trip to the zoo

A few days ago I volunteered to be a chaperone for some kids enrolled in a summer art program who were making a field trip to the zoo. The kids were between the ages of 7 and 9, and the idea was that we would spend a day at the zoo and draw pictures of the animals in journals they had made. My job was just to watch over three of the kids and to take them around to the different exhibits and encourage them to look closely at the different animals and consider what made them unique.
I met the kids at the zoo where they arrived by bus with their instructor. The instructor introduced me to everyone and had each kid tell me their name and their favorite animal. I thought for sure that panthers, elephants, or big horn sheep would have been the most popular, but it turned out that dogs were consensus favorite, followed by snakes, cats, and eagles.
While we were still waiting for the third chaperone to arrive, the head instructor went off to purchase tickets for everyone, leaving me in charge of all nine kids. As soon as the instructor went away, the kids pretty much went haywire. A couple girls started climbing a big metal gate, while a couple boys started running around in different directions. I pretty much panicked, not knowing what to do I just kept counting them all, over and over. I knew there were nine of them, and figured if I at least kept them in my site and accounted for until the instructor returned then everything would be okay. While half the kids scattered, the other half stayed close, wanting some sort of interaction with me. I started asking them what their favorite animals were, forgetting that we had already gone over that in the introductions. One girl came up to me and said “You need to shave” followed by “you’re shorts are too long.” Less than five minutes in with the kids and I was already getting fashion advice. The little girl then ran off to chase a peacock. When the head instructor returned and divided up the kids to the volunteer adults, I was relieved that my fashion critic was assigned to a different group.
I have spent very little time with kids, and generally have no idea what to do with them. Being an only child from a very small family, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to get to know too many kids, and I have to say that part of me was scared to death. Sure, sitting around with a couple kids drawing pictures of animals sounds great, but the idea of dealing with over-stimulated kids running around the zoo was completely terrifying. Visions of one of the kids I was responsible for getting lost and ending up in the polar bear habitat seemed far too likely.
But once we got inside the zoo and started looking at the animals, the three boys who I was put in charge of were absolutely great. They were completely engaged with their environment and eager to see as much as they could. One boy was a bit of a natural leader. He got a zoo map and kept asking what time it was, wanting to keep us on the schedule he created so we would be sure to see all of his favorite animals. He walked very fast and was always way out in front of us, occasionally looking back to encourage us to walk faster. The second kid was very curious and loved to draw. He filled page after page in his journal with great renditions of penguins, bats, and giraffes. He would see something he was interested in and just plop down on the ground and start drawing it (which often made the first boy restless, in where he would try to convince everyone that the next animal we were going to go see would be much better to draw). The third boy was very calm and quiet. He walked slowly and often lagged behind. He wasn’t very confident of his drawing skills and seemed timid to draw, so I convinced him he should write some poems about the animals. I saw him writing some stuff down, but he said it wasn’t finished so he couldn’t share it with me. Later he told me that when he grows up he either wants to be a football player or move to Africa and become a snake charmer.
The trip to the zoo wound up being a blast, and I was a little disappointed when the day came to an end. I waved goodbye to everyone as they climbed back on the bus, completely overwhelmed by my own memories of being a kid and going on field trips. 7-9 might be the coolest age bracket of them all. I remember being a teenager and not really liking it all that much, and being a thirtysomething is fine but not all that different from being a twentysomething. And babies are crying all the time, so you can imagine that they aren’t all that stoked about being babies. But the 7 to 9 year old range seems pretty amazing, perhaps it is when the world starts to become accessible and not just a reflection of what one’s parents want it to be.

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3 Responses to trip to the zoo

  1. willow says:

    I’m so glad you had a good time! I totally agree that 1st grade-ish dudes are the best, but then I’m pretty biased. :-)

  2. curt says:

    you do need to shave.
    and come to think of it those shorts are too long.

  3. elizabeth says:

    kids become interesting as soon as they can start to process their world and let you know what they think about it. that means that, yes, babies are out but really starting at 3 or 4 they can be so informative. i think their directness is a part of that. i mean how many people had you seen that day who probably thought that you needed a shave and that your shorts were too long but only that tiny girl could tell you the truth?

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