By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Perhaps the animal tracks leading to Parkway Elementary School science teacher Beth Miller’s classroom should have been a sign to the students that something was different.
Nevermind that those students were about to enter a maze lined with cardboard cutouts of various night animals, listen to the sound of a great horned owl, make smores and climb into a tent. There also were animal tracks outside their classroom.
The experience was part of Parkway’s “Live Animals of the Night” lesson given to each of the school’s students during their weekly visit to Miller’s science class. The goal was to simulate the feeling of a camping trip and introduce the kindergarten to second-grade students to various night animals.
“I wanted them to learn about different nocturnal animals and where they live, how they hunt and the sounds they make,” Miller said.
Miller had the idea during a trip to her parents’ lake house at Pickwick during the summer. While sitting outside one night, she thought, “I’d love for my students to be able to hear an owl.”
She taped plastic animal tracks in the school’s hallway leading to her classroom door, which was decorated by a sign proclaiming “Parkway Campground.” The students entered the room through a tunnel draped with black garbage bags to make it dark. A black light illuminated cardboard foxes, frogs, owls and snakes lining the tunnel.
Once they entered the classroom, the students found a tent in one corner and several sleeping bags draped across the floor. White Christmas tree lights lined the ceiling to represent stars.
Miller led the students through a presentation that lit up her projector with facts about 10 different night animals, like aardvarks, skunks, bats and hedgehogs.
“The kids would much rather learn like this than look in a book,” Miller said. “They get to see it on a screen, and they enjoy that.”
The students also watched a National Geographic video about an anaconda in Arkansas.
“Their favorite animal is always the anaconda,” Miller said. “It is creepy, and kids love to learn about creepy or gross things.”
Before they left, Miller zipped each student into the tent so they could see what it was like.
The students exited the classroom with an assortment of new facts.
First-grader Jahtonia Wilson, 6, said she learned that animals eat lots of different kinds of food, while classmate Jayden Carruthers, 7, learned that foxes eat baby rabbits.
Anny Kate Miller, 6, said she will remember that baby skunks are born blind and deaf, while Luke Mathis, 6, noted that a mother great horned owl is larger than a father.
“I hope they develop an appreciation of nature and realize that it is not an every-day thing,” Miller said. “Sometimes it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”