As the school bus pulled away full of 40 first graders I listened to the teacher explain the bus riding rules which included no standing, no yelling and absolutely no arms or legs in the aisle. I immediately sat up straight lest my left arm dangle into the forbidden area.
I counted to six before all three rules were broken by all 40 kids. The noise level in my house can reach ear piercing levels with only four children. Now multiply that by ten and toss in the acoustics of a big yellow metal tube of a bus and you have the formula for permanent hearing loss.
We arrived at Woodland Park Zoo and I was put in charge of five kids. The teacher told me that I’d been given two “challenging” boys because I was the only father who volunteered. One little girl took my hand and said, “Let’s go find the rabbits!” With that we walked fewer than 20 steps when three of the five said they were ready for lunch. It wasn’t quite 10 am.
I showed the kids the map and asked what they’d like to see first. Surprisingly, I got five different answers. So I made an executive decision and herded the kids in the direction of the brown bears. On the walk over we stopped twice to tie shoes and once to chase squirrels.
It was at this point I realized that seeing the animals ranked about 112th on their priority list today. Seven-year olds have a lot of energy. And unless it’s channeled through play, bad things happen. Like offering fruit leather to the monkeys. What the kids want most is to play together. To interact. To share stories with each other. Lots and lots of stories told at high volume.
We saw all types of animals including the howler monkeys, hippos and chimpanzees. The kids moved through each exhibit like a tidal wave, stopping only long enough to ignore the “Please do not knock on glass” signs before skipping off to the next area. We made our way to a large patch of grass to have lunch. Each child brought a sack lunch and they swapped and shared food until everyone was happy.
All five kids were a joy to be around. But I knew it was getting time to leave when one of the girls asked me if I had a debit card. When I told her yes, she said, “Cool. Let’s go over to the Zoo Shop”. We visited a play area where the kids climbed ropes, hid in small caves and climbed trees. The animals were all but forgotten by now.
When the time came we boarded the bus in single file fashion. It made me smile when all five kids asked to sit by me on the ride home. As I sat by Luca our butts bounced up and down on the well padded seat cushions. We laughed and I could tell she enjoyed spending the day with her dad. I wish I had more time to spend with her and her class but today was great fun. One can’t help but smile and feel good about life being around such a lively group.