Students get swamped with marshland wonders

April 13, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

A woman, dressed as a great blue heron, promised children tales from the swamp.

"I am going to talk to you about something we don't have at the aquarium -- a swamp," said Cathie Vincent, an educator with the National Aquarium on a visit to William Winchester Elementary in Westminster yesterday.

"Ewww!" came the collective reply to swamps.

"That's why we changed the name to marshland," Ms. Vincent said.

The kindergarten and first-grade students delved into Marshland Mysteries, an aquarium program designed to give lessons in ecology.

"We show who lives in the marshes and why conservation and preservation are important," said Ms. Vincent.

"The children learn wetlands are not ugly places which should be destroyed but something neat, worthy to save," she said.

Many children recalled favorite animals discovered on visits to the aquarium in Baltimore.

"Every year, 155,000 children come to the National Aquarium," said Liz Malis, spokeswoman. "Sometimes, we take the aquarium to them."

Ms. Vincent took her audience of 5- to 7-year-olds on an imaginary but lively swamp tour.

Six children donned costumes of swamp creatures and helped Ms. Vincent stage a play on the food chain, which is often disrupted by development, she said.

The fish wore large work gloves for fins. The raccoon had hot pink sun shades and a long striped tail. The fiddler crab had a pair of tongs.

"He just waves his claw and looks for a date," said Ms. Vincent.

In the final scene, the heron couldn't make a meal of any swamp friend.

"He came back to Maryland and landed on our license plates," said Ms. Vincent.

As she polled the audience, she found many environmentally aware children.

"Why do we need plants?" asked Ms. Vincent.

"They make the whole world beautiful," answered Samantha Lathe.

At the end of the drama, everyone had a chance to meet Henry, a live diamondback terrapin.

Felicia Rowan called her first terrapin encounter "neat," but she settled for a quick touch and a good-bye.

"He wouldn't make a good pet," she said. "I don't have the right kind of food for him."

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