LENOX — Through the new South County STEM program, leader "Miss Jess" isn't afraid to teach youngsters to call a gob of blue goo what it is — a polymer.
Nor does she shy away from explaining the role of an "aqueous solution" in creating a chemical reaction that turns Borax powder, liquid glue and water into a sticky (and currently trendy) substance we call "slime."
"Today, we are going to transform ourselves into scientists," exclaims Berkshire Museum early education specialist Jesseca Williamson, to a captivated audience of kids, parents and caregivers.
They're gathered in the second floor meeting space of the Lenox Community Center on a Friday morning. Williamson and program co-coordinators from South Berkshire Kids have transformed it into a pop-up classroom, complete with a colorful reading rug to sit on for storytime, and a row of plastic "lab tables" on which the young scientists can execute science experiments. Miss Jess has even brought kid-sized lab goggles to emphasize early on the need to practice safety around chemicals, even if they are non-toxic and include food coloring for fun effects.
The free South County STEM program launched earlier this month, with support from South Berkshire Kids' state Coordinated Family and Community Engagement (CFCE) Grant.
"The purpose of it is to bring families together and to get them ready before their children go to school," said South Berkshire Kids outreach coordinator, Michelle Hayden.
South Berkshire Kids Program Coordinator Jessica Maloney said they decided to partner with the Berkshire Museum on this new program to help make the museum's Pittsfield-based hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics program more accessible to families residing in the southern part of the county.
Susanna Keefe and her son, Curran, 3, of Lenox, said they were thrilled to have something like this "in our backyard."
"I think it's an amazing opportunity, and Jess [Williamson] makes the topics very approachable," Keefe said.
Prior to last week's slime experiment, Miss Jess and her museum friends brought in some live reptiles to meet some 40 attendees. This past week's program brought in nearly two dozen children and families. This Friday at 9:30 a.m., the program wraps up its Lenox Community Center residency with a theme of "mammal adaptations and hibernation."
This Thursday, at 3:30 p.m., the program starts its Lee Library series, which will continue weekly, through Feb. 22. Then the South County STEM series will conclude in March with a series at the Bushnell-Sage Library in Sheffield.
Asked which session was her favorite, 5-year-old Eliza Cass of Lenox said, "all of them." She's been going to the STEM program with her sister, Rosalie, 3, and their mother, Kristine Cass.
"We're always interested in fun activities and we're excited to have them here," the girls' mother said.
Williamson tries to tailor the program to her group and the kids' personalities. For example, she enlisted one of her former Pittsfield STEM program students, Eddie Barrett, 10, of Pittsfield, who is homeschooled, to take on a leadership role during the slime-making session. He and his mother, Aimee Barrett, help make sure the other families get their activity supplies and understand the steps of the week's activities.
Eddie Barrett said he likes the opportunity to help others. Asked whether he thought it's important for younger children to learn STEM subjects, he said, "Yes, I think maybe for future jobs. Maybe they'll want to become a scientist one day."
Proud grandparents Nick and Sharon Kennedy say they've very much enjoyed bringing their 5-year-old grandsons, Emil and Miles, to the program, and to see them so actively involved in the projects.
"The boys, they read a lot. They love science and they even help [their grandmother] in the kitchen," said the grandfather. "They're very smart. They're learning a lot here, and even I'm learning from them."
Coming up: South County STEM schedule
Thursday, Feb. 1: Lee Library series begins. Sessions run from 3:30-4:30 p.m., Feb. 1, 8, 15 and 22. 100 Main St., Lee.
Friday, Feb. 2: Lenox Community Center concludes, 9:30-10:30 a.m., 65 Walker St., Lenox.
Wednesday, March 7: Bushnell-Sage Library series begins. Sessions run from 10:30-11:30 a.m., March 7, 14, 21 and 28. 48 Main St., Sheffield.
These programs are designed for young scientists, ages 2-8, and their parents and caregivers. The program is free but RSVP to 413-464-5095, to ensure a spot. For more about this and other South Berkshire Kids programs, visit southberkshirekids.org and find them on Facebook.