Turtle Talks

Showing the turtle

Showing the turtle

… and frogs and toads and snakes. O, my! Showing the Gulf Branch Nature Center 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 available 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. At a frog and toad talk, which was a Princess and the Frog theme with all little girls, I had the girls make “frog eggs’ with water and dish soap. They blew bubbles through a straw to make the eggs.

Some parents bring activities to start the party, such as assembling binoculars made from toilet paper tubes or string toss toys. At one party, the parents even 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. The children 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 animals 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. For the frog and toad talks, I can only bring out the toad. The frog leaps into walls, tables, chairs, people. It can elicit squeals of delight and fear, but it’s not good for the frog. Since the animals are adapted to humans, they are very active. The turtles never go into their shells, so I have to use the puppet to demonstrate that ability. Sometimes the parents get involved, as well, which is great. I have 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 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. So if you’re considering a birthday party for your children, check your local nature center for availability. You would be amazed what they have there.

These talks are part of my certification program for the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists. The program requires 40 volunteer hours and 8 continuing education hours to receive certification, but I would still do it without the requirement.