August 23, 2014

Elyria
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These critters get around

Journey of stuffed animals teaches children about nation’s geography

ELYRIA — Students in Kathleen Pero’s first- and second-grade summer class were gathered in a circle Friday, passing around Euros and German candy that Frog brought back from its adventure.
Frog, 6-year-old Mya Kilgore’s tiny stuffed animal, is one of 14 critters that took a two-week vacation all over the United States and beyond.
Pero gave each of her Oakwood Elementary students a critter and a journal at the start of the five-week summer-school program, Camp Achieve. She then mailed the fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand critters to her friends and family around the United States for them to document the critters’ summer adventures.
Mya’s green frog was mailed to Pero’s friend in Penn-
sylvania, who traveled to Cologne, Germany, for business and took a vacation at the New Jersey shore. The first-grader’s journal contained descriptions and pictures of the Rhine River, a cathedral in Germany, and green, white and orange seashells from the beach.
The Castaway Critters project emphasizes reading, writing, current events and geography. It also teaches the kids vocabulary words, such as seagull and aquarium.
“They’re learning there’s life outside of Elyria,” Pero said. “I’m using it as a bridge of the different things they need to know about the United States.”
The children also are learning about current events as a result of the animals’ trips. For example, one returned with a newspaper clip from Texas detailing the flooding in that area.
“I don’t know if it’s working, if they’re catching on, but I hope so,” Pero said.
Seven-year-old Christopher Willis’ critter was sent to Pero’s relative, an elementary school boy, in Denver. The grey hippopotamus, appropriately named Hippo, took a road trip from Denver to Ohio and participated in a Fourth of July parade.
The students picked and named the critters. Frogs, hippos, bears, zebras and other animals, christened with names such as LeBron James, Love Bug and Cupcake, traveled to other destinations, including Oregon, Arkansas and Illinois.
“I like hippos because they’re fluffy, and they’re cute,” second-grader Christopher said about why he picked Hippo.
The students still are anxiously awaiting the return of six critters, which Pero hopes will be sent to her via FedEx by Monday.
Pero, who teachers special needs students at Windsor Elementary School during the academic school year, said she’s been carrying around the idea of Castway Critters since college. She implemented the program two years ago and plans on continuing it in future summer programs.