The best way to teach your kids about nature, respect…life? Try being a little sneaky. That, in fact, was the concept and design behind the newest exhibit at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s free Visitor & Education Center on Sanibel Island. They call it Learning Lavatories -- or #LearningLav to be socially cool.
The new 3-D exhibits inside and surrounding our restrooms immerse kids in a marine life learning situation without them ever realizing it. As they are walking to the restrooms, murals that reach from floor and even cover the ceiling capture their attention in an instant.
Parents can take advantage of the teachable moment. What’s this big bulbous creature and its baby? (Manatees) And who is looking down on us from above? (An alligator, a pelican, and ducks) Oh, no! What’s that in the water? It looks kind of like a jellyfish, and that’s probably what the sea creatures think. But look, it’s actually a plastic bag. How might that be harmful to these fish and marine creatures? What can be done to avoid such harm?
In many ways, #LearningLav is an extension of earlier exhibits they placed along their Wildlife Education Boardwalk. Here, hands-on models of animal scat – that’s right, poop! – have them guessing who did THAT? And they’re also learning more about the animal’s diet and lifestyles as a result. It heightens their awareness of what they see in nature. Don’t be surprised if they start seeking out animal scat to try to identify on their own.
They also recently installed another interactive exhibit at Gulfside City Park, near the Refuge’s Perry Tract. Here, kids can actually feel replicas of the shells they might find on the beach. If you point out the images of birds and other seashore wildlife on the kiosk, you can engage them in looking for those species as they explore the sands.
The more children become aware and familiar with wildlife, the more they will want to protect it. See how sneaky it is? Shhh! Just don’t let them figure out they’re learning stuff.