News from the Field: My Time 21st CCLC Students Learn Science with Live Animals

It’s no secret that offbeat, hands-on activities are a great way to keep students engaged in afterschool. At My Time 21st CCLC, part of Fox Valley Park District in Aurora, students have the opportunity to put their hands on a collection of frogs, snakes, turtles, and other critters. 

Offered by a local naturalist called the Frog Lady, the program provides hands-on presentations to students and their families, teaching the difference between reptiles and amphibians and allowing participants to meet and touch some 20 live animals. Classes include Lizard Lovers, Simply Snakes, Frog Weirdos, and Totally Terrific Turtles.

Frog Lady with reptile  

The Frog Lady with Chummy, the Argentine tegu. Watch a video of Chummy.


The program grew out of science activities offered by the Red Oak Nature Center, which had been providing outdoor nature activities to students. “We wanted to expand on the experience, giving the students an opportunity to have real, live reptiles and amphibians with more hands-on exposure,” says Project Director Debbie Smith. Afterschool professionals will not be surprised to hear that the Frog Lady program has been popular with students and their families. 

  student reviewing photos

Rex, the veiled chameleon. Watch a video of Rex.

The My Time 21st CCLC team attributes the program’s success to engaging content, a strong partnership, and a well-prepared team. The school staff allows the Frog Lady time to set up before students arrive, and then there are two or three rotations of presentations for different groups. The groups are small in size so that the presentations are more personal, and students have the opportunity to touch the animals. While maintaining a fun, hands-on feeling, there are clear expectations and communication for how to behave around the animals. “The Frog Lady has amazing classroom management skills with students. [She] keeps them very engaged and allows for many questions,” says Smith. “She encourages students to handle the lizards and reptiles but never forces any student to touch or handle if they are not comfortable.” 

Students have shown their enthusiasm for the Frog Lady program in both attendance and attentiveness. Student engagement is high during the activities. Families have reported that their children’s updates on afterschool activities include what they learned from the Frog Lady. This enthusiasm and interest has been a boon to family engagement, as Smith notes that Frog Lady events are always well attended.

The Frog Lady program shows how afterschool programming can provide a break from the school-day routine while reinforcing content knowledge. The presentations are tailored to specific grade levels and aligned with state standards while providing real-world and literal hands-on activities. “Programs like this are so important because students are exposed to many different species and learn about their habitats, not from a textbook but from seeing, touching, listening, and asking questions,” says Smith. “Many [of the animals] are native to Illinois, and some are native to other countries.” The program has also offered ways for students to learn in an online environment. Since the 21st CCLC started operating remotely, the Frog Lady has recorded and posted special presentations to YouTube so that My Time students and their families can watch them.