Children get up-close look at slimy, scaly animals

Eight-year-old Mikayla Johnson appears a bit hesitant as she touches Dora, a ball python snake, at “Slimes and Scales,” a program for children ages 5-11 hosted last Tuesday by the Cone Park Branch Library and held next door at the Eastside Recreation Center.

AIDA MALLARD/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 2:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 2:15 p.m.

When it comes to touching slimy and scaly things, young boys are game, but young girls can be somewhat hesitant.

Nearly 30 children appeared captivated with frogs, turtles and snakes — both live and preserved — but the boys seemed more willing to touch the slimy and scaly critters at “Slime and Scales,” which offered an interactive look at the animals for children ages 5-11 in partnership with Morningside Nature Center and the Cone Park Branch Library. The program was held last Tuesday at the Eastside Recreation Center.

Heather Sostrom, manager of the Cone Park library, said “Slime and Scales” is the third program in a sequence that included a January program about controlled fires and a February program about the Florida Black Bear.

“These programs are designed to make learning fun,” said Sostrom, adding that “Slime and Scales” is a way to introduce children to snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs, and other reptiles and amphibians.

Merald Clark, nature assistant at Morningside, captivated the children with an animated and interactive presentation. He showed children preserved and live critters and told stories about his encounters with animals in the wild. He let the children get close to the critters, and those who wanted, could touch a friendly ball python snake.

Clark was pleased and said the children seemed engaged.

“This is a real good group,” Clark said. “The kids got so excited when they saw the live animals.”

The program was fun and fact-filled. Clark told them about the cycle of frogs and showed them an X-ray of a pregnant frog so the children could count the eggs.

He asked the students questions and hands immediately flew up with children eager to share what they knew about reptiles and amphibians. Clark also introduced the children to Roxie, a box turtle, and allowed them to touch Dora, the ball python snake and he provided the children with printed lined depictions of reptiles and amphibians they could take home and color.

Sostrom also invited the children to learn more about reptiles and amphibians by exploring books at the library.

Matthew Hall, an intern with the city of Gainesville Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department who assisted with Clark's presentation, said the “Slime and Scales” program is a good way to teach children what to do outdoors and to respect animals.

The program received great reviews.

Eight-year-old Mikayla Johnson said it was a great program. “I could touch the animals and I learned a lot about toads,” said Mikayla.

“He was funny,” said 7-year-old Juerkina Nobles, as he described Clark.

Demarkis Dinkins, 11, said the toad was bigger than his hand. “I thought it (the program) was pretty cool,” Demarkis said.

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