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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

October 5, 2010

School Days

By Patrick Donston


We have our first school classes coming to visit us in the next couple of weeks. A week before they arrive, I'll assess the livestock, making sure we have certain animals in house. We've done a lot of these field trips over the years, so we know what the kids like to see and respond to.

It's important we have touch-and-feel invertebrates: sea stars, horseshoe crabs, sea cucumbers, urchins, and spider and hermit crabs. I don't care what age group you may be dealing with (trust me, we've dealt with pre-K to seniors), they love holding animals. Even the teachers and chaperones want to hold or rub their fingers across the skin to see what it feels like.
I want to have sea horses (both male and female) so we can explain how the males have pouches and are actually the ones who have the babies. We also like to give a demonstration, showing a porcupine puffer blowing up for defense. It's easy to do by gently massaging the body, and this won't harm the fish. Baby cat sharks still in the pods are great to have. Kids and adults are fascinated with babies, especially before they're born. Tip: Scratch some algae of the pod so you can see the baby with yolk-sac inside. Depending on the age group, we like to show juvenile angels and their complete color change to adulthood--we explain the natural selection advantage to this metamorphosis. Of course, we must always have "Nemo and "Dory" on hand.
On the freshwater side, our state allows us to have piranhas, thus we want to have them for our tours. Just about everyone wants to see them because of their rich history and media attention. We like to show prehistoric fishes such as lungfish, and polypterus (birchirs). We'll set aside a large plecostomus that we can pull out of the water so the kids can feel or pet a fish. Make sure you provide sterile wipes, paper towels, and hand sanitizers. Lots of fun facts and appropriate information for your age groups are vital.

I've only listed some of our highlights, although the choices are endless. The point is that having school tours can be a great way to get children to connect with aquatic animals. The right animals can make their visit even more special. They'll go home, talk about their trip, and usually ask their parents to go back. We experience this all of the time.
What a great way to connect with your community.

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