He teaches students about various types of animals by using interactive techniques, bones, mixed media and the live animals themselves.
Schwartzman walked around with an African red trapdoor spider that had spun a web into a clump of earth. It kept closing its trapdoor at the sight of all the children.
Schwartzman explained how spiders have exoskeletons that they shed, then showed the class more than a dozen exoskeletons from the same spider. He let kindergartner Esteban Rosas crush one of the shed shells between his palms.
In a visit to the Kindercampus on Monday, Schwartzman introduced about 30 students to spiders. He told the 5-year-olds a story about himself at the bug-catching age, when he tenaciously stalked a spider in his grandma's garage until he finally captured it. He had a fabulous time playing with his spider in the car on the way home, until his father slammed on the brakes and the jolt threw the spider out of the jar and onto his mother's back. The vigorous spanking that ensued on the side of the road "never stopped me from loving spiders," Schwartzman said.
He outlined his spider-watching rules, which called for being quiet and sitting on both hands when a potentially dangerous creature was being shown.
Schwartzman explained that spiders belong to the family Arachnida. It consists of spiders, scorpions and mites. He walked around to each child while safely holding a wriggling scorpion by the tail. "See the white dot on his tail? That's his venom." Schwartzman said.
Children helped count the legs on a plastic tarantula and learned the difference between wandering spiders that hunt for food and those that spin webs and wait for insects. Wandering spiders "hunt their food like a tiger," Schwartzman said. "The other group is very patient."
The class learned how spiders eat without chewing. "They stick fluid called venom into the food item, which turns it into Jell-O, and then they slurp it all up," Schwartzman said.
To show spiders' multiple eyes, Schwartzman placed a frozen African king baboon spider under a stereoscope. "See? That's the eyes of a spider," Schwartzman said. "That looks gross!" 5-year-old Jacob Puterbaugh said as he wrinkled his nose. "Not to another spider." Schwartzman said.
Too young to be conditioned to fear spiders, the children were wide-eyed and intrigued by the different specimens. Schwartzman showed a Martinique tree spider (Avicularia uersicolor) The purple, green and red arachnid builds tunnel webs along tree limbs, not for catching prey but to store insects and protect them from thieving birds.
Other spiders that he showed off were a Texas tarantula, a green-front jumping spider, a huge African goliath baboon spider that actually eats baby cobras, and a black widow. The class watched a two-minute film of an ogre-faced spider from Australia that throws its web at its prey.
Near the end of Schwartzman's hour-long presentation, he brought out a spider the children could touch. Charlotte, an endangered 20-year-old Mexican redknee tarantula was complacent throughout her tour around the room.
"There's been thousands of people touch Charlotte, and she's never bitten anybody," Schwartzman assured. "She bites crickets. If you're not a cricket, you don't have to worry."
The children were excited by the opportunity to actually touch one of the spiders. "Awesome," breathed Kelsey Roberts as she stroked the spider's leg. Kindergarten teacher Laurie Grant said her class always enjoys Schwartzman's presentations. "It's real to them," Grant said. "It's something they can really talk about and take home with them, much better than a picture."
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