A program to give P.A.W.S.: HMNS Sugar Land brings animal audiences to new readers

There are few things more important — or more anxiety inducing — for a child than learning to read. Sounding out and stumbling over worlds can be awkward and a little embarrassing, and adults and authority figures can compound the apprehension for little people learning to love words.

One service animal organization recognized this, and developed a program to introduce therapy animals to young readers.

PAWS Reading Program

The P.A.W.S. Reading Program [Pets Are Worth Sharing] pairs non-judgmental animal audiences with children of all ages and reading abilities as they build confidence and, hopefully, develop a love of books not obstructed by reading anxiety.

PAWS Reading Program

Each Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m., kids are welcome to pair up or read in groups with these sweet therapy dogs. They’re great listeners, though they do have a tendency to cuddle.

PAWS Reading Program

PAWS Reading Program

Spotlight on Outreach: Embrace the oddballs with the Vertebrates version of HMNS’ Wildlife on Wheels

When you want to see a degu, an African Burrowing frog or an echidna, where do you go? You’re probably thinking the Zoo, or maybe on the National Geographic channel.

So where do you go to touch a degu, an African Burrowing frog or an echidna? Would you believe . . . a natural science museum? Even better, would you believe the museum could bring these fascinating creatures to you?

HMNS Outreach: Wildlife on Wheels

The best way to understand the different vertebrates is to meet them!

HMNS has a plethora of outreach programs that do just that. One of our most popular (and my favorite) outreach programs is Wildlife on Wheels. The Vertebrates theme can bring the aformentioned live fuzzies, squishies and stuffed pokies to schools, scout meetings, church groups, festivals or anywhere a group wants to learn. I love seeing the looks on kids’ faces when we present slick amphibians like salamanders or show them the actual size of an emu’s wing.

One of the best parts is having kids (and the occasionally squeamish adult) touch our live animals. You can see the excitement, trepidation and — hopefully! —understanding on their faces as they interact with something they may have only seen in a movie.

HMNS Outreach: Wildlife on WheelsA frog makes friends.

The Vertebrates theme brings an array of back-boned animals — both stuffed specimens and live creatures — up close and helps people make connections. Because the Vertebrates theme covers all five Vertebrates groups, it’s easy to illustrate the similarities and differences between fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

It is also, I think, our loudest theme — but what can you expect with live birds in tow and tons of inspired kiddos? Even our toads will sometimes get in on the “chorus” if you hold them just right!

HMNS Outreach: Wildlife on WheelsWildlife on Wheels students examine some of our specimens

It seems like a simple enough idea, but we can also adapt the program for different age groups. We love to talk about cool stuff, like what we call “the Rule-Breakers.”  By “rule breakers,” I mean those animals that don’t seem to fit in our carefully constructed categories.

Think about egg-laying mammals like the echidna. What about snakes that have live birth? Consider the endangered sawfish, a family of rays that traverse both fresh and salt water. How about a fish with lungs? There are so many oddities and so little time.

I love our Vertebrates topic. You can simplify the program and use it as an introduction to back-boned animals, make it an energizing refresher, or even make the first scientific connections in a child’s mind.

Ready to learn more about HMNS’ outreach programs or book your own visit from our critters? See it for yourself!

Bringing the wonder to you: Science on Stage

We’ve got permanent exhibit halls, special exhibitions and an entire basement full of classrooms for camp and education. But did you know that we can bring HMNS to you?

HMNS outreach programs — which include Science on Stage, Docents To Go, Wildlife on Wheels, Discovery Dome, Bugs on Wheels and more — can be booked for school appearances, youth groups, or nearly anything else you can dream up.

Our largest program, Science on Stage, can serve an audience of up to 250 people, and offers three compelling programs: Exploring Energy, Cool Chemistry and Motion Commotion.

Science On Stage - HMNS Outreach Programs

Each program lasts about 45 minutes and can be customized for certain age groups or group sizes. Each program includes live demonstrations and strives to make learning visual by bringing student volunteers on stage and weaving a question-and-answer portion throughout. HMNS provides all the supplies needed for each program and manages clean-up — how great of a house guest are we?!

Youth Educator Carolyn Leap walked us through the Cool Chemistry program. “We start off demonstrating chemical reactions versus physical reactions, usually through combustion. Things on fire on stage usually get people’s attention.”

