Up close and personal
Children can stroke a snake at a Zoolab workshop, says Gary Hayden
Ten or 15 years ago, many primary schools kept classroom pets.
Sadly, nowadays, teachers' worries about regulations and health and safety mean that pupils often miss out on a range of valuable experiences.
Zoolab, a company specialising in interactive animal roadshows for children, helps address this problem. Their team of 20 educational rangers deliver curriculum-based animal-handling workshops throughout the UK for pupils aged three to 18.
Ranger Scott Adams took a collection of animals into StBerteline's Church of England Primary School in Runcorn to deliver a key stage 1 workshop on minibeasts. During a one-hour session he introduced pupils to some fascinating creatures, including a giant African land snail (pictured right), a tarantula, a hissing cockroach, a corn snake and a giant millipede.
Children were encouraged to view animals up close and handle them (except the tarantula). Thanks to Scott's calm and reassuring manner, no child refused. At the end of the session, they were full of excited chatter.
"Children are really interested in animals, and love to handle them," says Scott. "But Zoolab sessions are not just about fun interaction, they're also based on the national curriculum. Our rainforests workshop ties in with the science topics: variation and classification and living things in their environment.
"The animals we use are chosen not only because they're interesting, but also because they're suitable for handling. We use a type of snake that's particularly placid. I constantly reassure the kids, and most children are happy to touch them. And even if the teachers are more nervous, they won't show it. Occasionally, teachers are not so helpful - I once had one run screaming from the room when I brought out the giant millipede."
Zoolab also runs in-service courses for staff. Scott says: "Rangers bring animals into school and work with teachers so they've got the background knowledge they need to deliver the curriculum. These courses are ideal for schools that want to do Zoolab-type activities every year, but may not always be able to use Zoolab itself."
Which animals does Scott recommend for schools that want to go it alone? "Giant African land snails are very easy to look after. They get really big, they're easy to feed, they don't die easily, they're unlikely to escape and they have an interesting lifecycle. Stick insects are also good.
For schools that want furry pets, I'd recommend gerbils. You can keep three or four together, they don't drink a lot and they rarely go to the toilet so they don't smell."
lZoolab offers the following interactive workshops: Rainforest Roadshow; Minibeasts; Classification of Living Things; Habitats; Food Webs; Lifecycles; Pets and Other Animals; Cute and Cuddly; Endangered Animals; Senses and Textures.
Visit National Pet Week for information on incorporating pets into the classroom: www.nationalpetweek.org.ukteac_pack.htm