Sharks vs. sparrows. Summer school at the Aquarium

September 10, 2015 4:37 pm
By Jennifer Law
Photos by Steven Williams
With our reserves closed and schools on holiday, summer tends to be a fairly quiet time for environmental education in Malta. But this year, we were determined to keep children engaged with Maltese nature, so we teamed up with the Malta National Aquarium to try a new approach!

From mid-July to early September, summer school groups of all ages made their way to the Aquarium from across Malta for an exciting activity-packed day. Each group of children was given a tour of the Aquarium and a related worksheet to consolidate their learning on marine environments. Sessions with BirdLife Malta then helped to broaden their knowledge further by introducing nature that may be found a little closer to home.

We carried out a range of activities to suit different age groups. The youngest children learned to recognise local wildlife such as the Maltese Wall Lizard (Gremxula ta’ Malta) and Spanish Sparrow (Għasfur tal-bejt) through colouring activities and memory games. Although amongst the most common animals in Malta, both often go unnoticed so many children believed they had never seen one before. But after stories of lizards growing new tails and sparrows gathering in groups of hundreds to roost at night, children were soon determined to find these amazing creatures!

Older children learned about minibeasts – the smallest of our wildlife such as insects, worms, spiders and butterflies. We then put their creativity to the test, challenging them to invent and draw their own minibeast, incorporating features from those they’d learned about. The results were spectacular, and often pretty intimidating! We saw all kinds of mighty beasts who would surely be unstoppable – some had protective shells, hundreds of legs and big wings to escape any predator, whilst also having powerful claws to make short work of their own prey!

The oldest children took part in a hands-on quiz about Maltese nature. Teams competed against each other to find the answers to as many questions as possible by scouring the posters, banners and teaching resources all around, and by asking BirdLife Malta staff. It turned out that a little competition went a long way, especially when siblings were in opposing teams! Children were soon boasting about how many Maltese plants and animals they could name, how many facts they could recall, and who could draw the best interpretation of the BirdLife Malta logo.
Admittedly, it was not all easy going. Having just been awestruck by sharks and an array of multi-coloured sea creatures, it was a little challenging to foster interest in animals like sparrows and insects, whose small size and plainer colouring may seem a little underwhelming by comparison. But children soon learned that there was more to these animals than they had first realised and what’s more, they can be found all around us throughout the Maltese islands!
Overall, it was a great success and we’re already planning for next year!