Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Camp Field Trips

Camp has been over for a little more than a week now, and I've been reviewing the surveys parents have submitted regarding their child's attendance at HAWS Kids 'n Critters Day Camps. One of the comments that comes up on the surveys from time to time is how we choose the location of the field trips that campers go on in during the week long camps.

Field trips are generally planned and booked in January or February prior to the start of camp. We look for several criteria in our field trips. First of all they need to be animal related -- this is Kids 'n Critters Camp after-all! We look for places that aren't too far from HAWS, and are within the budget that we have set aside for field trips. One of our major criteria is that the message the kids will obtain from the field trip experience matches the message that we are trying to promote at HAWS.

For example -- last year we looked at several facilities and decided against them because the message they promoted wasn't one that HAWS could support. One facility was a petting zoo that bred and raised rabbits in outdoor pens to eventually be butchered for food. Since HAWS sees first-hand the repercussions of the over-population problem of pet rabbits, we promote rabbits as being pets that should be spayed or neutered and for health reasons and their well-being should be housed indoors. While we realize that many people eat rabbit, we felt that we couldn't tell the kids the rabbits they were petting on the field trip were an exception to what we promote, since they would eventually end up as meat. Instead we looked for other field trip alternatives.

Another field trip -- one we actually took this year, was an organization that had a variety of activities for the kids. The exotic bird show was wonderful, the barnyard petting zoo a lot of fun. However, they had an indoor animal area that had a variety of animals. Some of the animals were those that people keep as pets, and animals that HAWS routinely places up for adoption -- such as kittens, rabbits and guinea pigs. What bothered me was that in this same area - side by side with the domesticated pets, they housed wild animals. They had a descented skunk (skunks are illegal to keep as pets in Wisconsin), a baby bobcat, and a monkey -- to name a few.

The facility's staff could have used this as an educational opportunity and explained to the kids that while guinea pigs and rabbits are great pets, bobcats and monkeys are animals that while incredibly cute, are wild animals and will never make appropriate pets. Additionally, since they are wild animals they most likely wouldn't be happy as pets. Zoos with all their staff and resources have a hard enough time doing all they can to ensure their animals get the enrichment, environment and care that they need. Keeping a wild animal as a pet is not humane, and unnecessary considering all the choices we already have in domesticated animals.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Buddy System

In the past we've always kept two age groups in our camp session -- 7 to 9 and 10 to 13. For the first time this year we've held camps where the ages of the kids ranged from 7 to 13 years of age. The reason for this change is that some of the camps for the older age groups weren't filling and opening it up to the younger age groups allowed us to get more registrations.

I reasoned that because we split the kids into 3 seperate groups anyway, we could easily create different activities for the older kids to do most of the day so that they wouldn't get bored playing the games for younger kids. And for the most part this is exactly how it worked out.

Part of the day the entire group of kids are together -- snack time, lunch, and doing a few activities. One of these times is during a game that the kids play called "Eventful Journey".

Eventful Journey is like a giant game board and the kids themselves are the game pieces. The purpose of the game is to illustrate how difficult migration is for birds -- how they might run into poor weather, hunters or not be able to find food. The kids are assigned a specific space - which is a game card which tells them what their next move is. The game card might tell them to advance to card number 18 because they had favorable weather, or it might tell them that they got caught up in a storm and have to go back to a previous card. Risk cards come into play if they land on a space already being occupied by other "birds".

The advantage of having all the kids play this particular game is that some of the younger kids don't yet have the reading skills to be able to read the cards -- although they are old enough to understand the lesson of the game. We paired the kids up so that each of the younger kids had an older kid as a partner -- with the older camper reading the instructions on the card.

Earlier this week I was hanging out with the older campers and asked them how they felt about camp merging all the age groups -- did they mind having to share camp with 7, 8 and 9 year olds? I was really surprised when I was told that some of them had what they called "little buddies". The older kids had taken it upon themselves to find a younger kid to take under their wing.

While it's my job to provide humane education for the kids that come through our program, many times I'm the one who is educated. Kids will be compassionate and reach out to others if you just give them the opportunity.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Butterflies and Coyote Poop

As camp nears the end and I have less administrative duties, I've been able to spend a little more time with the kids. It always strikes me that there are many opportunities for education when it hasn't been scheduled. One such opportunity came up the other day when I was walking dogs with a group of kids.

I pointed out a couple of beautiful monarch butterflies and one of the kids wondered why there were so many in the field where HAWS volunteers walk dogs. I pointed to the milkweed plants and explained that monarch butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed and that the caterpillars eat only milkweed.

Later on that same walk one of kids noticed a big pile of poop laying on the ground. As I pulled out out a bag ans started to pick it up, I saw another educational opportunity and started to talk about why it's important to pick up after dogs (and was secretely annoyed by the dog walking volunteer who apparently didn't do so), when I noticed that it wasn't dog poop.

The poop was a very dark black and had berry seeds in it -- it was coyote scat. I pointed these features out to the kids (yes, they actually were interested - isn't everyone interested in poop?) and talked about the fact that wildlife biologists use scat in their study of animals. Biologists can tell a lot about an animal through their poop such as their range of territory, health and diet.

All in all it was a good walk.