What I learnt at the zoo

Yesterday, my son went to the zoo with all of his stage one (year 1 and year 2) comrades. As my son is a little difficult in public places, I went with him as his aide and support person. I was dreading it, but actually I learnt quite a lot! I didn’t learn anything about animals (well actually that depends on your opinion of children I suppose!). I learnt a lot about children, my own son in particular, teachers in general and even myself!

The first thing I noticed is how little teachers actually listen to the children around them. Perhaps I am lucky that I have a particular talent, (found in many writers I believe, as we have a natural curiosity about people, which helps us develop characters) to notice many things at once going on around me even when I’m concentrating on something in particular. One of my first observations was how children are constantly trying to get the adults to notice them in some way. We arrived at the zoo and had to wait and eat recess on a grassed area out the front of the zoo. The grass was covered in lots of rabbit poo, and of course this was a cause for much exclaiming and fuss from the children. Near me there was a little boy sitting by himself eating some cut fruit from his lunch box. He was minding his own business and getting on with eating. Another little boy approached him and deposited some rabbit poo into his fruit. Naturally the first boy, henceforth known as Bob for the purposes of this story, was upset with this and called out a complaint against his classmate, who shall be known as Jim.

The nearest teacher ignored him completely (fair enough, he wasn’t in her class…??!!). His own teacher called across, “Bob! Stop that complaining! Get on with eating quietly and stop fussing!”

Ummm… pardon?! She didn’t even ask him what he was complaining about! I think he was quite justifiable in the ‘fuss’ he was making to be honest! Meanwhile, ‘Jim’ thought this was quite funny, and proceeded to sit in front of Bob pulling faces and chuckling. I called across to the teacher that actually Bob had good reason for making a fuss, since Jim had just deposited poo in his fruit. I was ignored…or perhaps not heard, I am not sure. Thankfully, Jim left the scene once he was made aware that an adult was onto him, and Bob settled down in the knowledge that an adult had seen what really happened and was on his side in the matter.

Next there was the process of walking around the zoo. This was done very fast and with little time to stop and actually look at anything. No one gathered the children around to engage them with the exhibits or explain what anything was and give them actual information. It was more an exercise in keeping them together and walking as a group. We were taken to see an insect and reptile talk which was great. My son sat the whole time and listened, and didn’t even get up and leave when his eager hand in the air was ignored and the children who were given the chance to answer the questions being asked kept getting the answers wrong. I had really expected him to get up and leave in disgust and frustration, but to his credit, he didn’t 🙂

At the end of the reptile showing they were given some snake skin and lizard scales to pass around and feel. The boy next to my son said, “ewww gross!” and passed it on as quick as he could, which for some reason set my son off.

Son: “Hey! It’s not gross! It’s just skin and scales! Don’t be such an idiot! Why would you say something so stupid?”

OK, his presentation could use a little work, but I can see what he was getting at! He was also pretty mad when he wasn’t chosen to touch the frog. That was it for him and he left the group and walked away, proceeded to scratch my hands with his nails when I tried to bring him back.

As we walked around, I began doing something I do naturally. I was again hearing and noticing the things the children were saying and doing, and I started commenting and interacting with them. I can’t help it. It’s what I do. I learnt that it is quite amazing the reaction of children when they feel someone is paying them attention. I wasn’t paying them a lot of attention, just a little bit here and there. For example, if one of them read a sign out loud, I said, “it does say that! Good reading!”. Or if they exclaimed over one of the animals I simply said, “Yes! Wow!”. That was enough for them, they started to listen to me and ignore the teacher a bit. I was now the ‘go-to’ person when shoelaces needed tying, or lunch things needed opening, or to show a picture to that they had taken. Yes rather a lot of these 6 years olds had digital cameras! They were really good with them though!

I also got the opportunity to see that my son is not naughty, or rude, or stupid (not that I ever thought he was stupid of course!). I got to see this because although his behaviour is quite ‘out there’ and obvious, many of the other kids do the same things, but quietly. Sneakily, and not in front of adults. I am very good at blending so they often didn’t realise I was listening and watching. I could really see the difference between my son who just has problems holding his temper and realising that he’s being obnoxious or controlling his impulses, and those kids who were just belligerent and ignorant! Phew! It’s good to be reminded of this sometimes! I’m sure their parents would be horrified if they knew… or maybe not, I don’t really care. I only care that my son is imaginative and clever and so fun to talk to compared to many of those other kids! There were of course some lovely ones as well!

There was a moment when three boys were giggling and carrying on about a chimpanzee who was showing them his butt. One of them said, “look, monkey ass hole hee hee hee” I was glad my son hasn’t picked up any of the language they were demonstrating 😉 The boys were also noticing that the mote surrounding the Chimp enclosure was full of green stuff. One of the boys said, “eww look! It’s poo! Green poo all in the water!” My son shoved his way to the railing and announced to them,

“It’s moss! Not poo!”

The boys weren’t really interested in having this pointed out to them as it was clearly more fun if it was green fuzzy poo, but my son just couldn’t let it go. They told that they didn’t care what he said, and hadn’t asked him anyway. He then started getting mad.

“Why are you being so stupid?! IT’S NOT POO! IT IS MOSS!” That made them call it poo more of course 🙂

I decided to just steer my son gently away and explain that sometimes kids don’t like it when someone keeps pointing out how wrong they are about something. Hee hee.

So, that was my day at the zoo, and I learnt a lot, and I was tired at the end of it, but I actually feel better today about many things. 🙂

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