Do You Know Your Animals?

Kids of all ages at the Kite Festival July 27 and 28 said an enthusiastic “Yes!” to my question, “Do you know your animals?” The booth featured a board with eight photos of animals found in the park. Players of the “Animal Game” had to tag markers with the animals’ common names to their photos. As I had seen at the Bay Festival for the past two years and again at the Earth Day Festivals, preschoolers whose parents had to lift them up to tag the higher photos knew all the animals on the board, and knew them well. I was blown away repeatedly by these toddlers’ expertise. By contrast, one or two adults who approached the board with a know-it-all attitude barely scored five out of eight.

The “prize” that each of the players got was a card with the web address on it, and an explanation that on this website they could find many more animals to learn, all of them alive in and around this park. The “Animals Game” was at bottom a park appreciation lesson. The message is that Chavez Park contains a wealth of beautiful nature to be learned, appreciated, and loved.

I talked with a number of people who visited the park often and loved it; they knew a great deal about its wildlife and its history. I also met four people who, after seeing that this was a booth dedicated to Chavez Park, asked me where Chavez Park was located? The Kite Fest brings thousands of people to the park for the first time, sometimes without knowing where they are, and my little tent and table hopefully inspired a few of them to come visit again when there aren’t giant kites floating overhead.

I kept track of the numbers. On Saturday the 27th I counted “parties” who came to my booth and engaged with the game, regardless whether the party consisted of one or six people. There were 84 such parties. On Sunday I counted not parties but individual people who engaged with the game; that number was 171. Often three or four sibs played at once, sometimes taking turns, sometimes grabbing the markers from each other, and doing the game over so that everyone would have a chance. Often the older and taller ones would give hints for the younger ones, but sometimes the smaller ones knew their animals better. Often the older sibs would lift up the smaller ones to tag a high photo, like the Burrowing Owl or the White-crowned Sparrow. At times two and three families stood in line to play the game. It was a joy and also a humbling mystery for me how this simple home-made game brought so much pleasure and excitement to so many kids. Some adults also tried their hand at it, and showed happiness when they succeeded. The delight in knowing and naming things, which is a deep thread in science, showed itself brightly on the face of the players.

After five consecutive fairs with this game, I think possibly it is too easy. I may add some more animals, harder ones. And I want to add a second board containing plants, so as to wake up the slumbering botanists among the park visitors. But then I’ll need a bigger table and an expanded tent. Oh my.

This time, being tied to the booth, I didn’t get to play photo correspondent at the Kite Fest, as in some previous occasions. Here’s just two quick snapshots to give a bit of the flavor:

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