Monthly Archives: October 2015

Going on a Field Trip

When I was a child, the excitement of an upcoming field trip would have me up at the crack of dawn with my bags packed and sitting by the door waiting for the rest of the family to get up. I may have even slept in my clothes once so I would be ready even faster the next morning. As a child, I thought about the fun parts of the field trip. Riding on a bus, being in class but not at school and seeing something new. Little did I know, the teachers had found a great way to sneak in a learning experience. As adults, we often don’t get opportunities to go on field trips. If you have school-aged children, you may get a chance to go but then you still have responsibilities of watching a group of children. Isn’t it time for a field trip that you can enjoy without being responsible? The answer is yes! Participating in NAI events gives you the opportunity to go on a field trip that is geared toward your interest as an interpreter AND all you have to do is wake up and be ready to go before the vans pull away.

Perky loves field trips!

Perky loves field trips!

This February, the regional workshop will be in Stone Mountain, Georgia. There are a variety of field trips available from which you can choose. If you work with animals in your job or you just have a love of animals, you may want to go on the Zoo Atlanta field trip.  Not only will you have a chance to encounter animals, you will learn about their research efforts and educational programming.

With Stone Mountain being on the outskirts of Atlanta, many historical sites are just a hop, skip and short drive away. Atlanta is rich in history and several field trips will take you on a journey to the past. Learn more about the life of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. as you visit the MLK National Historic Site. From seeing the home he was born in to visiting his grave, this field trip is sure to be an enlightening trip into the past.

If you’re looking for a broader view of Georgia’s history, you may want to take a field trip to the Atlanta History Center. Take a walk through history as you wind your way through exhibits, touring historic houses, and visiting the birthplace of Gone with the Wind. If you love stories, you may choose to visit the Wren’s Nest. The Wren’s Nest is the home of Joel Chandler Harris, the author who penned Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings. Br’er Rabbit or Br’er Fox are a few of the characters in these stories.

If you want to get in touch with your inner child, The Center for Puppetry Arts is the trip for you. You’ll learn how to use puppetry in your interpretive programs, watch a puppet show and make your own puppet!

This February, bring excitement back into your life by signing up for a field trip. Not only will you have an enjoyable experience, you may learn something new without even knowing it!

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Animals in Education: Why Do We Pet Turtles But Not Possums?

Do you work with live animals at your site? Does your site have rules about how you use these animals in your interpretive programs that sometimes make sense and sometimes don’t?

I have worked for 15+ years at a nature center in western Kentucky that has over 40 captive wild animals on exhibit. These animals have been either injured or orphaned and imprinted, and are considered “permanently non-releasable.”

Some of the biggest questions you have to deal with when you have live animals at your site are how you want the public to be able to interact with them. Can they pet them? And if so, which ones? Can they feed them? Do they have names?

At my nature center, we let visitors touch many of our snakes and turtles. But visitors can not touch our other wildlife, such as our larger birds and mammals. We also tell visitors that we don’t name the animals because they’re not pets. The lesson is supposed to be that wild animals are not pets and therefore don’t have “pet names.” These animals are wild and so should not be treated like pets.

When I was younger and just getting started in this field, I pretty much parroted these lines. But the older I get, the more I seem to question the logic. For example, why is it okay to pet a turtle but not a deer? Is the turtle somehow less “wild”? Is the deer more? Would naming our coyote really make someone more likely to try to keep one as a pet? Maybe, I just don’t know.

Obviously, some animals should not be touched because there is a safety issue – no one wants to see a visitor get hurt. But what about the value of giving people the experience of an up-close connection with an animal? The main reason that we let people touch snakes is the hope that an up-close experience will lead to less fear and more appreciation of these often-misunderstood creatures. Why does this logic seem to stop with reptiles? Would it be terrible to let visitors touch an opossum, another often-disliked animal?

Currently, we have a deer at our nature center that is very people-friendly. She comes right up to people and sniffs at their hands. Even though we have signs saying “Please don’t pet the deer,” it is way too tempting, and people pet her all the time when our staff aren’t watching. So far no one has been bitten, but many have been awestruck. Is this bad? I don’t know.

More and more, it seems like people in general are having less experiences with wildlife in their regular lives. But there is a hunger for it out there. People are watching animal YouTube videos like crazy, watching animal shows on TV, following bird nest web cams. But real experiences with real animals? Those seem to be few and far between.

