled through the end of August. Contact the Carnegie Science Center for availability or more information.

Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.