Lesson Session – The Blind Naturalist

This is a great lesson to teach students about their senses and how valuable they are in their observations.

Grade Levels: K-5


Naturalists use all their senses to explore the world. This activity encourages students to describe objects using their sense of touch.

Discuss how a scientist may use their different senses to learn things about the natural world with the class.

For example many ornithologists, bird researchers, study bird songs to learn more about the animals. Botanists use their sense of smell to learn more about plants. Ask students for more examples.


cardboard boxes with hand sized hole cut in one side
various natural objects that are interesting to touch
(snake shed, pine cone, skull, feathers, fur, large seed pods, turtle shell are a few examples)


Place a different object in each one of the boxes. Make sure the boxes are closed and the hole is located on the side of the box. Sometimes it is a good idea to tape a piece of paper on the top of the box to discourage students from looking into the box through the hole cut in the side. Write a number on each of the boxes so the students may reference them on their paper.

Each student takes turns touching the objects in the boxes. No talking, peeking, or showing each other what they have written!

They then write down a description of each object. Was it rough, smooth, hard, soft, big, small, bumpy? Encourage the children to be as detailed as possible. Have the children guess what is in each of the boxes. To add time to the activity, ask each student to try and draw what is in the boxes by feel alone.


Have a class discussion about their experiences. Have the students share descriptions of the objects. What did they learn about each object by touching it?

Reveal each of the objects. Were any of the students correct? How did seeing the object compare to how it felt? What would the benefits be for a scientist to use all his senses when learning about something?


Hosting Your School Assembly Performers

The school year is just getting swinging.  You have been given the task of hiring and hosting this year’s school assemblies.  You have finished hiring your performers – now it’s time to get ready for the show.

Step One:  Choosing the Right Location for the Show

A variety of factors make up a good school assembly performance space.

  • Availability – the performer will need time to set up and break down before and after the assemblies, so be sure the space is available during the full time the performer will be at your school.
  • Size – More space is always better than not enough.  Try to secure the largest possible venue for the performance.  Keep in mind the size of your audience and the size of the actual performance space.  Also respect FIRE CODE occupancy limits.   If you think there may not be enough room to accommodate all the audience members plus the performance area , you may need to book extra shows.
  • Access: Most school assembly performers come with a lot of baggage, literally speaking.  PA systems, props, and especially live animals are not easily transported up stairs or for long distances.  Choose  a performance space that is easy to load equipment and animals into.  Try to choose a location is wheelchair accessable (this makes loading with a cart easy.)  If there will be stairs, be sure to let the performer know in advance as stairs may present a problem for some performances.
  • PARKING: Please be sure you have  a close parking spot reserved for your performer.  No Parking = No Performance for us here at Reptiles Alive and for many other performers as well.

STEP TWO:  Know Your Performer’s Show Set Up Requirements

  • Closely read ALL of the paper work the performer has sent you:  contracts, prep sheets, etc…  Contact the performer with any questions you may as soon as possible.  If your performer has not informed you of any specific needs or requirements ASK them BEFORE the date of your assembly.
  • Arrange with your school’s staff to have the performance space set up as needed on the date of the assembly.

Step 3:  The Day of the Show

  • Arrive at the school at or before the approximate arrival time of the performer so you are there to greet them and assist in getting the performer checked into the school, parked, and shown to the performance space.
  • Keep a phone with you that you have given as your emergency contact number for the performer.  This way you will know if the performer is running late or having other trouble getting to your show that day.
  • If the agreement was for payment to be given on the day of the show, make sure to have the signed check in the proper amount ready to give to the performer.

Now, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!


Snake Heads (and we’re not talking fish!)

You are in the garden.  As you bend down to pick a tomato, you see a:  snake!  Whoa – that snake has a triangular shaped head!  Is the snake venomous?

Many people mistakenly believe that all snakes with triangular shaped heads are venomous.  And not just people: a recent study in Spain has even shown that predators such as hawks and eagles will often avoid snakes with triangular heads!  Valkonen, J., Nokelainen, O., & Mappes, J. (2011). Antipredatory Function of Head Shape for Vipers and Their Mimics PLoS ONE, 6 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022272

The fact is, however, that many harmless snakes mimic the viper-like head shape when they are frightened.   Harmless snakes including garter snakes, rat snakes, and water snakes will flatten their heads and bodies when they feel threatened.  And snakes in the garden feel threatened when they see people.

