If I ran the zoo, what would I do? That’s the question the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library and Zoo Atlanta want kids to ponder during a jointly run summer environmental education effort focused on igniting kids’ zeal for protecting Georgia’s wildlife—while also inspiring them to consider future careers in animal conservation.
Starting June 1, each of Atlanta’s 34 library branches will receive two visits from Zoo Atlanta’s ZooMobile. During a 45-minute program, helmed by a zoo educator and a local librarian, pre-K through elementary school-age kids accompanied by their parents, will hear presentations about Georgia’s wildlife and their habitats, participate in activities like collage making, and meet and greet a bevy of wild creatures who hail from Georgia’s wetlands, forests, and mountain areas.
One key goal for the program: planting the seeds for the next generation of professional animal preservationists.
With the effort, “we hope we’re inspiring the next group of environmentalists, zookeepers and conservationists,” says Jason Taylor, Zoo Atlanta’s school and family programs manager.
Atlanta Library’s Youth Services Manager Michelle Bennett agrees. “We want to get kids more engaged with science and math type careers as part of their futures.”
Funded as part of a two-year grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Zoo Atlanta and Atlanta-Fulton Public Library are striving to foster greater understanding of and appreciation for creatures who inhabit the wild, explains Bennett.
Focusing on Georgia’s wildlife, the educators want to highlight fascinating animals, not just in distant lands, but right in kids’ own backyards-in their home state’s forests and fields.
Each branch in Atlanta’s sprawling library system will receive a visit from a total of three critters. While Fizza-ma-Wizza-ma-Dill, a fantastical creature in Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoon (Random, 1950), won’t be dropping by, others like opossums, snakes and box turtles, not to mention uber-urban critters like rats and roaches-will make stops at libraries citywide.
In addition, explains Bennett, each 45-minute science program will kick off with a 15-minute story time, with books that reinforce the wildlife theme such as Rebecca Elliot’s Zoo Girl (Lion UK, 2012), about a young girl adopted by zookeepers, and Sonya Hartnett’s Midnight Zoo by (Candlewick, 2011), about two boys during World War II come upon a zoo.
Hands-on activities are a key part of the program, too. Kids assemble animal puzzles out of construction paper, create animal collages from magazine photos, and “if the group’s not too rambunctious and crazy, they’ll get to touch” them, too, says Taylor.
What’s more, as part of the summer program, the zoo will donate a total of 40 animal and nature books to the Atlanta library. Two already have arrived on the shelves: Elephants of Africa by Gail Gibbons ( Live Oak Media, 2011) and Animal Tails (EarlyLight Books 2010) by Beth Fielding.
Bennett also hopes kids will “be able to recognize those animals that are on the verge of extinction.”
But the zoo’s Taylor wants to steer away from anything “too doomy and gloomy.” Rather, he wants to enhance kids’ appreciation of the natural wonders, many of them right at their doorstep.
“There are amazing animals with a rich and amazing ecosystem” closer at hand than many kids think.