About 15 children, with varying degrees of interest, delight, and trepidation, recently passed a small turtle from hand to hand.'
At about the same time, part of the circle of youngsters let out a screech and scattered backward as a larger turtle began to move toward them.
An instructor gently picked up the larger turtle and told the children there was nothing to be afraid of. He held it out as the children gingerly touched the hard shell.
The youngsters, between 3 and 5 years old, were also introduced to snails, worms, slugs, and frogs - all creatures that are important to the Earth, but aren't often encountered in an urban environment.
The program, sponsored by the Toledo Botanical Garden, presents classes to an estimated 800 children who attend Head Start schools.
Trina Clayborne, education coordinator at the Elmer Drive facility in West Toledo, said the first task for the instructors is to teach the children about soil composition - and that's why the winter sessions deal primarily with wiggling, slimy creatures.
“We're literally trying to teach them from the ground up,'' she said.
When weather permits, the children are taken on a nature walk.
They learn that most plant life is dormant, but in the spring the teachers will point out how vegetation comes to life.
At that time they will also dig into the earth and look into the pond near the education center to find those creatures that they learned about in the classroom this winter.
Ms. Clayborne added that the youngsters are given individual containers with a snail and the classroom gets a larger container with worms so they can continue to study decomposition and its addition to the earth.
“We target urban-centered schools” because in their everyday lives they don't have much experience with the composition of soil.
Darlene Perales, a master gardener who is one of the teachers at the botanical garden, said the instruction generally is easy “because there is a lot of curiosity at this age. We get some great kids.
“We want to get them to touch the ground without going `ugh,''' she said.
Connie Bordner, who had accompanied her son, Tyler, to a session, said she was fascinated by the program and added, “I don't remember anything like this in school.''
She said she was pleased with the lesson in ecology that her son and other children were getting.
Felicia Gibson, teacher of the Head Start group, said, “It's a great program for the children,'' and said she would use the lessons in her classroom before the youngsters return to the botanical garden for the next lesson in warmer weather.