Owasso Family Integrates Zoo’s Nature Exchange into Curriculum

By Juanita Crawford Muiga
Contributing Writer

NATURE AFICIONADOS: Deby Anderson, right, has included the Tulsa Zoo’s Nature Exchange program into her home school curriculum for her children Brooke and Rusty. Chris Young, a Tulsa Zoo associate, assists the family in its nature education.

GTR Newspapers photo

At the Tulsa Zoo, both children and adults can learn unforgettable lessons about life and the world around them. In mid-March, the zoo opened the Nature Exchange as a new way to get students interested in the natural world around them, according to Nature Exchange Coordinator Keri Shingleton.

“The response has been well received,” she says, noting that more than 600 people have joined their data base. “They come back again and again.”

Through the Nature Exchange, which is located near the zoo’s Crane Station, participants trade items they find in nature for points to use as currency to purchase items in the zoo’s swap shop, Shingleton explained. The zoo awards individuals based on the condition of an item and how common or rare it is, Shingleton says, adding that participants also receive points for their knowledge of a discovery. For example, a pinecone, acorn, or common rock is worth five points, but seashells, depending on what kind, can range from five to 1,000 points. A mere five points can escalate to thousands of points with the submission of fossils, according to Shingleton.

Shingleton, who likenes the exhibit to a swap shop, says everything in it has a point value and can be traded out.

“We’re really trying to excite them and get them interested in research and scientific observation,” she notes of Nature Exchange participants.

The idea of swapping nature items for points soon captured the attention of Deby Anderson, an Owasso mother who home schools her two youngest children, 11-year-old Rusty and nine-year-old Brooke. The exhibit is now a part of the Christian school curriculum that she uses.

For the Andersons, the Nature Exchange answers many questions. “There’s a very basic need in all of us for the question of why,” Anderson comments, “and the zoo’s Nature Exchange helps people understand why. Until a child does it, he doesn’t understand why,” adds Anderson, who holds a degree in social work and has 20 years of experience in home schooling.

Since integrating the Nature Exchange into their curriculum, Anderson and her children have conducted research on a number of nature’s wonders found around their country home, which is surrounded by trees and other plant life. The children have submitted a number of nature’s treasures to the Nature Exchange, including a fossilized plant they found in the creek.

Rusty and Brooke recently submitted a variety of tree leaves they found around their home, according to Anderson, remembering that it was at the beginning of spring when everything was green. The leaves came from 10 or 15 different types of trees found around the family’s home, including Bradford pear, apple, peach, hackberry, weeping willow, pine, and cottonwood trees. Anderson notes that participants can earn up to 300 points for reporting on a common leaf.

Anderson says that she and the children are studying about mole crickets, which dig in the ground like a mole. The Andersons began their research after finding some mole crickets at a softball game in Tulsa recently. They are also doing research on a yellow and black-spotted moth, which will be a part of their insect collection. Other projects involve miniature pinecones that the students plan to research, compare, and contrast to a giant pinecone at the Tulsa Zoo, and a collection of wild weeds found in their pasture.

The exhibit not only has answered questions for the Andersons, but it also has taught them how to be more observant of things around them. “It’s helping you learn about the stuff around you that you usually don’t focus on,” Rusty says, noting that people don’t usually focus on the neatness of a frog or other treasures in nature. “But when you really focus, there’s small stuff, big stuff, and neat stuff.”

As for Brooke, she is happy about seeing new things at the Nature Exchange. “We get to see stuff from different countries that you don’t normally get to see,” she comments. “You can be in Tulsa and see it. You don’t have to go all around the world to Asia to see it.” She has her eyes set on a bluish-purple butterfly, and is saving up the necessary 1,500 points to get it.

Anderson and her husband, Brian, who is an engineer employed by Boeing, have four other children whom she home schooled. Marcy, 24, works in an accountant’s office in Tulsa and takes college courses by correspondence through Thomas Edison College, while Nick, 22, works for a cabling company and attends Tulsa Community College. Becky, 17, just graduated and plans to attend TCC this fall. Kathryn, 15, is a sophomore in high school.

The Nature Exchange reminds Anderson of a book in the Bible. “The nature center is kind of like Proverbs,” Anderson observes. “It gives you knowledge and wisdom and helps you learn how to live better, especially in relationship to other things in the world. The Nature Center wants nature to be in balance, and we, as people want to live a peaceful coexistence with one another and with nature.”

Brian, who helps Rusty and Brooke with identifying bugs and mounting their discoveries, also realizes the benefits of Nature Exchange. “I think it worked out really well,” he says of the new addition to the school curriculum. “They got excited about things. They didn’t want to step on bugs. They want to stop and look at them. They realized there’s a purpose for bugs,” he recalls.

The Tulsa Zoo is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Nature Exchange is open Thursday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. For more information, call 669-6600 or visit the web site at www.tulsazoo.org.

Updated 08-26-2004

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