The Zoo Trunk
Sue Nickson and Lori Licata
Buffalo Zoo, Buffalo NY
The Zoo Trunk is the Buffalo Zoo’s unique Docent run outreach program designed for preschool or kindergarten-aged children. Created by a docent in 1981 it was designed with learning activities, which can serve as an introduction to, and stimulation of interest in, the world of animals. There are large colorful posters, assorted visual materials to see and touch, and to round out the program; a live animal is introduced to the group. The program became so successful that in 1990 a second “Trunk” was created thus increasing the number of programs able to be scheduled. Currently the Zoo Trunk does multiple presentations each day Monday through Friday.
The Zoo Trunk was developed with the following objectives:
·To help children understand these concepts:
- animals are living things
- people are animals
- animals have needs
· To help children recognize a variety of zoo animals from descriptions of their physical characteristics.
· To develop an awareness of the ways in which animals are adapted to life in different environments air, land, water
· To understand the unique characteristics of the three animals groups: mammal, bird, reptile
A school contacts the Education Department and requests a Trunk Program. This information is passed on to the Docent Trunk Liaison who then contacts the school, sets up the date, time(s) and number of programs they would like. It is preferable to have only about 20 children per program and often back-to-back programs are scheduled to accomplish this.
After laying out the entire schedule for a month the Liaison then passes the completed monthly schedule on to the Docent Outreach Scheduler who then assigns the docents. Two docents are scheduled for each Trunk. This provides not only company and help in carrying the necessary materials, it provides a backup in the event of a last minute problem wherein one docent is unable to perform and a substitute is not found.
Docents staff the Zoo Trunk, Education Staff does not go out on programs. Upon receiving our newsletter with the monthly schedule, docents assigned to Trunks make contact with each other and the school for one final confirmation of date, time(s), directions to the school, preference for an animal and requests for a table for biofacts, and nametags for the children. Docents make arrangements when to meet at the zoo on the day of assignment and who will drive. Docents use their own cars.
Program materials are transported in one large canvas tote zippered bag and one artist’s portfolio. The animal travels in the appropriate carrier.
Training is done yearly by the Co-Coordinators. The training includes a manual that gives a step-by-step description of the program and how to do it. The manual also includes teaching techniques, vocabulary lists, animal handling techniques, emergency procedures, simple animal characteristics, and samples of all forms connected with the Trunk.
Every program is evaluated by the school where the Trunk is presented. These forms are completed and returned to the Zoo where the Co-Coordinators review them and statistics are kept by the Education Department.
What Do We Need?
Objective: To help the children understand these concepts:
Animals are living things
People are animals
Animals have needs
Materials: Large poster board entitled What Do We Need?
Four small pieces of poster board (in pouch on back of poster)
Mechanics Of Activity: In introducing the concept that animals need many of the same things that humans need, you will be talking about the human need and the children will tell you what it is the animal needs. When the correct answer is given, you will place the small poster board card with the picture of the answer in the proper place.
Note: This is an interesting and fun activity. For many children it is the first time they have considered the fact that all animals have needs similar to their needs. The poster shows a house, food, water, and exercise as human needs.
Four cards show a rabbit, burrow, typical rabbit food, a pond and open space and trees.
I’m Thinking Of An Animal…
Objective: To help the children recognize a variety of zoo animals from descriptions of their physical characteristics which emphasizes similarities and differences.
Materials: Large posters representing mammals, birds, and reptiles. The verse side of the each poster shows hints, special characteristics, to help the children guess what is pictured.
Mechanics Of Activity: Pull one poster up out the portfolio slowly revealing the first clue, the second and then finally the third clue about an animal. Have the children guess what the animal might be after each clue is revealed.
When all the clues are given and the children have made their final guesses, turn the poster over to reveal the animal.
Note: Make this a fun game. The children like it and are good at it. These posters have some writing on them. As the small children cannot yet read, point out the words and use this as yet another teaching opportunity.
Land, Air Water
Objective: To develop in the children an awareness of the ways in which animals are adapted to life in different environments land, air, water.
Materials: Three blue boxes labeled land, air, water. Each box is filled with pictures of animals seen in their respective environments.
Mechanics Of Activity: Set the three boxes up on the edge of a table or on chairs. Choose ahead of time what pictures you will be using. Hold up individual pictures and have the children tell you what environment each animal would have and let the child place the picture into the correct box.
Note: Animals don’t live in the air, but some do spend a lot of time in the air. Be careful with wording here. Some animals may exist well in two or more of the environments (i.e. polar bear). It is interesting also to compare pictures of very different lands arctic versus African plain.
Groups: Mammal, Bird, Reptile
Objective: To enable the children to understand the unique characteristics of the three animal groups mammal, bird, reptile.
Materials: Three posters depicting many animals in each animal group. Assortment of artifacts/biofacts. (i.e. mammal, mother pig with piglets, fur, antler, horn. bird, nests, eggs, feathers reptile, snake shed, skin, turtle shell.)
Mechanics Of Activity: The posters are part of the exhibit. Artifacts/biofacts are placed on nearby table.
Talk about special characteristics of each group using the artifacts/biofacts as you present the material.
Have the children touch their hair when explaining hair/fur for mammals, or touch their back for their backbone.
Note: Most children have never heard the word mammal or reptile. This is a new concept to them. You will be trying to convey the message that in any given group there are many individuals.
Try a comparison: vegetables spinach, corn, broccoli, birds robin, blue jay, crow
Try saving the poster, which represents your live animal until last.
Live Animal Presentation
Materials: One animal of your choice.
Mechanics Of Activity: To introduce to children by sight and feel. After they touch the animal, your Docent partner will squirt hand sanitizer onto each child’s hands.
Note: Remind children that this animal like all animals, whether mammal, bird or reptile, deserves love and care and respect …. etc.
Your presentation is now ended. Thank the children for inviting you to their school. Collect your evaluation forms before leaving and returning to the zoo.
No matter where we are, whether on zoo grounds or out on an outreach program, when we teach, we touch a life forever. The best time to begin the teaching is when the children are very young.
The huge success and popularity of our Zoo Trunk program certainly bears out this conclusion.