A boy volunteered to sit with his eyes closed while Steve Thompson put some sort of animal into his extended arms and hands.
Thompson is the owner of Critter Junction Animal Adventure. He adopts unusual pets and rescues others. He presents a hands-on educational program using the animals that no one wants anymore.
When Thompson pulled a brown-tip, red-tail boa constrictor from a box, about 75 people in the Anderson Public Library room gasped, and let out a collective “Ohhhhh,” then snickered as the large serpent was lowered into the waiting arms of the boy, who opened his eyes and smiled broadly.
Thompson, a teacher at Valley Grove Elementary, presented his program for children and families Saturday at the library.
“At Critter Junction we want to teach you how to be responsible animal owners,” Thompson told the families gathered. “Too many times the parents end up taking care of the animal. Kids, it’s your pet, not mom and dad’s.”
Thompson discovered about three years ago the magic of animals as a learning tool. While teaching fourth grade he began bringing in animals and watching the excitement the children had. There were hard-to-reach children and difficult learners who suddenly responded to what he was saying. Today he carries his assortment of animals into the classroom and other public engagements doing about five presentations monthly.
Dawna King brought her four grandchildren.
“Seeing and being able to touch and hold them, the kids seem to listen,” King said. “It’s nice to have someplace they can go to touch the animals rather than having to travel to a zoo.”
Many people recognized the leopard geckos and golden geckos but didn’t know that each came from a different environment. The audience guessed the leopard geckos lived in the rain forest. True of the golden gecko, but the leopard variety come from the Middle East and lives in deserts.
He pulled out two large insects, Madagascar cockroaches.
“Most insects only live for months, but these guys live for years,” he said.
They make the hissing sound by pushing air out of a bag and through holes on their back.
Jalee York, 6, liked the bunny rabbit best. Her sister Juliet, 7, agreed. Afterward both could remember some of the things the many animals liked. Rabbits eat dark, leafy greens and they will eat carrots.
“They are smart and can be trained to go in a litter box,” Thompson said. “I have some friends that are allergic to cats and have rabbits running free in their house.”
The children learned about the eating and habits of many animals, including a North American alligator, Chinese water dragon, silver ferret and flying squirrels.
Children love animals, said Christie Hamm, Children’s Services manager for the library. The program was made possible by donations from The Friends of the Library.
“A live experience is always better than a photo,” she said.