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Camp at Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History lets kids learn about animals first-hand

Camp at Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History lets kids learn about animals first-hand

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Turtles and crickets and sloths — oh my!

Creature Chronicles at the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History covered all three animals — plus hermit crabs, tortoises and sea horses — during spring break.

“When the teachers get a break, it’s our time on,” Maria Lazo, associate director and education coordinator for the museum, said.

Every day of the week began with a story time, introducing a book about that day’s animal. This year, each Creature Chronicles lesson was based on an animal in a selection of Eric Carle books: The Very Quiet Cricket, House for Hermit Crab, The Foolish Tortoise, Mister Seahorse and ’Slowly, slowly, slowly,’ said the Sloth. Though not included in the camp, this year is the 50th anniversary of what is largely considered Carle’s most popular book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Unlike summer camps where there is one topic for an entire week, each day of the mini-camp had its own topic. In addition to providing an educational camp during the break, Lazo said, it also lets families try the museum’s camps without a commitment, because students can register for just one day.

Once the book and the animal are introduced, there are lessons, experiments, interactive activities and crafts connected to the topic. Every day also included time to meet and interact with the animals featured in the books. Though some of animals are at the museum, others — such as the tortoise and sloth — visited from area organizations.

Lazo described Creature Chronicles as a nature camp in a museum setting.

They take advantage of not having the restrictions of a classroom, Lazo said, by presenting each day’s topics in multiple ways between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., even if the students do not realize it is all part of the same topic.

“You’re presenting it through a lesson and then through an interactive activity and then through a craft, it’s going to touch every child, their style of learning ability,” she said. “They’ll get more out of it, and it’ll be a more memorable experience for them.”

Learning is just a by-product of the fun the students — some as young as 4 years old — have throughout the day, said Maddy Herron, education associate at the museum.

“Every kid has kind of their preference of how they engage with things, so we are kind of able to encompass every option, so each kid gets their way of connecting to those topics and really having a lot of fun along the way,” she said.

Though it is almost the most stressful, Lazo said, her favorite part about the camp is planning the curriculum and seeing the students engage with and learn something from the ideas she and the education staff developed.

By letting the kids have fun while they are learning, said Garret Leopold, who was working with the third- and fourth-graders, they can just hang out and be themselves, calling the students “perfect little sponges” because they come to the camp every day wanting to learn.

“It’s great to get all this stuff in their heads at an early age, so that they can absorb it easier and faster and be able to help out the world as they get older,” he said.

By introducing the animals in the form of Carle’s books, Leopold said, he can then explain to the students that they have a role in conservation efforts to protect and save endangered and threatened animals, such as different sea turtle species.

Holly Hibbitts, a fourth-grader at Traditions Montessori School, said she most enjoyed meeting the live animals each day.

One of the most interesting things she learned, though, was how hermit crabs exchange shells.

“Some hermit crabs go in this huge line when they all gather up on shells at the beach, and they put this line from biggest to smallest and exchange shells,” she explained. “It’s cool to find how they actually do it.”

For more information about the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History or its camps, go to the museum’s Facebook page or contact the museum at 979-776-2195.

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