It was a beautiful Tuesday morning but there were lions and tigers and kangaroos, “oh my!” — as it mostly goes in the The Wizard of Oz — all at Apache Junction Unified School District’s The Learning Center.
Not actual lions and tigers and kangaroos, of course. Twelve animal exhibits were built for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Zoo Project, part of Zoo Month that ran all of February and into early March at TLC, 2805 S. Ironwood Drive.
The exhibits were built by students in eight classes, including child care — the teachers may have lent a helping hand, but don’t tell anyone; and were the brainchild of Terri Berger, an Early Childhood Preschool teacher at TLC.
“It was an awesome idea,” said Alexis Scott, TLC’s early childhood special education teacher/coordinator.
Normally, in a non-pandemic school year, TLC students would study the animals in their monthly thematic unit and Ms. Scott would bring a live petting zoo onto campus to promote learning and assist in active exploration — hands-on learning.
But because some animals carry COVID-19, the students’ health became the top priority.
That didn’t deter Ms. Berger, though. If live animals were out of the question, well, the kids would create their own version of a zoo. Starting in February, the students incorporated early childhood developmental standards/skills — i.e. painting, ripping paper, cutting, gluing, marble painting) — and did most of the work while the teachers helped with the larger structures and pieces.
Supplies for the exhibits consisted of recycled goods donated by the community and staff members who advertised on social media. The Learning Center received boxes, plastic bottles and cardboard tubes. Other supplies — paint, paper, animal manipulatives — were gathered from the preschool classroom supply.
The result: Exhibits that showed the animals living in their natural habitat and a list of facts about each animal. The kids went from exhibit to exhibit, curious and enthusiastic about the tigers, zebras, monkeys and penguins.
“I was very impressed how it all came together and to see what a wonderful job the children did on their artwork and exhibit with their teacher’s guidance,” Ms. Scott said.
The exhibits also gave the preschoolers an opportunity to use their gross motor skills by pretending to swing like a monkey or slither like a snake.
“The kids were super excited and engaged,” Scott said. “I observed children admiring the artwork and participating in listening to animal facts read by their teacher and doing animal action activities while visiting each exhibit. The preschoolers definitely loved exploring the exhibits.”
Editor’s note: Scott Bordow is the director of communications and community engagement for Apache Junction Unified School District.