Frogs and snails never frightened Teresa Kurz when she was a little girl.
As a matter of fact, when she wasn't playing dolls with her friends, Kurz was stockpiling sticks and stones and other discoveriesthat caught her fancy during camping trips and hikes in the woods with her family.
Today the 30-year-old Columbia resident is still turned on to nature and science. Through her home-based business, Discovering Science, she shares that fascination with others.
The 5-year-old company creates programs for elementary and nursery schools, teacher workshops, summer camps and even theme birthday parties.
When Kurz began Discovering Science, she offered four programs. The company has grown to 40 programs, handles about 18 jobs a month and enjoys a staff of 10 part-time instructors. Kurz said she expects the company to gross about $110,000 this year.
"I'm having a lot of fun," she said. "I'mdoing exactly what I want to be doing."
Fun seems to be the keyword for Kurz, who graduated from Towson State University in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in biology. She had wanted to work with young children, but couldn't find a full-time teaching job in the public schools. Before launching her business, she worked for two years with a friend who operates a company similar to Discovering Science in Falls Church, Va.
Kurz has integrated everything from astronauts to zoology into her program's nine themes. Some of the titles, like Digging for Dinosaurs, are creative teasers that tempt a child into wanting tolearn more about what's behind a name.
Or there's Follow the Tide, where children ages 2 through 7 learn about the tide and its effecton sand and animal life. In it, they create a beach from sand they have made themselves.
"We placed shells in a pillowcase and startedhammering," Kurz said. "It's so simple; it's fascinating."
The children also create waves in a bottle and learn about underwater pressure. And they discover details about sea life, such as how fish are camouflaged, how jellyfish move and how a squid uses jet propulsion toescape from predators. Students even get to dissect a squid and write with squid ink.
Digging for Dinosaurs enables young paleontologists to hunt for pretend fossils, dig up "bones," and track paper dinosaur "footprints."
"It's a positive experience in which children do not have to go into the field," Kurz said.
Discovering Science attempts to cover the life, Earth and physical sciences. Kurz said children seem most comfortable learning about animals, animal habitats and nutrition "because those things are generally more concrete, as opposed to, for example, electricity."
Nonetheless, she tries to make energy a more palatable topic.
A program she calls Plenty of Power explores solar, electric, wind, water and even "kid" power. Projects such as making hot chocolate from solar energy, creating static electricity with balloons, building paddle wheels and inventing wind-powered carts make learning likable and a lot easier to understand.
Machine Mania keeps the hands of active 4- to 7-year-old children busy as they take apart broken tape recorders, hair dryers, radios and other machines. Using their own ingenuity, boys and girls become inventors as they build machines, combining the used parts with egg cartons, pipe cleaners and whatever else their imaginations can provide.
"I have no idea how they are going to use their creations," Kurz said. "It's OK for them to use the parts any way they can. I'm not beyond encouraging them to try something when I don't know what the outcome will be."
Kurz says she spends many hours researching her ideas."I browse through toy stores and libraries, but if I am focusing on a particular subject, I may spend about 40 hours searching for information."
Kurz visited the Air and Space Museum in Washington to make aerodynamically correct paper sharks for the Follow the Tide unit. Children later made paper airplanes to relate how a shark moves through the water like a plane.
But research is not really work for Kurz, who says she aspires to "reach a lot of kids in order to turn themon to science -- especially girls." "It's sad when little girls say that they can't do something. Generally, girls seem to need more confidence to do mechanical things; boys will jump in. A big part of my job is to pull the girls in and help them to be more sure of themselves.
"I'm trying to do my part in educating. I want to build confidence in the student's ability to think and learn," Kurz said. She evendreams about running a "holistic" type of camp with her husband, Art, an organ procurement coordinator for the Transplant Resource Centerof Maryland in Baltimore. She wants to create a place "where families can get together, have a natural fun time and learn some things."
Apparently, the camping trips Kurz took with her own family when she was a child growing up in Greenbelt have left their mark.
"I remember collecting rocks and moss and wondering how it all fits together," she said. "As a teacher, I discovered that it all makes sense."