Support an Interest in Zoology with Community-Based Resources
Directly engaging with animals provide direct ways of learning about biology, habitat, ecology, and other scientific disciplines. Reading or hearing about animals is useful, but actually seeing them upclose is invaluable. Many kids are fascinated by animals- their appearance, their behavior, the way they interact.
For parents of animal lovers, this interest is a ripe opportunity for education via community-base resources and events. Taxonomy, the scientific grouping of biological organisms, is complex. Classes of animal species often encompass their own branch of biology. Kids who collect bugs are budding entomologists, while bird watchers are junior ornithologists. And the great thing about animal studies is that it also strengthens a sense of place, connecting us with animals and habitat that surround us everyday.
Here are a few community-based resources to support an interest and education in zoology, biology and entomology:
ZOOS AND MUSEUMS
The Zoo in Forest Park in Springfield houses a wide variety of exotic and indigenous animals from around the world. The Forest Park Zoo also offers opportunities for kindness and service-based learning through their adoptive program. You can donate money to “adopt” a specific animal at the zoo, strengthening your feelings of connection to that animal and to the cause of animal protection and biodiversity.
To dive into marine biology and water-filled ecosystem studies, families should be sure to visit the Berkshire Museum aquarium in Pittsfield. In addition to a wide variety of fish, the aquarium’s inhabitants include other wetland and tropical species including a chameleon, geckos, scorpions, and a few very big snakes. Perhaps the most exciting time at the aquarium is Chow Time, a Saturday morning event during which visitors can not only watch how (and what!) creatures eat for lunch, but also participate in making meals and learn about the reasons for each animal’s specific diet and ingestion method.
Another resource for marine-based animal learning is the Springfield Museums’ Solutia Live Animal Center, where visitors can see creatures in natural ecosystems such as a coral reef, a rainforest, a mangrove, and the New England coast. Additionally, the museums’ Phelon African Hall includes taxidermy specimens of all sorts of African creatures, including everything from an elephant to a wart hog. While stuffed creatures won’t teach children about animal behavior, they do stay still – meaning children can easily observe the fine detail of each of the animals’ bodies and the interpretations of their life and habitat.
This summer, also at the Springfield Museums, animals from the Forest Park Zoo will be visiting on Wednesdays in July, through August 10 2016. This program is free with museum admission and offers opportunities to learn about the animals’ adaptations, habitats, behavior, diets, and status in the wild.
Other community-based resources include:
- Living history museums, like Old Sturbridge Village and Hancock Shaker Village, support an integration of animal studies with local history.
- Magic Wings in South Deerfield is an 8,000-square foot butterfly conservatory, home to nearly 4,000 free-flying butterflies from all over the world.
- Lupa Zoo in Ludlow is a conservation and education institution demonstrating. Pony rides, bears, giraffes and zebras are just a few of the attractions at Lupa Zoo.
- Christenson Zoo at Look Park in Florence.
ANIMAL SHELTERS & REHABILITATION CENTERS
Supporting local animal shelters and rehabilitation centers is a way for families to combine an interest in animal studies with service-based learning and community engagement.
The Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society welcomes volunteers who are 16 and older to help out with the many animals who find themselves at the shelter. The Berkshire Humane Society in Pittsfield has opportunities too.
Similarly, the efforts of Urban Wildlife Rehabilitation – an organization caring for wild creatures in the Springfield area – can be supported through supply and funding donations, presenting a great opportunity for wildlife-loving children to support the creatures they love so much.
WESTERN MA FARMS
The most place-based of local animal-learning resources in western Massachusetts are our local farms – many of which allow visitors to meet the animals they raise and rely upon both for food and for farm tasks. There are many, many different farm animals raised among the hills of western Massachusetts, and each farm has a different animal-related story to tell. A dairy farm can teach families about raising cows for milk, while a fiber farm’s focus may be on how to raise a healthy family of sheep and rabbits. In addition to learning about the role of animals in farming, an animal-centric farm visit can teach children that not all fascinating animals are exotic – there are plenty of species found close to home who are every bit as fascinating as those found across an ocean. Using CISA’s Fun on the Farm petting zoo finder, families can find farms near them that allow visitors to meet farm animals when they visit. The area’s upcoming agricultural fair season also offers lots of opportunities to visit and learn about livestock, as each fairground’s barns will be filled with every species of cow, goat, sheep, and chicken imaginable.
MAKING CONNECTIONS AROUND TOWN
Take your child’s interest in animals and use it to connect them with other learning opportunities and potential interests! Take advantage of things like the beautiful fish aquarium at Teapot Restaurant in downtown Northampton. Your child’s fascination with the aquarium might be a gateway for them to discover a love of Chinese or Japanese foods, broadening their awareness of other cultures and culinary art. If your library offers a Reading with Dogs program, your child’s interest in dogs can open up a world of literacy and love for reading. Think outside the box and allow the presence of animals in our community lead the way for making connections to other interests too! Check our list of Weekly Suggested Events each week for events that support a love of animals and opportunities to learn through community engagement! Be sure to subscribe to our free eNewsletter for a heads-up on opportunities around the region!