Education and Enjoyment at Living Coasts
Published: May 21, 2015My name is Mark and I am the Education Officer here at Living Coasts. You may have heard the expression “never work with children or animals”, because you never know what might happen next. Well, a typical school visit to our coastal zoo is never predictable, but here goes…
Most of our school visitors are of Primary school age. One reason for this is that the site is ideally suited to the younger age group as there is little chance of losing children – there is only one route around the site. Another reason is penguins and Polar Regions are proving very popular topics at Primary schools!
Not surprisingly, the children are extremely excited by the time they get here and are often particularly keen to see the penguins, so the penguin feed is a great place to start. As this happens at 10:30, we try and get schools to arrive in good time to have a toilet stop, leave their bags and get up to Penguin Beach.
This is where our macaroni and African penguins get fed by hand… up close. This is accompanied by a talk designed to inform and entertain. We like to talk about what is happening, and as I said with the unpredictability of animals, who knows what that might be. Perhaps the macaroni penguins suddenly decide to do a mass display, with braying so loud that even a PA system can’t compete. Perhaps a penguin or two decides to investigate someone’s shiny shoes or fluffy boots. Perhaps the eider ducks will sit right in the middle of the crowd. Perhaps a prehistoric looking bank cormorant will scuttle down and steal a fish or two…
In addition you never know what questions the children might ask. “Why do the macaroni penguins have red eyes, is it because it makes them look evil?”, “When was the first penguin discovered?” If there is a school group present, the talk will be adjusted to get them involved as much as possible, as is the case with all our feeding talks.
Talking of which, our mornings are packed with them, and this gives a structure to the visit. The next feed is at 11:00 with our guillemots and puffins, who dive to catch their food. So the ideal spot to watch this is the underwater viewing area as the sinking food tempts the birds to dive, leaving a mass of shimmering trails of bubbles as birds ‘fly’ right past your nose. This is swiftly followed by otters at 11:15, with a brief pause before seals at 12:00, which gives schools a chance to visit the Mysterious Mangroves; hopefully see seals playfully swimming from the underwater viewing windows; and spot a secretive seahorse.
After lunch is the best time for schools to have a workshop. By far the most popular topic is Life on Ice, where the children get to find out why penguins look and act the way they do. This uses as many hands-on artefacts and activities as possible. It’s done in our underwater penguin theatre, so penguins are often swimming behind me when I am talking about them. This makes my job harder, of course, because all the children want to do is look at the penguin, point at the penguin, and of course shout “Penguin”!
The aim of educational visits to Living Coasts is for the children to learn lots, but without them feeling they have been ‘taught’; and of course for them to have a great day out. This is handily summarised in one teacher’s comment after a visit… “Effortlessly combined education and enjoyment.”
- by Mark Hancock, Education Officer at Living Coasts. If you would like to find out more about school visits to Living Coasts please visit our School Visits Webpage.