Sparta kindergartners learn by building animal habitats

This classroom is a real zoo

Yikes, the cheetah may get loose if Pamela Lopez doesn’t get the fence fixed

There was no doubt in kindergartner Jacob Carr’s mind why he chose a moose when he had a chance to be a zookeeper.

“It’s big; it’s furry; you don’t normally get to see one; and my mom told me to pick it,” said the Ridgeview classroom zookeeper.

Official Zookeeper Naomi Rosario-Barrios

Jacob and his classmates in Nicole Bonkema’s room, as well as those in Ashley Roland’s classroom, spent days preparing for the day when zoo visitors, including parents, grandparents and friends, would arrive.

After choosing an animal from their own collections of stuffed creatures, they researched what the animal looked like, what it ate and where it lived.

When all the information was gathered, each student put the facts into a booklet, which could be used for reference when visitors arrived at the simulated zoo.

“The work was very age-appropriate, but they learned a lot about their animal,” said Roland. “They also had to figure out how to use materials from around the room to make an appropriate habitat or exhibit space for their animal.”

The zookeepers built exhibit spaces from small boxes, Lego blocks, and even dominos.

Eric Montego, who had chosen to study and show off a dinosaur, was building a fence with 1- to 2-inch building blocks when he announced, “I guess I will have to build it high. Dinosaurs can be kinda dangerous.”

Bryant Lawrence puts finishing touches on his giraffe exhibit

Teaming Up

Since each zookeeper chose which animal they wanted to exhibit, bears and cats of all kinds were popular. When two or more zookeepers chose similar creatures they had to work together to create the exhibit space.

In the Roland wing of the zoo, a plastic tub served as the zoo’s aquarium for students who had chosen to study and care for a seahorse and a lobster.

Zoo visitors were treated to a visit with a wide selection of creatures from the dinosaurs and lobsters to a monkey, a bee, turtles, a shark, a giraffe, a bird and of course Jacob’s moose.

Part of the work students put in before the zoo opened included making an official zookeeper hat and identification badge. All of their efforts paid off when they finally got to put them on and stand next to their exhibit.

Zoo visitors were encouraged to inquire about the animals as they walked through the exhibits. “What does it eat?” they asked. “What is its habitat like?”

“I love my walrus. He eats clams, lives in the water and has lots of little whiskers,” said Naomi Rosario-Barrios. “It is really cool being a zookeeper.”

Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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