That weekend trip to the zoo, or chatting during a Discovery Channel program will boost your child's science learning. A recently released study shows that a little home enrichment goes a long way for science learning.
The National Academies report is located here: http://national-academies.org/morenews/20090114.html
I had a giraffe try to eat my sweater once at the circus museum in Baraboo. The kids were really small but they still remember that! I've discovered that giraffes are very friendly. In the old house at the Lincoln Park Zoo, they used to be able to reach over the fence and lick your hand.45479
Curiously, my boss at work today was talking about his daughter's gerbils, and I'd mentioned how we still had a pair that are a couple of years old, but they're the best "paper shredders" a person could ever want. We never have to buy "bedding," we just toss in any old empty cereal boxes, TP rolls, etc. and they chew them up. I mentioned how they're "little balls of energy," weighing only 2 oz. and 2.2 oz., but in any given week, together they chew about 20 ounces of scrap cardboard. They really only eat about 2.5 ounces of food (seeds, nuts, etc) each week, so basically it amounts to them eating half their body weight per week, while shredding 4 to 5 times their weight... it seems quite efficient, really... (And yes, Magnetmom, even my boss laughed and said it was very analytic...he hadn't thought of keeping pet gerbils as a scientific study, but heck, we're engineers, so I don't know why he seemed surprised?)45480
We were in a small zoo once where they had an enclosure for birds. A huge emu was walking around in there. I was so worried that one of my kids (they were about 5 then) would run up to it and try to hug it or something. It's the kind of thing my little ADHDers would do.
As for butterflies, my daughters are whizzes at catching them. They just walk up and pick them up by their fingers, pet them for a while and let them go. I always thought you had to chase them around with a butterfly net. I don't think I've ever caught one.
Did the butterfly exhibits you saw have a hatchery? We've seen a couple of those. They bring out a cart with a variety of cocoons with butterflies ready to emerge. You can watch them chew and struggle, and sometimes get stuck & die. But sometimes you see them take their first flight.
I also like those manta ray enclosures where you can put your hand in the water and they swim over to be petted. Who would have thunk a fish would like being pet?
I can just never get over how different zoos have become since my childhood. Lincoln Park Zoo was still basically iron and cement cages as late as the early 70's. Now it's amazing. And at the Shedd aquarium, the cetaceans swim up and poke their heads out of the water right next to the railing. You can stand their and look into their eyes and chatter with them.45482
The Aquarium of the Pacific has baby sharks and rays that you can pet, and occasionally they'll do backflips and splash all the kids standing nearby. It's where we went to end the summer and celebrate my son's departure for college.
And the butterfly exhibit at the Natural History Museum does have a small hatchery where you can patiently wait for them to unfurl their wings and fly out into the exhibit. The funny, or rather gross, part is that the butterfly exhibit closes one weekend, and the spider exhibit opens the next. Naively, we asked where they took the butterflies before the spiders arrived. The docent shrugged and said the butterflies became spider food. TMI for me and my daughter, but probably the norm for a scientist. :)
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