So is there an easy way to know if a snake is venomous or harmless?  No, not really.  Herpetologists and snake experts learn to identify snakes using a variety of physical characteristics.  There is also individual variation within species: albinism, melanism, and pattern variations that occasionally occur can cause confusion when trying to  identify a snake.

At Reptiles Alive, we suggest that people  just leave all snakes alone.  If you leave snakes alone, snakes will leave you alone.  That way it  does not matter whether the snake is venomous or not  – even venomous snakes will leave you alone if you don’t bother them.


Comparison of Snake Heads


Northern Brownsnake


Harmless Eastern Gartersnake


Harmless Common Water Snake

S.O.S: Save our Snakes (from landscape netting)

Every year we get calls from gardeners about snakes trapped in their soft plastic landscape netting.  Landscape netting is often used to protect fruit and vegetables from nibbling deer, birds, and rabbits.  Unfortunately, it can be a death sentence to snakes, birds, and small mammals.


Tony carefully restraining the first Copperhead while his coworker cuts away the netting

Small animals become trapped in the net and as they struggle to free themselves,  get even more tangled up.  The netting not only traps the poor animals, it also causes very serious injuries due to the thin plastic cutting into their skin and muscle.

If a human does not intervene, it is a long, slow and sad death for any trapped creature. Some animals are lucky – they are found and rescued.  Recently our very own TuataraTony was called upon to rescue two copperhead snakes that had become entangled in landscape netting in a garden in Great Falls VA.


Tony (right) and his coworker helping to free the second trapped Copperhead Snake

Tony and other professional Naturalists, Wildlife Educators and Animal Rehabilitators are experts at handling all sorts of animals.  If you find a creature in need of rescue, contact your local animal control agency for help.

Alternatives for protecting crops do exist: Fences 8 feet tall or taller will protect areas from deer.  Using chicken wire, wire mesh, kennel fencing, or snow fencing attached to fence posts will protect against most animals, including rabbits.

If deer are your main problem, you might also consider an electric fence. Motion sensors that trigger a blast of water can scare off birds and other wildlife from fruit trees and bushes. And a good old fashioned scarecrow (especially if it has bright, shiny, moving parts) is always a festive addition to any garden.

Here are some great links for more suggestions on how to save your garden without hurting snakes or other wildlife:

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We had a great experience with Reptiles Alive for my daughter’s 6th birthday party. Rachel arrived exactly on time, set up quickly, and immediately engaged the group of curious children. We had an impromptu dance party while waiting for last minute guests and Rachel was very accommodating. The children LOVED the show!! And my soon-to-be 11 year old wants them to come for his birthday! I highly recommend Reptiles Alive for your next event!read more

Kelly Maguire

Kelly Maguire

22:57 12 Mar 18

We just had Reptiles Alive come to our preschool and the kids loved it!! We had 4 shows over 2 days to accommodate all our children and everything went great! Caroline was very easy to work with and quick to respond to all my emails. She was our presenter too and was early each day and ready to go when the kids arrived. She really geared her show towards our audience (2-5yr olds) and had them laughing and answering her questions and touching the animals. It was perfect… we would definitely book them again!!read more

Lauren Dolinski

Lauren Dolinski

20:47 01 Mar 18

We booked Reptiles Alive for our son’s 7th birthday party. Miss Rachel put on an amazing show for the 20 kids we had over. The highlight was when my son and I had the chance to hold a long and surprisingly heavy boa constrictor named Sunflower. The show was both educational and fun for the kids, and it kept them captivated for a full hour – priceless!!read more

Rick Jandrain

Rick Jandrain

01:53 06 Feb 18

Rachel is an awesome instructor and very good with many kids. The reptiles were fascinating. This was a great birthday party for my daughter and her second grade class.read more

Robert McKeon

Robert McKeon

23:26 26 Feb 18

We invited Reptiles Alive for our birthday party. Ms. Rachel did a wonderful job to educate the kids about the fun facts of Reptiles and also kept them entertained and focused. It’s not a easy job facing a bunch of 7-year-old boys and 3-year-old preschoolers. We highly recommend Reptiles Alive show. It’s fun and full of knowledge!read more

Tianchan Niu

Tianchan Niu

22:09 17 Dec 17