“Education is the key to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover. Children listen to you passionately but they like to see and feel things to remember what you’ve told them.”
Hi, my name is Yvette Ribbers (21) and I come from Raamsdonksveer, the Netherlands. I have a passion for reptiles and amphibians and I like to share my passion with others. I volunteer for Herpetofauna Foundation, which is a non-profit organization, raising money to fund existing projects all over the world. I think about reptile and amphibian conservation often and I believe education is a great way to connect people to these animals.
In my opinion, education is really important. People need to see that reptiles and amphibians are not the scary creatures that they think they are. The only articles that people (mostly adults) see and read are the articles about ‘dangerous escaped snakes’, most of the times about corn snakes or ball pythons. They get scared this way, or already were and these kind of articles will only make it worse.
Children, in fact, are not born to be scared of any animal. The human being is in the highest rank of the food chain. People make children scared of these kind of animals, when there is no need to be scared of them. That’s why it’s important to start educating children at an early age.
Last Tuesday I went to an elementary school with a ball python, corn snake, blue-tongued skink, savannah monitor and a Chilean rose tarantula. All calm animals that the children were able to pet and hold if they wanted to. Except for the Chilean rose tarantula, she wasn’t in the mood that day to be handled and since we have to respect the animals, we only took a look at her while she was still in her little enclosure.
In my opinion this is what education starts with, respect for the animals. Teach the children to respect them. Teach them how they can see when animals don’t want to be handled, think about snakes getting in an S-shape ready to strike or do their very best to get away. Lizards who try to bite and do their hardest best to get away. We can’t force reptiles and amphibians to do what we want them to do. That’s an important thing to teach children at the first place. They’re not just objects to carry around everywhere, they’re living creatures.
When educating at a school, I always take some reptiles, and sometimes amphibians too, with me so I can show them. Children will listen to you passionately, but they remember so much more of what you’re telling them when they have the experience of seeing and feeling the animals. They’re always very enthusiastic when they see the animals taken out of the boxes I transport them in. ‘Why is that snake in a bag?’, well, for snakes it feels like they’re lying in a dark hole, that feels safe for them. ‘Can they breathe through it?’, yes, they can. I explain them why I transport them in the tempex boxes too, for the warmth and safety of the animals. Children ask the smartest questions. They really care about the animals.
I educate the children about the reptiles I have with me, where to find them in the wild, habitat, food, how big they can get, how the shedding works, how old they can get, etc. I will take some sheds and dried eggs with me to show them.
I will let them touch or hold the animals if they want to, or they can just take a look at them when they don’t want to hold nor touch the animals. That’s no problem too, you can’t force the children to touch or hold them, when you force them, it will only be a negative experience.
There are also children that at first don’t want to touch or hold them, but when they see that other children do, they’ll be like ‘alright, if he/she can do this, then I can do this too!’. Like this, they help each other too, to get over their fears.
There was this one child in particular, he really made me a bit emotional. It was a boy with a heavy form of autism, he came in the classroom a bit frightened, with his hands covering his eyes. He didn’t want to look at me, that was different, I was different, something different is scary. When he saw the corn snake I had with me, he already took one of his hands away from his eyes, wanting to see the snake. He touched the cornsnake with that one hand and sat down on the ground to take a better look at the snake. He slowly took the other hand away from his eyes too. Wanting to touch and hold the snake. While holding the snake the boy really went from very tense to totally relaxed. It was really good to see this change on his face, it was a great experience to see this happen. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t ask anything, but I could see from the look on his face that he was really enjoying the experience of holding that corn snake. In the end he didn’t even wanted to let go of the snake, he’d rather take the corn snake with him than he would give it back to me.
At the end of the day I had a bunch of happy children surrounding me, they thanked me for being there and bringing those animals with me. They thanked me for the information I told them and they even held the door open when I walked out with the tempex boxes at the end of the day.
I bet these children will still be talking about this experience for the next few days.
Please be sure to educate people, especially children. Children can make a difference, when they get older maybe they can start educating about these beautiful creatures too!
Yvette Ribbers is a guest contributor to Save The Snakes. She is a studying biology and medical laboratory research in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Yvette is interested in snake ecology and conservation and plans to attain a master’s degree in herpetology.