Storytime at the Zoo: Virtual Fun, Real Animals

We miss seeing kids at the library! That’s why we’ve been doing lots of programs online, so kids can still see their CALS friends reading great stories. And here’s some exciting news– we put our heads together with the Little Rock Zoo and Little Rock TV and made some videos that have real animals in them.

In Storytime at the Zoo, our storytellers team up with the Zoo’s animal expert, who helps young people get to know animals like Reptar the tortoise and Lincoln the great horned owl. Now, we can bring the Zoo and CALS to kids in their homes, as we all look forward to the happy day when we welcome everybody back in person.

Live animals in the studio

Our storytellers David, Abby, and Vanessa rode over to the Zoo and brought some storybooks.  Hannah Baker, the Zoo’s Curator of Education Animals, met them there in the studio with some cool critters, live and unscripted as animals tend to be!

In the middle of filming, Reptar the tortoise decided he was hungry and took off for parts unknown. Baker had to lure him back with a pile of greens. “He’s always thinking about food and if he’s not eating, he wants to be eating!” Baker said, smiling.

Baker watches over the ambassador animal collection and makes sure the animals get good care. Ambassador animals like Reptar help with the Zoo’s educational shows, which include birds, reptiles, penguins, and farm animals for a total of about 180 animals. The ambassador animals encourage people to conserve their wild counterparts. When people get up close and feel a connection with an animal, that helps everybody learn to care for all the other animals too.

Helping kids engage with learning at home

Baker was excited to feature the animals on video and with the library’s funny stories. “Even though the Zoo is closed to the public, we still have our very important mission of conservation, and our animals are still here and have an important role,” Baker said. “Storytime is another way to reach kids of all ages and all different kinds of learners, if some kids are engaged more by a story than by the factual information.”

CALS staff loved the chance to create something fun and educational for young people at home.

Vanessa Scroggins from the CALS McMath library branch read Wild About Us with Burton the milk snake. “I was ecstatic when I found out about the opportunity to collaborate with the Zoo!” Scroggins said. “I’ve really missed seeing ‘my’ library program kids. Although CALS staff is working on creating virtual content at home, I felt like recording at the Zoo was a different kind of connection.”

Scroggins sees Storytime at the Zoo as one way to support parents who are now helping their kids complete schoolwork while schools are closed. “I think it’s important to recognize that alternative methods of instruction (AMI) don’t have to be simply worksheets or online assignments, and I feel that the Zoo program definitely counts as a form of AMI.”

Scroggins also enjoyed her time near the animals. “The hardest part of the experience was maintaining social distance from the animal caretakers as I wanted to pet the critters!” she said.

Abby Kerby from the CALS children’s library was the lucky reader who worked with Reptar the Tortoise. “It was great working with the Zoo,” she said. “I’m glad we could get it to come together so quickly.”

Baker agreed. “The Zoo and the library have similar missions, so it’s really fun to build a partnership that we hope we can continue!”

Watch the storytimes

To see the storytimes, including live animals and expert information from the Zoo, you can visit the following links from Little Rock TV on the City of Little Rock’s YouTube channel:

David Weatherly reads Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing/Hannah Baker introduces Tater the opossum

Abby Kerby reads Turtle and Tortoise are Not Friends/Hannah Baker introduces Reptar the tortoise

Vanessa Scroggins reads Wild About Us/Hannah Baker introduces Burton the milk snake

David Weatherly reads Bear Feels Scared/Hannah Baker introduces Lincoln the owl

For more virtual programming from CALS library staff, see our CALS Kids YouTube channel. There, you’ll find more storytimes plus crafts and painting you can do with home supplies, cooking class and hobbies, life skills taught in fun ways, and even language instruction videos.

photos courtesy of the Little Rock Zoo

feature by Rosslyn Elliott