Learning about animals, environment

Kids at the Roosevelt Park Zoo are learning to be passionate about protecting endangered animals and the environment this summer.

The theme of this year’s Zoo Camp is “Crazy about Conservation” and youngsters are putting that into practice even with the art projects they create.

Zoo camp instructor Crystal Michels said the third- through sixth-graders in her zoo camp class on Monday were using empty toilet paper rolls and paper towels to make a giraffe-themed art project. The kids also used construction paper and paint to put the finishing touches on their giraffes.

“It’s World Giraffe Day on the 21st,” said Michels, which was why the kids were making giraffes.

During the three-day-long class, the kids will learn about different types of mammals, some of which are endangered, and they will have a chance to visit the zoo grounds to see the animals they’re learning about in class.

Michels said the curriculum varies depending on the age of the children in the class. Classes are available for toddlers through sixth-graders.

With classes full of older kids, Michels and Jenna Johnson, the other zoo camp instructor, try to do an art project and some type of science experiment in addition to the visits to the zoo grounds. In this class, Michels said there will be a science experiment involving a fake oil spill.

During the summer, there will also a couple of overnights at the zoo. On Thursday this week, during another camp session, kids will bring their sleeping bags and sleep over in the Zoo Center. In the middle of the night, they will take an excursion to the zoo grounds to look at animals with flashlights. Another zoo overnight will be held in July.

Michels said she enjoys teaching kids about animals and the world around them. During zoo camp, they learn that respecting wildlife involves more than just visiting the zoo and seeing all the cute animals.

“They feel more passion about the animals,” said Michels.

Zoo education coordinator Renee Escherich said the zoo has expanded its zoo education program this summer by hiring an additional zoo camp instructor and increasing the size of classes. The new visitor’s center provides a great place for zoo camp classes, she said. Escherich said there are still some zoo camp classes open. People who want to enroll their children should call the zoo for more information about dates and times. Zoo members get a discount. More information can be found at (rpzoo.com).

The zoo also has 25 teenagers in its Zoo Teen program. The teens help keep the grounds clean and help out with the children in the zoo camp.