Early this June, my wife and I attended "Camp Learned-A-Lot" at Hudson Park Elementary in Rainier. Let me tell you how this came about.
My telephone rang.
"Hi, this is Darrel Whipple."
Darrel is a retired 4th grade teacher who is well known in our community as a man who loves nature and the world around him. He also works hard to instill this love in others. Darrel didn't want to talk to me, he wanted to talk my wife into helping him teach 2nd graders about owls at Hudson Park Elementary School. "You will have a lot of fun with this, I can bet," said Darrel."
Claudia agreed, but told Darrel that I would have to drive her.
Darrel seemed pleased: "Good, I will use Bill as our "bone man, he can show the kids cow bones."
On the day of the Class we met Darrel in the school parking lot. His car was packed with mounted owls in various poses. We helped carry them into the school, all the while receiving admiring glances from both students and adults.
A lady greeted us. Darrel introduced her as Pat Richards. Pat is a School Councilor, and according to Darrel, one of the first to try the "Camp Learned-A-Lot." Concept. I spoke to Pat later and she said that Joanna Thompson, one of Hudson Park's 2nd grade teachers read about this concept in a Magazine. Pat said: "We thought that it would be a great way to keep everyone interested during our last two weeks of school. At Camp Learned-
A-Lot, everyone in 2nd grade pretends that they are at camp; we even make pretend tissue paper campfires. We sing songs and tell stories around our 'camp fires'. Our kids write post cards home and often parents will write back. We have field trips, collect leaves and do leaf prints. The kids keep a camp journal, do lots of crafts, and art projects. We use the camp concept to give lessons in math, reading, science and art."
I told her that I was impressed with all the students and particularly how much they seemed to know about what we were teaching them.
Pat responded "We try to prepare everyone before we have guest speakers. We want to make leaning come alive. Preparation makes for a much better experience for all."
We were met by two other volunteers; Linda Jennings and Randy Jennings. Linda is a member of Willipa Hills Audubon Society and Friends of Fox Creek. Randy runs Jennings Taxidermy in Rainier. It was explained to me that Darrel has state and federal permits to collect birds and bird parts. Whenever he finds a dead bird in good condition he brings it over to Randy, who can preserve and mount it. The life like owl specimens that we brought with us belong to the Willipa Hills Audubon Society. They are normally stored at the Lower Columbia College Natural Sciences Department. The owls were all collected by Darrel, and mounted by Randy.
I was in the fortunate position of being able to wander from one room to another. I visited Darrel's room. He was helping the children identify different species of owls. He mimicked various owl calls for the students. "Who whooo whoo" said Darrel
"Who whoo whoo " responded the class.
It was finally my turn. I lifted up a large bone, a bovine pelvis over my head and said. "You will be looking at owl pellets and trying to identify the bones of mice, voles and other small animals that owls eat. Is this a mouse bone?"
"Noooo" came the resounding answer
"What is it?" I asked
"A dinosaur bone?"
"An Elephant bone?"
"Is it real?"
"It's a real bone," said I. "It's a hipbone from a cow. This is a leg bone, and you can see where it fits into the hip bone."
"Ooh, can we touch it?"
I walked around the class letting all the students touch the bone. "The reason why I am showing you these big bones is that you will be looking at little bones in owl pellets. The bones come from small animals that owls eat. Owl's stomachs sort out the parts of animals that are hard to digest, like bones and fur. They vomit these parts up in little balls. You will be looking at bones in the pellets and they will look like these bones, only much smaller.
The teacher passed out the owl pellets. "These pellets have been heat treated in a special oven at Mark Morris High School, to kill any germs. You and your partner will need to share a pellet."
The students divided up the pellets and enthusiastically started to sort out the bones and fur.
I asked the class how much they weighed. "An owl eats at least three or more mice a day. If you were to weigh the mice that they eat, you will find that an owl will eat about 80 pounds a year. That is much more than most of you weigh. An owl will eat 800 or more pounds of mice in its lifetime. That would be the equivalent of an owl eating about 13 or more 2nd graders."
I could see that they were impressed.
At the conclusion of the exercise, their teacher passed out small Baggies. "You can each put what you have found from your owl pellets into these Baggies and take them home with you."
"Wow! Cool! Really?" cried the kids. You could see the happiness radiate from them. I sort of wondered to myself if their parents would radiate with the same joy as their kids.
I did enjoy my time at "Camp Learned-A-Lot" it was fun.
Oh, a thought did strike me. Do you think that some of the kids might go home and tell their parents that a man told them that owls eat 2nd graders? They wouldn't do that would they?
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