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Creepy crawlies

Things are moving at London Zoo. Carolyn O'Grady joins the queues at a new exhibition and workshop centre. Past the rhinoceroses and close to the building where the penguins swim and the enclosure where the lions pace or snooze, is London Zoo's new exhibition and workshop centre for children. Appropriately it focuses on animals and, in particular, the theme of movement. A joint venture with the manufacturers of K'nex, it will run until early September.

The idea is to offer schools 40-minute workshops, during which they do activities with K'nex construction kits, linked to science at key stage 2, particularly the attainment targets on life processes and living things, humans as organisms and physical processes. When schools aren't using the centre, individual children and their parents can come in for less structured sessions.

Groups enter K'nexploration through a lively exhibition of models of animals, insects and fish, and move into the workshop room where the session starts with a "Simon Says" exercise in which they stand up, fold their arms and move in other ways, and are told to think about how their joints might be working.

Props to illustrate different sorts of joints include an elephant's and a sheep's femur, plus a sheep's skull with its huge joints round the jaws. A spine and a ball and socket joint made with the construction kit trigger discussions on different sorts of spines and how those of the very bendy snake and ferret differ from less flexible ones.

The news that snakes dislocate their jaws so that they can swallow eggs twice the size of their heads gives rise its own demonstration of astonished jaw-dropping. Sitting at round tables with pieces of K'nex in the centre, the children then begin building models.

"It is the relationship between two pieces which determines the type of movement," says Chris Walsh, manager of the K'nex education department, so the children start with just two pieces connected at an angle. Finally they are asked to make an animal (it can be an invented one) with two different types of movement: a spider-like creature with jointed legs and swivelling eyes was one successful creation.

The workshops can be linked to trips to see the zoo's animals and compare how they walk or move their feet and heads. Sheets sent to schools before their visit recommend that they go to the elephant to see its four "knees", to the owls to observe how they twist their head right round, and to the flamingoes to see their visible leg joints.

Schools can also combine K'nexploration with other events, including feeding times and "meet the animals" sessions - lively presentations on themes such as endangered animals and the rainforests. Head of education Clare Robinson says the zoo would be happy to talk to teachers about how they might organise a day.

Sessions cost Pounds 3.50 for children. One adult is free with every 10 children, otherwise the cost per adult is Pounds 6. The price includes entry to the zoo, the K'nex workshops, other activities and a pre-activity pack. Contact Tasja Gardner on 0171 449 6552

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