Third graders at Topeka Collegiate School are on a mission to spread the word about the world’s endangered rainforests. They’ve created a rainforest of their own, with tropical plants and animals. After weeks of research, they are experts brimming with information as they guide visitors through their habitat.
“Don’t worry,” smiles a third grader to a kindergartner encountering an imposing papier-mâché gorilla, “they only eat plants.” Pointing to a molded Styrofoam tapir, a student says, “Tapirs have the body of a hippo and a trunk like an elephant, only chopped off.” She kneels to point out tiny strawberry poison dart frogs made of clay and explains, “Their skin is poison, so other animals don’t eat them.”
Students make sure visitors know why it’s important to preserve the rainforests, “If we keep hurting these animals’ habitat, they’ll go extinct!” They all know that the basic ingredient for chewing gum grows in the rainforest as does the rosy periwinkle, which contains a cancer-fighting agent.
Third grade teacher Marilyn Kido loves watching her students become adept communicators, tailoring their tours to visitors ranging from preschoolers to grandparents. “They add humor, ask questions, one even played ‘I Spy’ with some three-year-olds. They really develop a passion for the rainforest.”
This kind of experiential learning is why alumni returning to visit are eager to share stories about the animals they created for the rainforest. “Mine is still in my bedroom!” one said recently, setting off giggles among third graders.