Monday, January 14, 2013

The Wildlife Experience

The first week The Girl was back in school after the holidays, I received a phone call from her teacher. I groaned inside, worried about what new mischief she had gotten into. My daughter had gone from sweet child to menacing monster in the most recent 3 months of school and none of us could figure out why.

As it turns out, her teacher just wanted to tell me how well she was doing and suggested I come along on their upcoming field trip "as a reward to her". Really, it was "I need another chaperone, please come." Although spending a day with 20 strange kids and trying to keep them calm and quiet was not my idea of fun, spending the day with my daughter was. I agreed to go.

The field trip was to The Wildlife Experience in Parker, Colorado. It's part hands-on museum, part "don't touch" art museum and part natural science and history museum combines with an "Extreme Screen" theater and a gift shop.

The morning of the field trip was cold and dreary. Snow covered the ground. Snow covered the roads. I knew there would be school but I wondered if they might cancel the field trip. We were, after all, riding school buses to get there and in North Carolina, the buses wouldn't take anyone to school if even a single road in the county had snow on it. But this was not North Carolina. This is Colorado. There would be school and there would be a field trip. I wasn't going to get out of this.

The bus handled surprisingly well in the snow
Because it was snowing, The Girl and I walked to school. Because we walked to school, we were almost late. But once we finally made it to her classroom, I learned I would only have to worry about keeping up with 6 children during the day. They were also required to follow the buddy system so that made it even easier on me.

We all crowded onto 2 school buses (there must have been five 4th grade classes going) and headed out.

I wasn't sure how many photos I'd be able to take because parts of the museum have photography restrictions.  I wound up taking several photos outside just so I would have something I could take home to show The Boy and Mr. LH. As it turns out, the photography restrictions were mainly in the "don't touch" art area which I'll have to go back someday to see (the children had no interest in that part).

The museum staff, made up largely of volunteers, split the classes up into 3 groups. Our group gathered in a classroom to first learn about Biomes. Biomes are the major regional groupings of plants and animals discernible at a global scale. We focused on six major types: Coral Reef, Desert, Temperate Forest, Rain Forest, Savannah and Tundra. They also got to meet a large python named "Monty". I don't think any of the children  realized the humor in that.

Once our classroom time was done, we were taken to another room that had demonstration "touch & feel" type tables set table for each Biome. The Girl was excited to see the table for the Temperate Forest. Everything on the table was something familiar to her from living in North Carolina. They even had possum fur (and the other children got to hear how we would have possums constantly on our back deck in NC eating the cat food).

She saw plankton under a microscope...

And a polar bear skull, a narwhal tusk... anteater skull, a piranha, Gila monster skull, a HUGE snake skin...

...a rhino tusk, ostrich egg, and so much more. I would have preferred having more time at each table. I'm sure they would have learned more and retained more information, but there were all those classes to shuffle through after us...

We had a quick lunch on the mezzanine before moving on to our whirlwind walk through the Globeology exhibit.

From The Wildlife Experience website:
"Globeology is a very dynamic and interactive journey along a quarter mile path in an expansion of over 25,000 square feet of new exhibit space. Visitors experience many compelling places that help maintain the planet’s ecological equilibrium. Along the way, they’ll encounter state-of-the-art animatronics and special visual effects, sound effects and interactive touch screens with bio-facts and trivia games that are relative to the different biomes. These features in conjunction with the realistic exhibits provide visitors with a unique and immersive experience with the world’s wildlife and habitats."

When I say whirlwind walk, I mean WHIRLWIND.  We had exactly 20 minutes to get through this exhibit and any other part of the museum before we were scheduled to meet the other classes at the Extreme Screen theater. We started at the top and followed the path through each of the exhibits. I kept ahead of everyone not allowing anyone past me. Another chaperone stayed in the rear so we had all the children sandwiched between us.

Once we got to the bottom, everything was like a maze (it's really amazing how much stuff they could fit into the available space without seeming crowded).

Thank goodness one of the girls in my group had been the The Wildlife experience before. She was able to show us how to get OUT of the exhibit.

We rushed from the exhibit with only a few minutes to spare before we needed to be at our next destination...Under Antarctic Ice showing in the Extreme Screen theater. It was a PBS film just under an hour long that documented photographers going to Antarctica to capture photographs under the Antarctic ice.  It was really fascinating.

Immediately after the movie, we boarded the buses to head back to school. I shared my seat with a couple of very sleepy girls.

Most of the snow had melted off the roads but the view outside the bus window was still lovely.

Although I was disappointed we couldn't enjoy the museum at a more leisurely pace, I had a good time. The children seemed to enjoy themselves, too. The Girl and I decided we would definitely go back there someday - with Mr. LH and The Boy in tow.

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