“In this program, the audience learns how fireworks function and engage in color-changing reactions, as well as experimenting with water-absorbing polymers,” Leap explained. “And, depending on the age of the audience, we make our own slime.”

Leap continued, “We use a concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide to create a foam reaction we call Elephant’s Toothpaste.”

“We dip all sorts of stuff in liquid nitrogen with the assistance of our student volunteers, who love to shatter frozen flowers and dunk balloons,” she said.

Science On Stage - HMNS Outreach ProgramsHMNS’ catalogue of outreach programs covers many fields, from life sciences with Wildlife on Wheels and Bugs on Wheels to anthropology with Docents to Go to our Discovery Dome portable planetarium  — and much more, thanks to a wealth of programming.

Most of our Science on Stage programs are hosted by Leap, who was this year named Educator of the Year by the Texas Association of Museums.

Science On Stage - HMNS Outreach ProgramsTo reserve Science on Stage for your students or group and get introduced to one of the best educators Texas has to offer, call 713-639-4766 or click here.

Those who can, teach: Tracking the Painted Lady life cycle with pasta

Hey there, today marks another installment of my handy how-to’s for educators.

This particular activity is awesome when paired with observing Painted Lady butterflies grow and change in your classroom.  It’s a visually appealing model that represents a unique hands-on opportunity to record the stages in the life cycle of organisms in their natural environment — using inexpensive materials and items gathered from outdoors.

caterpillar

Photo by squeakychu

What You’ll Need:

From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman (very basic)
The Lifecycles of Butterflies by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards (more detailed)
Light blue construction paper cut into 3 x 18-inch (8 x 35-cm) strips – one strip per child
Rotini pasta – one piece per child
Bowtie pasta – one piece per child
Mini shell pasta – one piece per child
Orzo pasta (rice also works well) – one piece per child
Small twigs or brown craft stems cut into 3-inch strips – three per child
Fresh leaves or leaves cut from construction paper– two per child
Wildflower or flower sticker – one per child
Washable markers
Liquid water color paint in green and another color of your choice
Scissors
School glue

Kat-Caterpillar to Butterfly

What You Do:

1.    Cut construction paper into strips; one per child.
2.    Color rotini pasta and mini-shell pasta green by placing pasta in a baggie with green liquid water color and shaking gently.  Spread out and allow the pasta to dry.
3.    Color bowtie pasta a bright color of your choice in the same manner.

Next:

1.    Read:  From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman aloud to the class. This story is about a Painted Lady Butterfly raised in a classroom. Painted Lady Butterfly Kits are available in the Houston Museum of Natural Science Museum Store (use your educator’s discount!).  Live specimens will ship to you after you mail in the card contained in the kit — allow time for this.
2.    Take your class on a short field trip in the green areas on school grounds.
3.    Each child will collect three small sticks and two fresh leaves.  (Keep in mind that it is a good idea to check with school administrators to verify that collecting on school grounds is permissible.)
4.    Each child will fold a strip of light blue construction paper into four equal sections, creasing well.
5.    In the first section, a stick and a leaf are glued into the square, as if it were a leaf hanging from the stick.  Glue a single piece of orzo atop the leaf.  What does the orzo represent?
6.    Glue a stick and leaf in a similar way in the second square. Glue a piece of green rotini pasta to the top of the leaf.  What does this represent?
7.    In the third square, a stick should be glued with one mini-shell pasta hanging straight from the middle.  What does this represent?
8.    In the last square, a flower or flower sticker will be glued, along with the colorful piece of bowtie pasta.  What does the bowtie pasta represent?  Why do we have the flower in this square?
9.    Label each section as follows:  EGG, CATERPILLAR, CHRYSALIS, and BUTTERFLY.  They must be labeled in this order.
10.    Have children practice presenting the butterfly life cycle to one another using the project that was created.

Cockrell Butterfly Center

Questions to expand those  kiddie minds:

Why did you glue the “egg” and the “caterpillar” to the leaves?
Why did you glue the “chrysalis” to the stick?
Why was there a flower with our butterfly?
How many stages are there in the butterfly’s life cycle?
How is your life cycle similar to the life cycle of a butterfly?  How is it different?
Name other life cycles you observe around you.

Enjoy!