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Old 06-01-03, 08:51 PM   #1 (permalink)
BWSmith's Avatar
Join Date: Oct-2002
Location: Georgia (USA)
Posts: 1,888
Post A Guide to Reptile Educational Programs

I have actually seen several posts that ask how to do an educational program on reptiles. Since I have clocked hundreds of hours offering programs, I thought I would throw this together.


1. Taylor your show to your audience. If it is adults with a background in biology, use latin names and techical terms, it makes it easier on everyone. If it is 1st graders, you small words with a lot of excitement, be animated, and ask THEM questions. I try to have little prizes for correct answers like plastic snakes or something. Costs me all of a dollar. But base the way you present the animals on the age and knowledge level of your audience. You want to keep them interested without boring them by talking over them or being too "micky mouse" about it.

2. Decide what you want to cover. As a general rule, you should limit your program to include topics that can be illustrated by animals used. Don't talk about frogs if you only brought a snake. Stick to snakes. If you brought a Bullfrog, talk about amphibians a bit.

3. Be SAFE! Don't bring any animals that are in the blue, unpredictable, or that you are not familiar with. We don't want any unforseen accidents. If you let kids touch the snake, there 3 things to remember: 1, ALWAYS have the "sharp" end under control. This is why about a 6' snake is ideal, there is 5.5' of snake betweent he kids and the sharp end and you can easily keep control over the head. 2, Have them touch the snake with thier first 2 fingers front to back. This greatly reduces the chance of the snake reacting badly. This also asserts control over the children. 3, Have hand sanitizor next to you and arrange for the teacher to dispense sanitizor after they touch it and when everyone is done, the teacher should all take them to wash their hands. The last thing we want is some parent undercooking chicken, a kid getting salmonilla, and they blame it on YOU! A good disclaimer for the administrator to sign is a beautiful thing. Perhaps I will post a copy of the one that I use. I like it because it was written by the corporate lawyer for DuPont

4: CRAP!!!!!!!! Speaking of accidents, here is a trick I learned. Don't feed the snake for a week before the show. Two days before the show, soak it in lukewarm water. The night before the show, put it int he container it will be in and take it for a short drive and then leave it in there for an hour. Then soak it again. This will allow the animal to relieve its bowels so they do NOT do it in front of kids. Trust me, you get all kinds of noises from the kids if this happens and order will be difficult to restore.

5. How to handle a BITE!!!!! Inevitably, at some point or another, an animal WILL bite you during a show. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle this. You can kick and swear and shove him in his bag while you suck the wound, or you can try a differnt method. As much as it pains me to say, Croc Hunter is our friend in this situation. I just look at the audience while they are in shock and say in my best crappy aussie accent (is there any other aussie accent Ben? :lol: ) "That's a naughty Girl! You're a little bit cranky." And calmly put the snake away. Then explain that it is not the snake's fault. "This just shows you that snakes ARE wild animals and she happened to be in a bad mood. She was just defending herself because she thought I might be a predator. This is why you NEVER pick up a snake in the wild" or something to that effect. Method works for me.

6. Stress the importance of herps, even venomous ones.

Ok, now let's talk about the individual groups we would be educating. I think kids are the primary target, so let's start with them.

Rule number 1, STAY INTERESTING!!!!! Be excited and animated, they will hsare your excitement. But at the same time be strict. These are wild animals. In front of everyone, go over the rules: 1. NOONE TOUCHES any animal without your consent. 2. Everyone stays seated. 3. Everyone has to stay quiet. 4. Anyone who cannot follow the rules, the teacher will remove (and don't be afraid to do it). While we are talking about rules, children and animals let me share an anictdote. Someone was doing an educational program at a school. He decided to bring venomous (I DO NOT recommend this). In addition, for the demonstration he hooked each one out of the box (VERY DANGEROUS PRACTICE!!!!!!!). So there he is, in front of a class of kids with a Cottonmouth on a hook (***shudder***). All of the sudden one of the kids rushes the front to GRAB the snake!!!!!!!!!!!! Luckily he was able to whip up his foot to push the kid down (abuse?) and swing the Cotton the other way! You can imaging how that may have turned out. Make the rules. Stick by the rules. Express the rules. Punish rule breakers. Most teachers are more than willing to help with discipline.

