Toddlers Learn about Bugs by Dancing to Jerry
Lesson on insects captivates energetic toddlers at South Slough
By Drew Atkins, Staff Writer
“Now, who can tell me where we are?”Tom Gaskill looked down at the 15 toddlers assembled on the floor in front of him. He saw blank faces. Clearly some of the audience members didn't understand the question or were paying no attention whatsoever.Gaskill repeated himself. “Anyone know where we are right now?”“Right here,” answered one of the toddlers, perhaps snidely.Austin Erickson, a 20-month-old from Coos Bay, dropped a wooden block he'd been messing around with and got visibly upset at the block for escaping his hand. He looked like he was about to lose it, but he pulled himself together and fought back the tears. Composed, Austin stuck his thumb in his mouth and turned his attention to Gaskill.Gaskill attempted to laugh off the toddler's comment.
“Right! Well, yeah, that's right! Of course we're here.”He asked for more raised hands. After another answer he wasn't quite looking for, a button-cute blonde 4-year-old, Anna Langlie from North Bend, said, “South Slough.”“Yes!” Gaskill shouted, pointing at the little girl. “But more than that, where are we?”The audience was out of answers.
“We're at South Slough Estuary,” he said, pointing to the poster behind him that read “Estuaries.” He blocked out the final three letters with his hand, presumedly to bring the word closer to its singular-form spelling. “We're at an estuary; where rivers meet the sea.”More specifically, Gaskill, the toddlers and the parents located on the crowd's fringes were in the classroom facility of South Slough National Estuarine Research Center, taking part in “Tide of Toddlers.” Held one Saturday morning a month, the program gives kids ages 1 through 5 an activity for the morning other than watching cartoons. Gaskill, the education director of the Center, usually brings his children, ages 2 and 5, to the class to help him teach, but Saturday one was sick and they stayed home.Every Tide of Toddlers has a theme, like the upcoming sensory-sensations-themed and plant-themed programs. Saturday's theme was insects.Gaskill told the youngsters to stand up.“Insects have six legs,” he told them. “They're just one kind of bug. Some bugs have a lot more legs. So all you kids-and adults, if you want-let's sprout some extra legs!”Gaskill made strained noises and shook in place, encouraging the kids to do the same. After a few moments, he stopped. Some of the kids looked disappointed Gaskill hadn't grown anything. He said, “We're just going to pretend we have extra legs.”There's a fixed, monthly schedule Tide of Toddlers. First phase of the schedule is introductions. Next comes the energy-dispersal phase, where the teacher attempts to work all the surplus hyperactivity out of the toddlers before sitting them down for storytime.
Gaskill told the toddlers to use their new insect legs to march with him to a mind-jarringly upbeat song, “Ants.” He marched them in a circle until the song ended, then lead them in a dance to the Jerry Garcia song, “Ain't No Bugs on Me,” until they were all totally out of steam.
Afterwards, they sat down and Gaskill read them the story of “The Grouchy Ladybug,” about a ladybug that goes around senselessly “talking trash” to animals bigger than it until it's beaten up by a blue whale.The rest of the hour wound down at a leisurely pace. The toddlers scooted over to the other side of the room and watched on a nearby television screen as Gaskill, using a camera aimed over a tank, showed them spiders and other insects walking across the surface of water. He also brought out a rough-skinned newt as an example of a creature that likes to wipe insects out.Just before this month's program ended, there came the hands-on portion of the program: Gaskill sat each toddler at a table, handed each a plastic magnifying glass and dropped a clump of damp, stringy plant life in front of them that he collected earlier that day by the water. He told them each clump of soggy plant life was full of bugs, like lots of places in the estuary, and that they were free to come exploring around there anytime.The toddlers leaned in closer to the gunk, looking for tiny bugs crawling around in it, squinting through their magnifying glasses. Minutes later, when the toddlers were visibly tired of investigating, Gaskill thanked everyone for coming. The parents and children filed out of the room, on the way to the rest of their weekends, and the Tide of Toddlers rolled back once again, not to be seen for another month.(For more information on Tide of Toddlers or any of the other programs offered by South Slough National Estuarine Research Center, those interested can call 888-5558 or visit http://www.southsloughestuary.org./)