By Esther Massey
… and frogs and toads and snakes. O, my! Showing the Gulf Branch reptiles to the birthday party attendees has been an absolute blast for me. As a former teacher, I really appreciate being able to enjoy the instructional part without the daily toil. Each party is different, as are the parents and the children. The children vary in ages from 3-6 and sometimes their older siblings come along as well.
Before the children and parents arrive, I decorate the room with posters and pictures availablable at the center and put up the “Private—Birthday Party” sign. I gather the materials that I intend to use for the talks on a table in the front of the room and place a cloth over them to keep the children from playing with them. The center provides puppets, skeletons, models, and other audiovisual aids to help the kids learn about the life cycle of the different reptiles and amphibians. The one they seem to like the most is the frog croak identifier. Pushing a button elicits the different calls of the specific frog. I let the kids take turns pushing the buttons.
Some parents bring activities to start the party, such as assembling binoculars made from toilet paper tubes or string toss toys. At the most recent party, the parents brought in a face painter. The parents bring their own party decorations, delectable snacks, and cake. As the kids arrive, I ask them to make up name tags for themselves so I can call out their names during the talk.
The hardest thing is getting them to understand a skeleton. They always ask if it’s alive. I have to tell them it died, then explain soft tissue and hard tissue. It’s a little sad. I try to point out the similarities to humans that the animals have. I emphasize their abilities and adaptation to their their habitat. Bringing out the live animal for the kids to touch is the pièce de résistance. Their eyes light up, their necks stretch up, and they sit forward. Some are a bit squeamish, especially around the snake. The snake inspires giggles and snickers when he tries to crawl to the warmest spot on my body. I’ll give you a moment to think where that is. Sometimes the parents get involved, as well, which is great. I’ve also taken to bringing my iPad to show YouTube videos that show the animals in the wild.
Of course, after the talks there’s the cleanup. Some parents invite me to join the party, which I I should probably pass up. But who can resist cake? I have a great time and the parents and center staff are very helpful and appreciative. If anyone would like to join me sometime, let me know. I can always use the help.