This evening I left work a little early and went to a children's museum in Atlanta to give a talk on veterinary medicine and pet care to kids. I met a guy from a local therapy dog group who brought a very sweet pit bull, Rayne, to work with us. For about 45 minutes I talked about what a vet does, what kind of care pets need, and used Rayne to demonstrate how to perform an exam and how to approach a strange dog. They were young, with the oldest age being around 8-10 and most of them closer to preschool age. At the end I handed out coloring books and plastic toy stethoscopes. The kids seemed to like it and I had a blast talking to them.
I started doing talks like this when I was in vet school. Several of my classmates and I made ourselves available to go to schools and give presentations on animal care. I quickly discovered that I liked doing it, and actually was pretty good at it. Over the last almost 20 years I have gone to museums, libraries, and schools, talking to kids from preschool age to pre-veterinary college. My favorite ones tend to be older grade-schoolers, as they are pretty interactive and surprisingly knowledgeable.
One time I was giving a talk to a Fourth Grade class and asked about characteristics of birds. I was looking for things like feathers, eggs, and maybe even something as advanced as hollow bones. One of the nine-year old boys raised his hands and then began discussing how the shape of a bird's wing allows air to pass differently over the top than the bottom...he gave me a great definition of the principle of lift.
Talking to kids is sometimes challenging, especially the younger ones. They often want to tell their own stories, taking the discussion away from the scheduled topics. They also have short attention spans and it can be tricky to keep them interested for more than about 30 minutes. So I've learned how to make things as interactive as possible and try to recognize when their attention is wandering. But it can be rewarding since rather simple things fascinate them.
Besides my love of teaching and public speaking, I look at this as a way to help develop a new generation of pet owners. If I can catch them young and help them learn how to take care of pets, I'm helping extend the influence of veterinarians beyond the small group in front of me. And since parents are normally there I end up educating them as well. It's a win-win for everyone.