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The World's Cutest Unit Study

By Sarah Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #34, 2000.

Even stuffed animals can be educational...
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Sarah Pride

Are you like me? Do over one hundred (I'm not telling how far over) stuffed animals of all sizes and descriptions clutter up at least one room of your house? If so - that's fine. But now comes the question: what do you do with them?

Seeing as we're homeschoolers, the answer is obvious - something educational! First, sort all your animals by type. The smallest children especially can help with this part, because sorting is a real challenge for them. Next, choose a certain group of animals in which you have several realistic-looking stuffed toys. "Valentine," the pink stuffed bear, does not count. We chose monkeys, since we now own a profusion of them from the Wild Republic collection.

Now examine the animal's tag. Does it have a name? (As a friend once told me, "Buy a stuffed animal with a name, and soon you will own 200 of them.") Anyway, the name of the first one I picked up is Pedro. The Wild Republic tags are remarkably informative, so soon I learned both his type (capuchin monkey) and the country from which capuchins come (Mexico). I also learned some more interesting trivia: capuchins are the most-common monkeys to be held in zoos; they steady themselves with their tails; they live in South and Central America; and they eat fruits, leaves, insects, snails, and small animals.

The natural next step is to hit the encyclopedias and information books on monkeys. In other words, this is an opportunity for a library trip! We shortly found that monkeys in general live in groups that:

  • have one male leader
  • have several males in a hierarchy.

Capuchins live in the multi-male groups. Also, they are favorites for zoos and can live up to 40 years in captivity. We found several pictures of capuchin monkeys and sketched both them and Pedro himself.

However, all this book work could soon get boring. Go visit the zoo, and see monkeys or whatever for yourself! If you chose an animal type that is slightly less exotic, like parrots or sheep, perhaps you can get even more intensive by having one of your own and giving it whatever care is necessary. At any rate, get as up-close-and-personal as possible.

My two littlest sisters (the two blond cuties pictured below and left) and I first got the idea of actually doing something with all our stuffed animals when I collected "Beanie Babies" and "Beanie Buddies." We would get together with our collections and each pick a beanie to draw. Any drawings that were good were inserted into our binder of "portraits." Then we would each take several beanies, and see who could come up with a story with an actual plot that involved all the little characters.

The educational twist came later - with the help of our mom, of course. I had already written an essay about the decline of the beanie market for an online AP Economics class, but she suggested I actually find something out about the animals themselves. Altogether, I would say it has been most rewarding.

I hope you can see that, finally, you are no longer doomed to sit and stare at countless stuffed toys and wonder why on earth you ever bought them. Yes. Now you have a reason! When your friends ask, you can say, "It's because they're educational. Isn't it obvious?" Enjoy your newfound freedom.

About the Wild Republic

There are 39 monkeys in the Wild Republic. Three come with smaller baby monkeys.

Their AZA Animals collection has three more monkeys. These are different from the others in that their bodies are shorter, and they are even more realistic in detail. (The lemur correctly lacks opposable thumbs.)

Finally, their Under the Sea collection features six deep-sea creatures: three octopi of different types, a sea turtle, a blue crab, and a European lobster.

The Wild Republic website has an extensive international database of stores that carry their products. Go to www.wildrepublic.com if you wish to find out more about the Wild Republic, or see pictures of the little creatures yourself.

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