Elementary school kids create enrichment activities for animals at Discovery Place Nature

Discovery Place Nature

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Through program, Discovery Place educators teach students the value of STEM

Nearly 30 children from Rama Road Elementary School spent the past several months working to bring additional enrichment to the animals of Discovery Place Nature.

“Our animals have to have enrichment opportunities to ensure that their minds are engaged and they have things that keep them active in a safe and controlled way,” says Reshma Patel, a Naturalist at Discovery Place Nature. “These kids worked really hard to create items that provide new ways for us to interact with our animals and keep them happy.”

Under the guidance of Sydney Jenkins, an Outreach Educator for Discovery Place, the students conducted significant research before bringing their ideas to life.

“We started out by visiting the Museum and hearing from the Naturalists about each of the animals and what they like and the safety elements we needed to be thinking about,” Jenkins says. “Then we did additional research before the kids started making blueprints of their projects.”

From those blueprints, the children, ranging from third- to fifth-graders, spent weeks creating their enrichment projects. With adult guidance, the kids learned to use tools such as saws, hammers and more. They learned what types of materials are strong enough to withstand a certain animal’s weight and safety issues that would need to be considered.

“These enrichment projects gave our students the opportunity to participate in problem- and project-based learning. It’s so important for kids to be exposed to these kinds of projects because STEM is all around us today, in everything we do,” said Stephanie Gelbert, a fourth-grade teacher at Rama Road Elementary School. “This project gave the students an experience where they got to actually see the impact they were making in the animals’ lives. It showed the kids how learning can be fun and rewarding!”

In all, they created seven enrichment objects and, in March, presented their work to Museum naturalists with complete project details. The enrichment items were then introduced to the animals.

Snakes received PVC-pipe mazes. For Snapper, the resident snapping turtle, students crafted a fun feeding tube out of PVC pipe and duct tape. “Snapper really liked it,” Patel says. “And we think this one will be good for a lot of our other animals, too.”

Penelope the skunk was the proud recipient of a wooden “hide” that came complete with hand-drawn images of her favorite edible things including insects. Ophelia the opossum was given a platform with a string for food to be attached. She was able to climb on and go under the platform while also working to get her snack detached from the string.

The Museum’s most royal resident, Queen Charlotte the groundhog, also received an enrichment project – a wooden box of sorts with a cardboard door. “Queen Charlotte really liked hers,” Patel says. “She got on top of it, climbed under it and played a lot with the door.”

While it is the first time such a project has been conducted in which students constructed items for the Museum animals, Discovery Place’s work with Rama Road Elementary School has been going on for nearly five years.

“The third-through-fifth graders at Rama Road Elementary are some of our STEM Ambassadors,” Jenkins says. “The opportunity to work with elementary-age students is a wonderful one for our organization because it gives us another avenue to share our love of science with youth and hopefully encourage some of them to one day pursue STEM careers.”

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