Rule number2, keep them involved. Ask them questions individually and as a group. IF it is a group of 1st graders, "What has no legs and crawls on its belly?" and they all will answer in unison "A SNAAAAAKE!" Things like that are great. I keeps them involved and makes them feel good that they knew the answer.

Rule number 3, there IS NO wrong answer. This can be a tough one. NEVER tell a kid that he is wrong, he won't say anything else. We have to learn to turn wrong answers into right ones. This is something you have to deal with on an individual basis. One particular instance comes to mind. I was giving a program for elementary schoolers. While I was going tover turtles and tortoises, one kid piped up and asked "Didn't like a long time ago, turtles used to be really really fast?" After a couple seconds I responded "Well, this guy here is a Slider, he lives int he water most of the time. See how slow he is on the carpet? Well in the water he can swim faster than you and I." I did not tell him he was wrong, I just skewed the topic slightly so that in some way he was right. Aside fromt hat method, there are ways to say that the answer is not correct without saying they are wrong. "You're close" or phrases like that do wonders.

Rule number 4, BE PREPARED for ANY question! That is about all I can say about that except expect a Croc Hunter question or comparison.

Rule number 5, speak on thier level. This can be hard trust me. I went from teaching a school one week to teaching EMTs envenomation prehospital care. It gets tough. But for kids you can say things like "This is a Boa, he is what we call a c-o-n-s-t-r-i-c-t-o-r. Can you all say that "constrictor"? Good! What that means is he squeezes his food. If a little mouse or rat that comes walking by while he is hungry, he sits and waits and waits and then BAM!!!! he grabs it and wraps his body ALLLLLLLL around it and squeezes and squeezes until he can eat it." One thing I have learned is not to sugar coat things, just simplify. These kids have been exposed to a lot!

For the most part, they have little interest, it is something other than class. Keeping their attention is tough. Unfortunately, the best method I have found for teenagers to get a little gruesome every once in a while and that perks them back up. I think the key is to portray snakes as animals who are generally harmless to humans and great for the environment, but also kill their prey really "COOL!". If you throw in a few gruesome details about the way they secure food, the interest level will be higher and they will pay more attention to the other stuff

Adults: This is generally nature centers and the such. Remember tha most are going to be ophidiophobes or at least have misconceptions. Treat them respectfully and be very matter-of-fact.

A few tips and tricks i have learned:
1. One thing I always do before a snake comes out of the bag is ask "Whoever is afraid of snakes can go sit over there (generally by a door and generally the teachers go there too)." Once they have all moved I walk over, sit down and ask "Now why are you afraid of snakes?" You would be amazed to the effectiveness of this simple method! This way, you address each fear individually and squash it! GREAT STUFF!!! There is no feeling like having one of the people in "Phobia Corner" touch a snake!!!! In all the programs I have done with hands on contact, only ONE, count them ONE, person has left without at least touching a snake. This method is amazing! ***takes a bow**** :lol:

2. For school shows I try to represent something from each group of herps. This gives a broad range of information and you are guarunteed not to run out of topics. I try to bring (in order I present) A frog, a turtle, a lizard and 2 snakes (one small, one large). This pretty much covers herps. For the frog, talk about amphibians, for the turtle, talk about turtles and tortoises, Lizards are pretty easy (just be sure to mention Komodo Dragons and the little guys found near you). I start with a smaller snake, like a kingsnake, and talk about snakes in general, the types of snakes, importance, and all that other fun stuff. This way, then I bring out the big snake, it is the last and I get lots of OOOHHHs and AAAHHHHHs. Keep it brief witht he big one especially if you are letting them touch. It makes everything run smoother. Before putting up each specimen, I ask the class "Do you have any questions about Turtles?" (or whetever I have out). This way, you don't have to backtrack.

OK, that is a lot of information, but it barely scratches the surface. This is just what I could think of off the top of my head. Perhaps in the future I will write a more detailed sheet including specific topics, show handling methods, and the legal rammifications. I purposely did not address venomous programs, that is a whole different ball game Hope this helps, even if it is VERY basic.
I planted some bird seed. A bird came up. Now I don't know what to feed it.

Last edited by BWSmith; 06-02-03 at 08:05 AM..
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