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Hey Kids it's Ranger Time

First-grader Quinn Kinata, at right, has a little fun while helping park ranger Jon Crimmins demonstrate an ecolocation device to fellow classmates in Susan Milan’s class at South Whidbey Primary School. The demonstration was part of a talk the rangers made about the commonly named little brownbat. - Cynthia Woolbright
First-grader Quinn Kinata, at right, has a little fun while helping park ranger Jon Crimmins demonstrate an ecolocation device to fellow classmates in Susan Milan’s class at South Whidbey Primary School. The demonstration was part of a talk the rangers made about the commonly named little brownbat.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Ever heard the saying “blind as a bat” ?

Sheesh, any kindergartner or first-grader can tell you it’s not true.

First-grader Alex French knows.

“Bats can see but they don’t need their eyes,” French said. “Oh, and they sleep six months.”

First-grader Zoe Tapert knows, “Bats use ecolocation to find bugs.”

“They make sounds no one can hear,” according to kindergartner Ian Saunsaucie.

“They fly really good,” kindergartner Aria Ludtke said.

“I learned where they live, but I forgot what it was called,” first-grader Julia Buchanan said.

On Friday, Susan Milan’s kindergarten/first grade multi-age class at South Whidbey Primary School was stoked. Halloween was two days away and it was ... da-da da-da da-da da-da... bat day.

The kids were learning about Myotis Lucifugus, commonly known as the little brown bat. Leading the bat seminar were Washington State Parks rangers Jon Crimmins and Patty Anderson, who brought environmental education to the class disguised in the form of fun. This is the second year that the local rangers have teamed with Milan’s class for the educational visits that now occur about twice a month.

“We want to foster kids into stewardship,” said Anderson, ranger at South Whidbey State Park. “They’ll come out to the park and head into nature with a unique understanding of how to preserve it.”

The visits are a hands-on approach to environmental education.

“We bring lots of props,” Crimmins said.

Often the props include bark, plants, pictures, stuffed animals and, on Friday, a bat outfit complete with sunglasses and sparkly wings.

“It enhances things greatly when we can bring a forest to them when they aren’t able to go to the forest,” Anderson said.

Many of the topics coordinate with the curriculum and other projects that Milan — who has a background in natural resources and environmental education — offers in the classroom. Past visits have taught the kids about woolly mammoths, slugs, and birds and will soon be of plants, plant communities and ecosystems. Last year, the students built a life-size eagle nest. This year, the students will make a trail guide for the “Back 40” trails behind the primary school.

“This is a chance to go deeper than the regular curriculum,” Milan said. “They learn the basic skills so they can be active in the world and know to ask questions, the environmental education gives them an awareness of that world around them.”

Last week the kids learned about all of the places bats could live — from bat houses to tree bark.

“Ever hear the saying ‘blind as a bat?’” Crimmins asked the students. “It’s not true, bat’s can see really well.”

To illustrate this, Crimmins gave first-grader Julia Buchanan a pair of sunglasses to show how a bat can see really well — it’s just dark. Soon, Julia also had glittery wings, a little pig nose, a felt belly and ears

“If you took off a bat’s wings, what would it look like?” Crimmins asked.

“A worm” ... “a rat” ... and other responses triggered giggles.

The students learned little brown bats eat about 600 bugs per hour and can consume half their body weight in bugs in a single feeding.

Anderson told the students how when catching mosquitoes, bats hit them with their wings onto their tail membranes, which they use to flip the bugs into their mouths.

“I’m guessing bats are called bats because they’re really good baseball players,” she joked.

Later, “cool” was the response to the fact that bats sleep for six months of the year.

“They only wake up two times to drink the moisture that has accumulated under their wings,” Crimmins told the kids.

And before Crimmins could forget, the kids addressed echo-location.

“When bugs buzz, bats find their food. They click and when they grab it they flick it and then eat it,” kindergartner Bronte Audette-Cowie said.

In addition to maintaining South Whidbey State Park, Crimmins feels the public outreach and education via the visits are vital parts of his work as a ranger.

“It gives the kids an idea of what is out there in the parks and helps them learn how they can help to take care of it better,” Crimmins said. “These are kids we will see growing up through the years at the park.”

The talks are just an extension of the environmental education the rangers already do at South Whidbey State Park. While limited on resources to expand the educational possibilities, rangers do regularly offer campfire talks, interpretive tours and hikes.

And when at the park, or out and about on the island, it’s the rangers who receive the educational talks. “Ranger Jon” and “Ranger Patty” as they as known to the kids often get recognized and told stories of stuffed animals, slugs, and other creatures.

“It’s great, we’re celebrities now,” Crimmins said.

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