Schooling at a zoo
Ever attend a school where you could pet a snake, crawl through a cave or create a new species of animal with your own bare hands? If the answer is “yes,” then it means at some time in your life you did what dozens of Kern County children are doing this summer. They are attending “Zoo School” at the California Living Museum (CALM) in Bakersfield.
Zoo School is part summer camp and part science and nature workshop. In five, one week sessions, held Tuesdays-Fridays, children in grades 1-6 learn useful facts about plants, animals and fossils native to California. They also work on crafts and take-home projects and visit with CALM’s ambassador animals.
On one Friday afternoon, approximately two dozen children quietly gathered around CALM Manager Debby Kroeger and watched attentively as she pulled a colorfully banded snake out of a cloth sack. As the snake, twisted, turned and slithered around and through Kroeger’s hands and arms, she taught. Before she finished, students learned it was a mountain king snake, that sheds its skin when its growing, smells with its tongue, feeds mainly on mice and small rodents and that the red next to black banding means it is non-venomous.
“And it hunts by squeezing around its prey until it dies,” volunteered 8 year-old Sydney Ralphs, who made it a family affair by attending with her two sisters, Audrey and Sophie.
Kroeger invited everyone in the class to pet the snake, one at a time. What does a snake feel like?
“Scaley,” said 7 year-old Ephrain Romesburg.
“Smooth,” offered 8 year-old Logan Beachler.
Sydney felt it was “sort of like squishy rubber.”
Immediately after their session with the snake, all students put what they learned to practical use. In one CALM classroom, students cut snakes out of construction paper and decorated them with geometrical shapes such as diamonds, squares and circles reminiscent of designs seen on serpents they had studied.
Older students in another classroom were given a lump of clay and asked to create their own new species of animal and explain how its physical features would make it more adaptive to a particular habitat or environment.
Eleven year-old Zach Ferrenberg came up with something that looked like a cross between Daffy Duck and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
“I call it Ultimate Water Animal,” said Ferrenberg. “It has everything to live in the water and on land — long legs, fins, ears and a platypus beak. It kind of grew out of what I learned about reptiles and snakes.”
Even study breaks were a discovery for children who took the opportunity to explore and play on CALM’s series of man made hills and caves which replicate the surrounding natural terrain.
“We make zoo school fun and educational,” said Kroeger. “The idea is to increase every child’s knowledge based on fun facts and habitat information. We want them to gain knowledge and respect for the environment that they can apply wherever they go this summer — whether it be fishing, hiking or just traveling down the highway.”
Zoo School ends July 25. For more information on the Internet, go to http://www.calmzoo.org, or you can email Kroeger at email@example.com or call her at (661) 872-2256, ext. 12.
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