Zoo Art for Pediatric Patients

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An Arctic fox meets some special children.

The Kaiser Art Program is a collaboration between the San Diego Zoo’s Education Department, the San Diego Optimist Club, and Kaiser-Permanente’s hospital pediatric ward. Each month, outpatients, nurses, donors, and their families visit the Zoo to meet animals, go behind the scenes at the Zoo, and receive art lessons from Joe Nyiri, the Zoo’s longtime art instructor.

We had a great time this month with our Kaiser Art Program group.  January celebrated a winter wonderland theme with a visit to the Arctic animals at the Zoo’s Polar Bear Plunge.  I met our group at the front of the Zoo on a cold San Diego morning.  The clouds were gray and low, with no sun to be seen.  It wasn’t supposed to rain, but it sure felt like a dark winter day.  I saw my breath as I exhaled (yes—it was THAT cold!).  Despite the frosty morning, my friends from Kaiser met me with high spirits, excited for the day we had in store.

I was happy to see our guests decked out in hats and jackets. Today we’d be feeling the wind chill aboard our open-air, double-decked bus ride to Polar Bear Plunge. I greeted the familiar faces and received wishes of a Happy New Year. Cold or not, we were going to have a blast!

We popped into the Zoo and hopped aboard the bus. The kids, happily munching on granola bars and sipping juice boxes, bravely settled in on the top deck. I tried to stump the group with an Arctic quiz. This crowd, wide-eyed and ready to roll, knocked my socks off with their polar bear knowledge. How far can a polar bear smell a seal on the ice? What color is a polar bear’s fur? These kids knew it all! (Visit our Animal Bytes page for help with the answers.)

A potato?!

On our bus tour we explored the adaptations animals have in the wintertime before being dropped off at Polar Bear Plunge, where we spied on Isiq and Kaniq, the Arctic foxes.  Joe Nyiri, our art teacher extraordinaire, gave a lesson in drawing polar bears.  He said, “It’s like drawing a potato.” Indeed, the bears’ bodies are plump and round and fit for the Arctic wilderness.

After a peek at Boris the baby reindeer, we made our way to the Zoo’s Rondavel meeting room, where we mingled and snacked, drinking hot cocoa to warm up. Joe gave his instruction on taking the pencil drawings the kids sketched and adding pastel and watercolor to create multi-medium masterpieces. To top it all off, we had a visit from Dassie, a rock hyrax that shuffled about the room, curious and energetic.

What an awesome day!

Kimberly Carroll is an educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Winter Camp 2010.

Watch the polar bears daily on Polar Cam.

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