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Zoo Tots learn about ocean animals

Ciara Parizek/MDN Sarah Peterson, back right, joins the kids in looking for ocean animals hidden in Orbeez at the zoo on Thursday.

Hands-on activities are one of the best ways for children to learn, and Roosevelt Park Zoo set up six of them at their Zoo Tots event on Thursday.

The theme was “Commotion in the Ocean.” Sarah Peterson introduced the subject and asked the kids what animals they thought lived in the ocean. Once everyone was settled in their squares on the rug, Peterson brought out the animal for the day: a betta fish named Ringo. He was blue and red, his long fins flowing in his bowl. His scales contrasted well against the seashells in the bottom, making him easy for the kids to see.

She informed her class that betta fish are from Asia, and not only do they breathe out of their gills, but they can also breathe with their mouths at the surface.

Next, she set up the different stations of hands-on explorations.

One had two books, where kids could sit with their parent or guardian to read. The second had bins of crayons and the zoo tots had to use their “science eyes” to find the items listed on their coloring pages. Three bottles sat at another station, one filled with water, another with water and shells, and the last one had green sand with shells hidden inside. They were made to imitate sounds of the ocean and the goal was to determine which one was the loudest. Two bins filled with green sand and shells waited on the fourth table, the shells needing to be separated by size: small, medium and large. A large purple kiddie pool that sat in the corner had regular play sand inside. That sand source was there for the kids to use cookie cutters, shaped like an alligator, octopus, turtle and more, to imprint those shapes.

Ringo swims in his bowl at the Roosevelt Park Zoo on Thursday.

The last station was the most popular. A tub contained blue water beads, called Orbeez, in it to symbolize the ocean and there were plastic ocean animal toys hidden underneath them. The kids could use their hands or green fish nets to search for the toys, identify which animal it was, and put it back. Several different animals lay in wait: hammerhead and great white sharks, dolphins, orcas, octopuses, starfish, a fire angel fish, a blue tang (referred to as Dori) and a scuba diver.

Thursday’s event was quite messy. Green sand covered the one table and blue Orbeez rolled away and under the door. One little boy found joy in finding the little beads and smashing them beneath his shoes.

Peterson said the classes are almost always sold out, having about 12 children in attendance. Thursday’s group ranged in age from two to five years old. Some kids had been to the event multiple times and Peterson knew them by name. The animal they interact with is different every week and the activities she plans for the kids are based around that animal. “It’s fun to be the one to plan the activities and do it first.”

She has also brought in a ferret, chinchilla, poison dart frogs, corn snake, sand boa and a skunk. Those animals are kept in a separate building to destress and have their own space after being handled.

When it comes to doing activities in the nicer weather, Peterson takes the zoo tots outside to see animals in their habitats, like the tigers and the gibbons. She said the kids really like to “speak the gibbons’ language” and whoop back at them.

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