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Teaching about animals at Explorit

This article appeared in the January 21, 2011 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

By Liz Shenaut
Special to the Enterprise

Meeting a live animal tends to be a favorite Explorit experience because the animal presentations are styled to foster curiosity and up-close-and-personal interaction between animals and people.

During public visitor hours and animal-themed programs such as one of the birthday party packages and one of the traveling school programs, Explorit introduces people to its resident critters. These include three types of cockroaches, stick insects, and three reptiles.

One of Explorit’s Education Specialists, Lisa Justice, explains the organization’s animal presentation style that actively involves people in their own learning.

“We take what I would describe as an inquisitive approach,” she said. “I might start by asking, ‘What do you notice about this animal?’ After people come up with observations, I follow up with more questions for them. They usually have questions for me, too. Through this asking and answering process, people find out about the animal’s habitat, adaptations, and how it survives.”

Explorit staff believe that being able to observe and touch the live animals in addition to participating in an inquiry-driven dialogue are key ingredients to helping people fully understand concepts about the animals they meet.
After much anticipation on Tuesday afternoon, 3-year-old Explorit visitor Natalie Caldwell got to pet Spike, one of Explorit’s bearded dragon lizards. Justice held Spike for the wide-eyed Caldwell who seemed very pleased about seeing Spike up close and feeling his scales.

Shana Caldwell reported her daughter’s excitement about the lizard prior to the face-to-face meeting.

“We were here all day,” said Caldwell. She kept coming back to the cages, saying, ‘It’s crawling!’ She kept talking about his eyes moving, too.”

The kind of observations Caldwell mentions stem from natural curiosity and lead straight to ‘doing science,’ a favorite phrase at Explorit. As long as people are encouraged to ask why the lizard’s eyes are moving, or why its tail is so long, scientific inquiry and learning are sure to follow.
Even for people who aren’t enthusiastic about petting a Madagascar hissing cockroach, Vietnamese walking stick, bearded dragon or blue-tongued skink, the experience can still become a favorable one.

As soon as Explorit educators tap into people’s natural curiosity for new things, even hesitant people usually get excited about touching an interesting animal they have never seen before.

Reptiles and insects happen to be animals that many people fear. Because of this, another important feature of Explorit’s animal presentations is to help children and their adults replace fear with respect for those animals’ unique characteristics.

Explorit’s coming events:

Through Jan. 30: With the support of AAA, Union Pacific, State Farm, and the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District, Explorit’s “Wheels to Wings” exhibition will be extended until Sunday, Jan. 30.

Through Jan 30: Members and non-members can take advantage of The Store's after-holiday sale with many great items like planet mobiles, build-your-own telescopes, kid's microscopes, silver jewelry, and mineral and fossil specimens. Shoppers can shop without paying admission.
Explorit Science Center, at 2801 Second St., has two exhibitions on display: “Move It! Science in Action” and “Wheels to Wings.”  Admission is $4 general, free for teachers, and ages 3 and under.  The museum is open to school groups by reservation and to the general public 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Tuesdays and 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit

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