Lots of people ask me,
“Why do you do what you do?”
For those of you who don’t know, part of my business involves taking reptiles (snakes & lizards) and ‘minibeasts’ (tarantulas, cockroaches, snails, millipedes, scorpions) into schools & businesses.
In schools we most frequently get invited in by science departments to augment the science curriculum, talking about habitats, camouflage, adaptation etc.
In businesses we help with team building, ice-breakers, meetings, events etc.
But if I was asked to sum-up the greatest value in what we do it would be 2 words:
I would propose that almost anyone can talk about the subjects we talk about. But I would also argue that few, easy-to-perform activities can impact individuals as significantly as ‘hands-on’ reptile handling. When well managed & carefully run, these events are a real goldmine for building self-esteem & self-confidence. Not only that, the ramifications & impact are far-reaching. From one short, simple exercise it is possible to start a chain-reaction that lasts for many years & in some cases changes people’s perceptions, opportunities & achievements for a lifetime.
This may all sound a bit ‘fluffy’, but I’d like to give some real-life examples of observations & feedback from our time working with schools & business & let you judge for yourself whether our workshops have true value or are just a novelty:
We visited a secondary school last year to take a science lesson for Year 9 (13 & 14-year-old) students. As they were entering the classroom one girl saw our tanks (no animals visible) & screamed, running to the back of the room. As I was introducing the workshop I looked around but couldn’t see said frightened girl. I then noticed a pair of legs protruding from beneath a rack of lab coats at the back of the class. She was hiding! We continued the class, encouraging the students to touch or handle some small lizards & then started on the snakes. Starting with a small Western Hognose Snake we gradually worked our way up in size. By the time we were taking the second snake around the girl had sat down at her desk & had even endeavoured to stroke a couple of the lizards AND the little snake. As I approached her with a significantly larger snake she asked if she could handle it . I said “Yes” expecting her to support the middle section of the animal whilst I held the head & tail. Instead she lifted the snake out of my hand, handling it like a seasoned professional! By the time we had moved up to the boas she was in her element. As she left, the girl said, “Thank you so much for today. I’m going to ask mum & dad if I can have a snake for a pet!” I ‘m not sure we would be overly popular with said parents but the results spoke for themselves.
More recently, we were visiting another secondary school, taking a science lesson for Year 7 (11/12-year-old) students. Sat to one side on his own was an unremarkable-looking boy. As we took the animals around he confidently handled them all. We didn’t think anything else of it until a couple of days later we received a message from one of his teachers informing us that before our visit, this young lad was very shy & quiet, almost withdrawn. He neither contributed to class discussions nor had many friends. Since we had visited, his confidence in handling the animals had been noticed by other members of the class to the extent that he was almost a mini-hero. We were informed that he was now building his own little peer group of friends & also starting to contribute to class discussions.
During a visit to a primary school over 2 days, we were involved with showing our animals to some 4+ & Year 1 pupils (4 & 5-year-olds). The class went without incident (apart from one young lad locking himself in the toilet). The next day as we were sat in the staffroom, a teacher came & sat next to us. “Did you know we had 4 or 5 children with quite severe special needs yesterday?” she asked. We had to admit that we didn’t; they had all been attentive (if a little hesitant at first). The teacher then went on to explain that for the first time, these children had not only sat & been engaged in our activities, but they were still talking about our visit a day later, totally unheard of up to this point. It was interesting that another group showing reptiles had been in earlier in this ‘activities week’ but had lost the attention of the pupils after about 10 minutes. So, it wasn’t just the reptiles per se that were the benefit; there was also a lot tied-up in how the sessions were run. In short, it boiled-down to the relationships we were able to establish with the classes we’d taken.
Some of the best groups we’ve taken have been the so-called ‘lower ability’ groups. On one occasion, a young lad asked if I wanted him to hold our bearded dragon whilst I took the snakes around. I gave him the beardie & was really impressed that if members of the class were growing a bit restless whilst waiting for the snake to arrive, this young guy would take the beardie across to them so they could be occupied & have their interest engaged; all without being asked. That isn’t lower ability to me (unless you only gauge ability by academic standards).
I believe there’s also real mileage in these events in helping marginalised & disenfranchised individuals to re-engage with society & start to build meaningful relationships with others.
Over the 18+ years that I worked in the Corporate Pharmaceutical Industry I was often assigned to be part of a team. In many teams there was a ‘weak-link’, someone who, for whatever reason, did not or could not pull their weight and achieve their objectives. I always found this very interesting as the reason they had been chosen to be a part of the team in the first place was their ability in their job. So, it was something else that held them back. In many cases, the ‘retardant’ was fear or lack of confidence, either in their role within the team or interacting with others.
Most of our biggest benefits are seen when individuals make small steps forward in doing something they never thought possible, snake handling being one of those things. After all, if they can move from white-knuckle fear to touching or handling a snake in one of our workshops (usually lasting no more than 1 hour) how much else can they achieve in other areas they currently think as ‘impossible’, if they receive the right help or guidance.
I’m really excited about the prospects of working with more businesses to help in the team-building events, or with ice-breakers for meetings or even some of their dinner events; any opportunity where we can encourage people to meet our fascinating animals face-to-face & realise that they’re not as scary as they first thought!
So, I guess the question I posed as an introductory title to this blog could have more than one answer depending on who runs the events & how they are run. But from personal experience, we have found that when we run our events in a relaxed, non-threatening environment we see significant results, not just on the day but in the days, weeks, months & even years that follow. It’s certainly not a miracle cure, but I think that because it is a visceral, hands-on, experiential activity, the results are clear to see for participants because they have experienced them in practice, in-person: it isn’t just theory in a book!
If you’re interested in talking to us about our workshops we are always happy to hear from you & to share our experiences. I’m convinced that having had grounding in academia & teaching, experience in Corporate Business & a love of people & the animals we utilise, we can bring something a little extra to what we offer, especially when it comes to organising specific activities for our clients, in schools & businesses.
We can be contacted either via this page or by e-mail, sent to dr.stu at ntlworld dot com.
Thanks for reading.