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Hands-On Learning About the Oil Spill
It’s not easy teaching children about disasters. Unfortunately, the children of the Gulf States know a vocabulary that most children in the U.S. don’t ever learn; words like- evacuation, FEMA, dispersants, and oil boom. It’s my job to kindly educate the children about both the positive and negative effects humans have on the natural world. There must always be a careful balance; young children should not be scared or feel powerless. People kept asking me how I was going to teach about the oil spill and I kept hesitating, then I started to listen to the zoo campers.
I watched them at the sandbox when they mixed water and mud and loudly exclaimed “It’s an oil spill!” I heard them talk about washing birds when they saw a case of Dawn dish detergent sitting on a cart. I realized that they knew something was up; something bad, but vague. I also know that they wanted to help. We have received phone calls and letters from children all over the country that want to help the animals.
The Audubon Zoo now has an opportunity for children to learn about the oil spill and its relationship to animals. Children that visit the Audubon Zoo Discovery Walk can learn firsthand how oil mixes (or doesn’t mix!) with water, where it would wash up and how booms and dispersants work. Then they can step to the next station and learn how the people at Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Programs actually clean endangered sea turtles. They will gown and glove up, pick a (plastic, but very realistic) sea turtle from the oiled pool (cocoa and vegetable oil), then gently wash it with soap and water and finally release it into a clear pool. Through play the children can understand and even feel empowered.
They love it. They treat the toy turtles with all the care that a live turtle would get. Children want to help, they want to understand. We must teach them gently and carefully, but we must teach them.