YOUR NEXT BIRTHDAY PARTY ABOUT ECOLOGY
by Whit Gibbons
March 18, 2007
an email from a mother the other day saying, "My son Thomas must
have said ten times, 'that was an awesome party!'"
four-year-olds do not know how to dissemble, so I took Thomas's statement
at face value. Furthermore, I had just emailed someone about the same
event: "I went to the best birthday party last week that I have been
to in a long time." The party was held for one of our grandsons,
Parker. Instead of pizzas, video games, and party hats, the party featured
critters. You do not have to have an ecologist in the family to host a
was held under a pavilion in a local community park across the street
from a protected wetland. It started about like any other birthday party--presents
for Parker, ice cream and cake for everyone, and a pack of squealing kindergarteners
running around in the park. Then the ecology theme was introduced. Each
of the children got a present from Parker's mother--a plastic bug box
with holes in the top.
step was for the children to bring their bug boxes and sit on the grass
in front of a wiggling sack and two large plastic bins filled with water.
After the children were seated, I showed them what was in the two bins--Parker's
birthday present from me--tadpoles! Big ones, little ones, green ones,
brown ones. All had been caught for the occasion by University of Georgia
graduate student Tom Luhring.
But I didn't
just show them the tadpoles; I let them catch their own. Naturally, the
birthday boy, Parker, got to go first and show them how it was done. To
the amazement of all, including me, he reached into the bin of water,
nabbed a bullfrog tadpole and plopped it into a plastic bag full of water
that I had open and ready. A water-filled, clear plastic bag is an excellent
way to show fish or other swimming things to children.
for tadpoles is more fun than bobbing for apples, so a dozen little hands
were soon swirling through the water trying to grasp the slippery prey.
More plastic bags were produced, and soon tadpoles were being passed around
for all to see. Some mothers looked a bit apprehensive, wondering if tadpoles
were going to be a take-home gift for the children. But the tadpoles were
eventually returned to their bins.
was time for the sack that was squirming on the ground. I opened it up,
let Parker look inside, and told him it was okay to pick up what he saw.
To the delight of his friends he pulled out a beautiful three-foot-long
kingsnake I had brought. We passed the snake around for all to see. Before
the mothers began to worry that this might be the door prize, I said it
was time to put the kingsnake back in the bag so I could return it to
finale the children traipsed over to the small wetland and began turning
over logs to see what they could find to put in their bug boxes. Little
children are innately fascinated by roly-polies, millipedes, beetles,
and earthworms, and searching for and finding these living treasures is
a treat for them. The troop of tiny primates proved this as they moved
through the woods eagerly looking under every log and rock. To the children's
delight, Parker's dad managed to hand-grab a lizard. I pointed out that
some creatures we might find can hurt: centipedes bite, bees sting, and
some beetles pinch. Advising children of these facts is important, but
such perils should never keep us from letting children explore nature
to the fullest.
party is an excellent way to combine fun and education. But allowing children
to explore the outdoors shouldn't be restricted to such events. Children
love the outdoors and what can be found there. Make sure your children
get plenty of opportunities to indulge that love of nature while they're
waiting for the next birthday party in the park.
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