In interpretation, we often say that we need to get people to feel a connection with something if we want to motivate them to protect it. If this is true, maybe getting people to feel a connection with animals is a goal we should think more about. It sounds so simple, but many of our rules often work contrary to this.

I’m not sure this is right, it’s just a question I’ve been pondering lately. What is the harm in letting a child pet a deer if it is a safe situation? Or an opossum? Do we lose something if we let kids call a coyote “Campbell”? Or do we create something? Which is the bigger issue, getting people to think of wild animals as wild, or getting people to feel a connection with them in the first place?

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Interpretation that makes SENSE

We all know what interpretation is… a form of communicating in an effective way. How you do this is the big question. There are a variety of ways to interpret. At the South Carolina Aquarium, one way that we interpret is during our formal programs, usually using visuals while verbally communicating about a specific topic. Props, pictures, and live animals are things that make our programs “interpretive.” Even though every audience is different, I feel that we’ve mastered interpretation in this form. However, what happens when your audience can’t hear? or can’t see? What good is your microphone, pictures, and props? Then, you’ve got a challenge.

This coming Sunday, the School of the Deaf and Blind is visiting the South Carolina Aquarium. It will be my first time leading a program for this kind of audience. I am excited, intrigued, challenged, and humbled! 99.9% of the programs that I develop are for audiences, that even though are dynamic, have the ability to hear and see. So, how do I effectively interpret for an audience that can’t?

Although they don’t have the senses of sight and vision, we can focus on the senses that they do have… touch, taste, and smell. Tapping into these senses, you can still effectively communicate your topic. I think the key sense to focus on is touch. We all know that kids LOVE to touch things. I know that everyone’s favorite spot in the Aquarium is always the touch tank. Touch allows us to connect with an item or animal which in turn helps us to understand it a little better. Using touchy feely props will be the focus of my program. I am going to guide the students through the Aquarium, from the “Mountains to the Sea” with a variety of sounds and items to touch. With the help of a guide book written in brail, hopefully these kids will leave the program knowing what regions are in South Carolina, what animals live in these habitats, and what they can do to help them. I will have sounds of each habitat (birds, babbling brooks, ocean waves) as well as live animals and props they can touch and hold next to their word in brail.

This is a new form of interpretation for me, but it is a challenge that will benefit myself and others. Forcing myself to think outside of the box will allow me to become a better interpreter and reach more audiences. Being creative is a huge part of being an interpreter and I am humbled to be able to experience this new art form while creating a unique experience for students that are unable to participate in other programs. Interpretation that makes “sense!” 🙂

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Lessons from Residents and Migrants

I often find symbolism in nature. Bird watching offers an abundance of it, such as the devotion of cardinal pairs to each other and the way crows clean up the parking lot like clockwork near closing time. The latest symbolism I’ve found is in the fall warbler migration.

In recent years when August arrives I’ve learned to pay attention to the excited chips of flitting titmice, chickadees and wrens. The sounds make me pause from household chores to look out a window at the movement in the bushes right outside. The first time it happened I was one foot away, with a window in between, from a male redstart, black and orange tail fanned, foraging where a titmouse had been moments before in a sparsely branched Carolina rhododendron. What a view! No binoculars required. Another time the commotion of locals caused me to pause and look toward the garden at the perfect moment to see the gift of a black throated blue warbler pair. I concluded that the resident birds must be scolding and bothered by this intrusion and possible competition for food.

This year’s migration has changed my perspective. Savvy now at how high activity among resident birds can reveal migrants, again excited chips from open windows called me away from chores and outside with my binoculars. Chickadees were bugging among the shrubs at the woods’ edge, then among them and behind as they moved along, something different. To my delight I was treated to what, back with my books, I concluded were six black throated green warblers, foraging low in the bushes.

A few days later, August 17 according to my journal, I was making my bed at the right time to again hear and see a titmouse foraging in that same rhododendron out my bedroom window, one foot away, this time followed by a worm-eating warbler. August 22, same rhododendron, same titmouse? I don’t know, but there were two worm-eating warblers, foraging away, the titmouse with them briefly and then moving on, and a different warbler among them my non-expert skill couldn’t verify, but looked to be an immature pine warbler.

That day after witnessing this bird behavior I mused that, maybe rather than complaining that the migrants are consuming their food sources, maybe the residents are actually guiding the migrants to what will keep them alive and sustain them during their long, perilous journey. Is there a lesson here for us humans?

Cindy Carpenter

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