The Hamilton Spectator
November 21, 2011
"How much blood is in my body?" McMaster University assistant professor Dr. Sandeep Raha asked the 300 or so students and parents in the packed lecture hall.
He got a response.
"A lot," came the answer from the seats.
Raha smiled. "Are you going to be politician when you grow up?" the health sciences faculty member quipped.
But the question and the untypical answer were perfect in a way for the first session of McMaster's new program called Children and Youth University. Because the program, the brainchild of Raha and his colleague Dr. Katrin Scheinemann, who studies children and cancer in the university's department of pediatrics, is designed to show the students that higher learning can be fun. The initiative is sponsored by McMaster's Faculty of Health Sciences, its Alumni office and the Office of the President.
Especially fun for these students, all aged between 8 and 12 who took in the pilot program of five free Saturday morning lectures this weekend. For many of the youngsters it was their first time on a campus, never mind in a university lecture hall.
And most university lectures should be this fun.
The initial topic was the human body. And Kevin Geehen, 12, certainly seemed to be having a blast trying to punch his hand into a gooey mixture of corn starch and water in an experiment designed to show how blood pressure works.
"Is blood like quicksand?" Raha asked. "Has anyone said that to you? Probably not," he said.
But no one was leaving early as the young charges learned, among other things: that a normal 10 year-old has 2.4 litres of blood in their body; that their bodies are made up of 62 per cent liquid; that they need to drink four glasses of milk daily to keep bones strong; and just how much urine is in their young bodies.
All of this informative material is delivered in a fun, interesting manner as an alternative to having eight-year-olds spending Saturday mornings watching Scooby Doo.
"It's a lecture series to give them insight into academic life and to get them interested before high school," Scheinemann said of the program, which has proved popular in Europe.
Scheinemann said just the chance to learn in a "big room" is fun for the kids. And if that experience whets the youngsters' appetite for post-secondary education down the road, so much the better, she said.
That's the hope of parent Pia Williams who brought her nine-year-old daughter Emily to the pilot lecture.
"I think it's a chance to give them an opportunity to learn but not in a classroom. And it shows them how post-secondary education works. It exposes them to something different," she said, adding her six-year-old son was miffed he couldn't come.
Emily, whose best subject is math but is looking forward to history, has signed up for all five lectures including upcoming talks on the importance of children, the 1918 flu pandemic, aboriginal contributions to Canada and the perceptions of disability.
Rob Geehen brought his children, Kevin, 12, Alison, 10 and Eric, 13 for three reasons. He thought they would enjoy the topic, the environment, and someone had to drive.
Anyone interested in McMaster's Children and Youth University can get more information or register by calling 905-521-2100 ext. 73790 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.