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Sensory exploration at the zoo

Language arts, meet the Madagascar cockroach

Caledonia — On a field trip to John Ball Zoo recently, Abby Barker asked Heidi Kruizenga’s kindergarten class, “Who knows what cockroaches eat?” 

John Ball Zoo is a proud sponsor of SNN

Guesses included leaves, dirt and trash.

The real answer: much yuckier stuff.

“The Madagascar hissing cockroaches eat other animal’s poop and dead animal carcasses off the ground,” said Barker, an educational instructor at the zoo. 

“What are (carcasses)?” kindergartner Ellie Marsman asked. When she received her answer: “Eww, that’s gross,” was her response. 

Barker taught the class an important lesson: “Don’t eat another animal’s poop. It’s healthy for them, but not for us.” 

Educational Instructor Abby Barker pulls Prince the snake out of his carrier

The Dutton Elementary kindergartners visited the zoo for a field trip to expand on their Core Knowledge Language Arts unit about the five senses. 

“We’ve had fun exploring our world through taste, sight, sound, touch and smell,” Kruizenga said. “ The kids have been using thinking maps to organize our new information.”

Besides the cockroaches, the class got to meet three more animals during their visit and learned how each use their own senses. For instance, they met a New Caledonia gecko named Plop.

“He’s old and sometimes goes to the bathroom on our hands,” Barker said as she wrapped Plop’s lower half in a paper-towel diaper. 

He is also missing one of his five senses, Barker explained. 

“Plop is blind and has to use his other four senses. He loves to taste and smell the world around him.” 

Dutton Elementary students from Heidi Kruizenga’s kindergarten class learn about how animals use their five senses at the John Ball Zoo

Prince the ball python got a few mixed responses as he was lifted from his carrier.

Said Ellie: “I’m scared of snakes, but I really want to meet him.”

The students learned how snakes use their tongues to smell things. If they wanted after the presentation, they could also touch Prince to feel his scaly texture.

“Going to the zoo was a great culminating activity for our unit,” Kruizenga said. “We got to compare and contrast our senses with those of some special animals and use our own senses to experience wildlife.”

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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