What do lightning bugs, tarantulas, earthworms, rocks and logs have in common?
The answers were all part of the spring break camp hosted by Lee Richardson Zoo, which took place at the Finnup Center for Conservation Education, as well as inside the zoo, this week..
“Zoo camps are important because we are able to provide a unique learning opportunity, hands-on, with the ability to greatly increase learning,” Max Lakes, curator of conservation education, said. “There is some amazing new research out that shows children learn far faster by being interactive than just by memorizing.”
Lakes said that zoo staff creates the camps based on the STEAM model which focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
“We can teach them the theories in our classroom and take them out to the zoo and show it to them in real world application,” he said, noting that was how the staff taught the children about earthworms on Wednesday.
Conservation Education Specialist Catie Policastro led this year’s camp. She explained that the week’s theme focused on spring surprises.
“We’re looking at all the spring changes that are taking place and different signs of spring,” she said.
Monday, campers learned about the changes of seasons. Tuesday’s camp focused on amphibians and the life cycles of different animals, such as how butterflies experience metamorphosis. Wednesday, birds and nests were the lesson. Thursday’s learning focused on the helpful insects, and Friday campers explored how humans enjoy springtime activities and how they can help nature when they spend time outdoors.
Policastro said that the camp takes advantage of the nature play space located outside the education building.
“It’s all natural items, rocks, logs, really encouraging them to stay in nature, to challenge their imagination and nature abilities using only natural items,” she said. “We’ve seen them make a see saw out of a log and use wood cookies, slices of a tree trunk, as imaginary food items for their games,” she said. “They always enjoy playing out there.”
The campers also spent time in the zoo with the animals.
“We got to help one of the zookeepers select enrichment locations for one of the sloth bears,” Policastro said. “The kids had a lot of fun picking out where the keeper was going to spread the honey for the bear to discover it.”
Maggie Deal, 8, of Garden City says she’s been to several of the zoo’s camps. Thursday morning she played the game, "tarantula, insect."
“It’s a lot like marco polo,” she said. “We limit it to the carpet so we have a really little space, so the tarantula got a lot of people.”
She said she enjoys all of the activities and games at the camp.
“We get to look at a lot of animals in the zoo like the giraffes and ducks,” Deal said. “We got to see the pallas cat and horses, a lot of animals ... It’s really fun because it’s the zoo — it’s always fun.”
The camp took place Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and was open to children in first grade through sixth grade. The zoo has been providing educational camps for at least 30 years. Lakes said the zoo hopes to have camps available for junior high and high school students starting in 2020.
Brody Caffee, 9, of Garden City, has experienced several of the zoo’s camps. This week he had fun making a lightning bug craft.
“We got this bottle and we got black pipe cleaners and googly eyes and beads and glow sticks,” he said, noting that the pipe cleaners were legs, and that the glow sticks enabled the lighting bug to light up.
Kian Mitchell, 8, of Garden City said this was his first time attending the camp. He said the snacks was one of favorite things about camp, which included animal crackers, oranges, yogurt and string cheese. He also enjoyed making a bug house to protect insects from bad weather or predators.
Weekly zoo camps will start up again in June and July. For more information, call or email the zoo’s education department at 620-276-1250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.