July 13, 2015

Behind the Scenes of School Programs: How to Transform a Classroom into an Animal Adventure

By Sabrina Stewart, Program Intern

When school groups arrive at the Science Center, most children expect a homework-free, outdoor trip to the trail. So when the kiddos line up outside under their designated “animal banner” meeting place, they don’t expect to be told they will be entering a classroom. Many groans are followed by reassurance that this isn’t a normal classroom: No papers, no desks, no chairs… those very groans transform into squeals of excitement.

A variety of school programs are offered here. I have been fortunate enough to help prepare for and even lead a wide array of these indoor and outdoor experiences. These may range from going on an “Insect Adventure” to the Upper Pond or the field and dressing a child up in a life-size insect costume, to running around on a “CSI” Animal Scavenger Hunt to investigate who killed the Snowshoe Hare, or even going on Squam Lake on a pontoon boat to help the students measure water quality by trapping aquatic invertebrates 20 meters below the surface.

One of my favorite school programs is “Aquatic Critters,” where the students get to dive into the world of three different animals, such as a Blanding’s turtle or a beaver, that depend on lakes and rivers for survival. Before the program starts, the educators—and the interns (that’s me!)— prepare the classroom.

Each program usually includes three animals, which means it’s our job to wrangle them! Just kidding—the program animals enjoy coming to the programs because they get their favorite treats! This could include running out to the raptor mews and catching a fully-flighted owl, or helping the 50-pound beaver up a ramp and into his portable enclosure. After we have the animals ready and have prepared their favorite snacks (for the beaver that means corn-on-the-cob and dandelion leaves), it is time to gather props. For each animal, we include items that the children can hear, feel, or smell. This may be a winter coat of a coyote pelt to nuzzle up against, or a skunk skull for a close look at their sharp, omnivorous teeth. After this, we set up the room for our children and animal friends, and the fun can begin!

For more information on school programs available at the Science Center or at your school please visit http://www.nhnature.org/teachers/ .

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