A wild encounter

Perkins preschoolers make friends with animals that slither, jump and crawl during an educational visit from a traveling animal presenter

A child reaches both hands out to touch a corn snake

Penelope, a child enrolled in the Infant-Toddler Program, explored the smooth skin of a corn snake. Photo Credit: Anna Miller.

June 16, 2016

Not many people can say they’ve high-fived an alligator, but for Drew, a child enrolled in the Infant-Toddler Program at Perkins School for the Blind, the opportunity presented itself during a recent visit from a local exotic animal specialist.

As Drew and the other children crowded around, Corey Kummel from Curious Creatures in Groveland, Massachusetts, introduced a bevy of unusual animals, including a flying squirrel, a dragon lizard and a six-foot carpet python named Monte.

The visit was an exceptional learning opportunity for the youngsters with visual impairments, who were encouraged to pet the various animals, including a baby alligator named Chili.

“They were able to really experience, touch and look at an animal up close that they would never have the opportunity to otherwise,” said Perkins teacher Susan DeCaluwe. “We talk about animals (in class) but it’s in the abstract – this is concrete.”

All the animals were very tame and used to human contact, and the event was closely monitored for safety. Here are some highlights…

A young boy wearing blue glasses touching a tortoise's shell

After petting the soft hair of an angora rabbit, David reached out to touch the hard shell of a tortoise.

A girl touching a yellow snake

Maisey, a sibling of a Perkins student, was excited to meet Rusty, a corn snake with brightly colored skin that felt smooth to the touch.

A boy petting a chinchilla

With encouragement from his teacher, James carefully stroked the velvet-like fur of a chinchilla named Seamus.

A chinchilla sitting up in a clear bowl

Instead of bathing in water, chinchillas like Seamus keep clean by rolling in dust, which absorbs the oil and dirt from their fur. Kummel set out a clear bowl of dust to demonstrate.

A group of students sits on the floor around a chinchilla

Kummel showed a group of students how to pet Seamus without scaring him. “This is probably the softest animal you guys have ever touched,” he said.

A green frog sitting on a person's hand

Later, students got an up-close introduction to Bruce, a dumpy tree frog with a neon green back.

A student reaching his hand out to touch a large lizard

Bo extended an enthusiastic greeting to Lily the dragon lizard, who stuck out her tongue as a way to smell her surroundings.

An adult holding a large lizard while a child reaching its hand toward its back

The high-contrast patterns along Lily’s back and tail were intriguing to many of the students with low vision.

An adult holding a baby alligator

Before introducing Chili, the baby alligator, to students, Corey showed them her rows of white teeth. “She has 80 altogether, but can’t stick out her tongue,” he said.

A student high-fives an alligator

Drew and Chili high-fived to end the presentation.