Every Wednesday afternoon, at 3:20 p.m. -- when many elementary school teachers are putting away their materials -- Ruth Bronstein is setting out hers.
Each week, the 78-year-old Columbia resident, who lives at Vantage House Retirement Community in Columbia, teaches a one-hour science class for children after school at Waterloo Elementary School in Ellicott City.
"The program is designed to develop scientific concepts among young children through games and hands-on experiences," said Dr. Bronstein, who taught kindergarten and first grade for 16 years in New York.
Her work at Waterloo is part of the national Hands On Science Program, a nonprofit organization sponsored by PTAs and partially funded by the National Science Foundation. Twelve county elementary schools participate.
"I love the program because I can adjust the lesson according to the interests and abilities of the children," said Dr. Bronstein, a professor emeritus at what is now Salisbury State University, where she taught aspiring teachers for seven years until her retirement in 1980.
The eight-week Hands On Science classes, running in three segments throughout the school year, are geared to children in kindergarten through grade six. Each segment costs $34. Dr. Bronstein teaches the first level -- kindergarten and first grade.
On a recent Wednesday, she sat on the floor among her 11 students and talked about the differences between mammals and birds.
She began with a succession of pictures of mammals that the students identified correctly. The students then colored their own paper wings and tried them out in the outdoor courtyard adjoining the classroom.
"I can fly!" shouted 5-year-old Nathan Jordan as he flapped his wings and jumped off a picnic table.
During those five minutes of madness, Dr. Bronstein took the opportunity to direct students' attention to the effect of air on their outstretched wings. And as the hour came to an end, she lamented not having enough time to teach all that she wants to teach.
Her dedication to science instruction is a switch from her original interests in economics and child development.
In 1937, she earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Columbia University. When she was pregnant with the first of her two children, she took a child development course because she "didn't know anything about bringing up a child."
As her family grew, so did her interest in child development. "I finished my master's degree by the time my second son was a year old" in 1946, she said. A year and a half later, when he was in nursery school, she was teaching kindergarten.
When her two children were grown, she returned to the classroom as a student, earning a doctorate in family and community relations in 1972, with an emphasis on young children.
Today, with about 30 years of experience teaching children and adults, Dr. Bronstein seems as enthusiastic about her Waterloo science students as a first-year teacher.
"I do love teaching," she said.
"I want to arouse the children's curiosity about the world around them, and I want to build their self-esteem."