Animal Quest Party
Andrea in Brighton, MA, USA
Animal Quest Anna's first grade class was very interested in endangered species so it was no surprise that she wanted a class party this summer with endangered animals as the theme. Her large class is very active so there was no way an indoor party would work. We met at a location the children were all familiar with a small urban farm with woods, barnyard, gardens and fields, across the street from their school for an animal quest. Invitations: We printed up two-sided invitations on our computer. One side said: Walk on the Wild Side in a font that looked as though the letters had been clawed up. We found a free graphic of big paw prints to place around the text. It continued: Get in touch with your inner animal at Anna's Animal Preserve, aka (Place Name), date and time. On the other side, each child received a fact card for a different endangered animal with stats on its size, appearance, diet, reproduction, threats to the species, and five fun facts. The children were told to bring their card with them. Decorations: We set the mood with paw print cups and snack bags with jungle animals on them. Since there are two entrances, we stationed our older children, faces made up like animals, to hold a decorated sign at the wrong entrance" pointing cars to "Anna's Animal Preserve." At the correct entrance we draped a giant stuffed snake holding another sign welcoming guests to the Preserve. All the animals we chose for decorations were endangered species. We posted a few decorated arrows along the walkway for parents to see at pickup time ("Rrrrright way"; "Grrrrreat party" "Baaa! We'd rather stay") but the best decoration of all was the natural backdrop of the farm. Throughout the games and quest the children got to see both the heritage goats chickens sheep and llama and the woods gardens creek grasses and huge overhanging trees. We spotted a hawk geese chipmunks squirrels butterflies dragonflies and fox tracks. We ducked inside hedges and touched the gnarled bark of fruit trees. The quest was designed to take advantage of and call attention to the natural landscape. The farm breeds species that used to be common here in New England but because of industrialized farming have been nearly wiped out so we made sure the children knew that those domesticated animals were just as endangered as the popular wild ones depicted on their cups and bags. Costumes: We bought a face paint kit from Klutz and extra paint from Wolfe Face Art & FX (a professional face paint co.). Our older daughters painted each child's face to match the animal on their card. We had a sea otter a jaguar a cerulean warbler an American crocodile a bat (very cool!) a bison and many more. My daughters spent a couple of weeks sketching out what each face should look like and practicing with the paints. They came already painted as a panda and a zebra. I wore a green outfit and a hat shaped like a sea turtle. Children who did not want full face paint got their animal painted on their arm. For face painting we brought along four folding chairs to paint two children at a time with a small wooden tray table between them set up with cups of water and paper towels for cleaning the brushes and sponges a mirror and our camera for taking each child's close-up afterwards. Activities and Games: I hired a teenager to help us so that my husband could stay home with the younger siblings and we could still break up into groups. We started by letting the children pass around their fact cards and exchange information. Then we had some quick motion games. One was: If your animal wears - i.e.- If your animal wears blue touch your shoe. If your animal wears brown turn around. If your animal wears black give a clap. Another was: If your animal is good at running run to the tree. Good at flying swimming etc. do that motion to get to the tree. Next we played Predator/Prey a version of tag. Children divided by their fact card animal into three groups predators prey and both (animals that both hunt and are hunted). All prey animals wore a party cup upside down on their hand. Predators were to chase the prey who could hide or run and take their cup. If an animal was only prey once their cup was taken they went over to the face-painting station to get made up. If the animal was both prey and predator they joined the predators once their cup was taken. When there was no more prey we swapped sides. Prey became the new predators; predators who had caught prey became both; and predators who had not caught prey became the new prey. After three rounds and some impromptu tag games the kids made up themselves we passed out trail mix and quest maps. We divided into two groups mammals and non based again on the fact cards. The quest was based on the landscape and history of the farm and personally designed for the party. It led each group over various habitats. At each stop they had to solve a puzzle and write the answer (clue) onto the map in certain places. For example: "Find the tree with the funny name. You would use one to keep you out of the _____________ (CLUE #4). Under it is a stone pool. Do you see any animals that might enjoy using it? (It was an umbrella tree marked with a tag). "Walk around the corner of the mansion to find the drain pipe painted light green. Follow the path the water has made. Was it dirty or clean? Where it flows moss grows and tree roots are poking up and around. Follow them to the map that tells you the trees planted here are safe in the ground on the __________ (CLUE #5) side of the house. (With adult help they read the historic information found the same line of trees "for real" and used the direction east to find their cache.)" The kids engaged all their senses in a cooperative fashion o the quest. They had to find plants taller than they were; figure out how many triangles were in a stone path made up of diamond shapes; follow right and left; and read historic maps with a printed compass rose. They got to stomp on an irrigation cover touch lamb's ear smell herbs and leap over natural obstacles. The clues led each group to their cache a set of plastic rain forest animals bought from our local zoo and a watermelon hidden in a huge clump of daisies for one group and inside a weeping willow for the other. Once each group had their cache they came together to share their clue answers in a word game in which the two groups put their clues together in certain ways to make funny sentences or poems. Food: Baby carrots and homemade trail mix of popcorn cereal and chocolate chips for eating during the quest. Water was brought in a big reusable jug since the kids know that disposable bottles contribute habitat loss for the animals they care about. At the end we sang Happy Birthday and ate our birthday melons one of which was marked with a large candle in the shape of the number 7 for our daughter to blow out. Due to numerous severe allergies this group of kids is used to non-traditional birthday treats and melon is a favorite. The party was scheduled to end just as a school ice cream social was beginning across the road. Most families ended up there where the party kids eagerly showed off their faces and facts to schoolmates while getting extra treats. Favors: The children each went home with animals from the quest cache trail mix and painted faces. Many children chose to donate to organizations that help animals instead of bringing presents as our daughter had suggested on the invitation. The party was raucous and fun but what especially impressed us was the sophistication and sensitivity the kids showed to their local environment and to the planet at large. Though we chose the food based primarily on allergies many parents commented on how much sense it made to celebrate our natural world with natural foods and water instead of using food coloring to turn a cake green or buying juice boxes with cartoon creatures on them. What little trash we did have was bundled up and carried back out at the party's end with the melon rinds going to our compost. We felt we honored the introduction to the quest: "This is a preserve a safe place for animals and the habitat that supports them safe from hunters poachers polluters and collectors. You may use your senses to listen look and touch but do not pick keep or destroy anything you find here. The goose feathers will line nests the stones protect the soil and shade tiny creatures and the growing leaves make sugars to feed their trees. Hidden among all this bounty is a cache a stored treasure. Follow the directions to find it. We are also collecting clues; have the adult leader write down your answers. By observing and exploring without taking or destroying you will gain true treasure." "