“Sooo cute!” the little girl next to me cooed. “Look at that!” someone behind me laughed. The antics of the sea otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium transformed a group of strangers into instant friends as we pressed close to the viewing window. When one of the otters cruised by just in front us, we all gasped in unison. A similar scene played out in front of the sea horses, puffins, and turtle exhibits. Watching all the colorful sea creatures swimming around in larger-than-life tanks can seem pretty magical, especially to young kids.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is designed to keep a child’s attention from start to finish. There are interactive displays, live feeding shows, and lots of touchable displays. But there’s more to a great exhibit than just fish. “Research shows that hands-on features — like opportunities to touch marine life — sustain interest, spark learning, and create a fun visit for the whole family,” says Angela V. Graziano, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Giving kids an experience at an aquarium or zoo can go a long way in sparking an interest in the animal world, AND it doesn’t replace a real experience in nature. That lesson was brought home to me when we left the aquarium and went to nearby Elkhorn Slough. There we saw over two dozen otters floating together in the calm waters of the marina. We zipped up our jackets against the salty breeze as pelicans soared in formation. Seals barked across the lagoon. I wished that every child who I just saw in the aquarium could have this experience too!
Inside: Jello Aquarium
After a visit to an aquarium, kids can create their own aquarium inside a clear plastic cup or glass using jello and small pieces of candy.
Materials: Clear Plastic Cup or glass, Blue Raspberry Jello, Skewers, Goldfish, Teddy Grahams, Gummy Lifesavers, Sour Sghetti’s, Colorful Nerds, Any other ocean candy or crackers you can fin
- Make the jello following the instructions on the box. Put it in the refrigerator, but do not let it set all the way. Check the consistency every 15 minutes. It should be a little thick and not watery, but still slightly mushy and moveable.
- Sprinkle some colorful nerds into the bottom of the empty cup to become the gravel.
- Slowly spoon in some jello, being careful not to mess up the gravel. How much jello you put in will depend on how high you want the water to come up.
- Use Sour Sghetti’s to look like eels, stickfish, or the seaweed that comes up from the gravel. The teddy grahams can swim or dive. Put a teddy graham in the middle of a gummy lifesaver and pretend it’s a floatie. Let your kids imaginations run wild.
- Put the finished “aquariums” back into the refrigerator to fully set the jello for about an hour, and then enjoy a cool treat.
Source: HubPages blogger TKLMommy
Outside: Tidepool Aquascope
Visiting the rocky shore offers an exciting look at ocean plants and animals in the place they call home. Though tide pool creatures survive harsh conditions, they’re easily hurt or disturbed by human visitors. Using a homemade aquascope, you can watch tide pool life right where it is and leave the animals in their tide pool homes.
Materials: Large “No. 10” can or large coffee can with both ends removed; waterproof plastic tape; heavy rubber bands, clear plastic bag or food wrap. Optional: Black paint
- Paint the inside of the can with black paint (optional but helps viewing).
- Cover the top and bottom rim of the can with plastic tape to cover the sharp edges.
- Stretch the plastic bag or food wrap TIGHTLY over the bottom of the can.
- Secure the plastic bag or wrap against the can with one or more heavy rubber bands.
- Seal the edges of the plastic against the can with waterproof tape if available.
- Enjoy a close-up view of the critters beneath the water’s surface.
Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Set up a salt water aquarium in your home.
- Read Under One Tidepool: Crabs, Snails, and Salty Tails by Anthony D. Fredericks
- Read about Jacques Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, and other great conservationists who explored the oceans and worked to save otters, whales, sharks, sunfish, and other inhabitants of the deep in Earth Heroes: Champions of the Ocean by Fran Hodgkins.