I’m sure many of you think you’ve heard it all. There’s nothing left that could possibly surprise you. When you work with the public as closely as interpreters do, it’s easy to become jaded pretty quickly. With so many interactions every day, you feel like you’ve seen and done it all. I myself thought that absolutely nothing could throw me off balance anymore. I work with kids and animals-what could possibly ruffle my feathers? But now and again, I get a pointed reminder that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the “interesting” visitor iceberg and that the interpretive life is full of surprises.
Sometimes, it’s a simple misunderstanding or a lack of knowledge. It can be hard to remember that not everyone has the same level of familiarity with the natural world as I do. One of my all-time favorites comes from another educator’s visitor experience. A gentleman had approached her and was questioning her as to the best way to remove a squirrel from his attic. He wanted to get it out “before it [laid] its eggs!” (A point of clarification for the non-biologists out there: squirrels, being mammals, do not lay eggs) Other times, it may be as simple as a child who has too much Animal Planet viewing time and not enough real world experience…
Educator: “What animal could drill through bark and threaten a tree?”
Student: “A hummingbird!”
Educator: “Ah, not quite! This animal does have wings and a long beak, but also pecks holes in the wood?”
Student: “A SQUIRREL!”
Many of our best moments here at the nature center come from our younger audience. Kids are always full of surprises and never seem to follow the script you have laid out in your head. For instance, when an educator here was covering geology in the form of pudding cups, cookies, and assorted treats, she made a classic mistake and asked a 5 year old an open ended question.
Educator: “These are gummy worms that are okay to eat. Should we eat real, live worms if we find them?”
5 yr old: “well YEAH!”
Never give a moose a muffin and never ask a 5 year old about eating worms. It won’t end well.
Although it can be more than a little exasperating at times, we need to remember to view these interactions with a smile and a sense of humor. For many visitors, questions that seem insane to us are quite genuine on their part. They want to share their thoughts and questions with us and learn from our experiences. So keep a smile on your face, remind yourself what a great Facebook post this’ll make, and enjoy the surprise!