By Teachers, For Teachers
As a part of our School Adventures series, Carrie Hauck (pictured left) shares how things get wild in the ZooKids classroom at the Columbus Zoo.
Everyday is an adventure teaching in the ZooKids classroom at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. As I open the door to my classroom, I’m greeted by a cast of animal characters…chinchillas (princess diamond sparkle and chula), a turtle, two salamanders, one frog, two rabbits, and even a bearded dragon lizard. I make my way around to each of them…pausing to give some attention, clean, and feed them.
When the clock reads 9, little feet begin rushing down our hallway and the ZooKid families begin to arrive. Each child wears an enthusiastic smile and begs to know “what is our animal visitor today?”. With a sly smile, I tell them they will have to wait; I want it to be a surprise!
Our topics change each week, so one day I might be teaching about “predators and prey” while the next week might be on “animal athletes.” Each class period includes time for a center based lesson, art project, animal visitor, Zoo walk, and snack.
When we sit down on the carpet together, it gives me such a sense of pride to be able to share the Zoo’s conservation message with such young audiences. A teacher's view of conservation and learning can be the greatest determinant of what will happen beyond the classroom for both the child and the adult. Every day, I'm reminded that because children are spending less and less time outdoors, they need me to facilitate these adventures in learning!
If you look around the walls of my classroom, there is a quote that reads “in the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught”.
Some of my favorite memories are the adventures and opportunities for learning that have occurred between these walls. In our lesson on worms, we gave each child an earthworm from our animal nutrition department to study. They used their magnifying glasses to decide which end was the head and tail. Each pair poked, prodded, and marveled at their tube-like bodies. For many, this was the first time they were allowed to touch a worm!
For our eggs and nest week, we gathered twigs, sticks, moss, and other natural materials and tried to build our own bird nest. We pondered together how these tiny birds were able to make such intricate structures with a beak as their only tool. Their eyes shined in disbelief as I told them lots of birds use sticky spider webs to hold their nests together.
During our Zookeepers week, we brought our very own, Jack Hanna…the ultimate zookeeper, to our classroom. The ZooKids were so delighted with Mr. Hanna taking an interest in them. He shared how he got started in the zoo business and encouraged them to get outside more! Having Jack in our classroom was a real adventure!
Our adventure continues even beyond our lessons. We always make time for an animal visitor…which can lead to lots of adventures. We’ve had everything from alligators to anteaters visit our classroom. When an animal comes to our classroom, we let the ZooKids interact with it as much as possible, even touching some of the animals.
Some of my favorites were Marty and Shorty flamingo who stomped around in a basin of water to show us how flamingos find food. Sid the sloth, showed off his tree topping skills, while Tressel the tamandua (anteater) ate an avocado. There was even a screech owl who coughed up a pellet composed of last night’s dinner (oh my) on the floor…much to the ZooKids dismay!
As the day winds down, we head out with our partners for a walk around the Zoo. We typically visit whatever region or animal has been a part of our lesson. Often, we get to interact with zookeepers who might throw enrichment into an animal area for us, or we may get to go behind the scenes to see what the kitchen at discovery reef looks like (full of fish, shrimp, and frozen blocks of food), sometimes our walk even takes us up close with the kangaroos, muntjac deer, and chocolate chip sea stars!
When you combine animals, the outdoors, and ZooKids…it’s always an adventure!
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