St. Charles Park District: New programs turn kids into veterinarians, wilderness experts

St. Charles Park District partners with local organization for one-of-a-kind offerings

Many homes wouldn’t feel complete without the love and companionship of a pet, and new programs offered through the St. Charles Park District will show young children how to provide care for these furry family members.

The park district is partnering with Little Medical School Chicago West to present Little Veterinarian classes. Geared to children ages 4 to 10, the classes will explore how to nurture animals – dogs and cats come in the form of cuddly plush toys – with physical examinations, tick removal and lessons on animal nutrition. Classes will run on Tuesdays from Jan. 18 through Feb. 22, with Little Veterinarian (Dog) taking place from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. and its feline counterpart from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. Both programs will take place at Pottawatomie Community Center.

Young community members also can sign up for Wilderness Medicine, another program of Little Medical School Chicago West. This course allows children to navigate the potential perils of the great outdoors with lessons in dangerous pests and plants, ways to fashion tourniquets and splints in the event of injury and even how to clean water so it’s safe to drink. Wilderness Medicine will take place from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturdays from Jan. 15 through Feb. 19 Pottawatomie Community Center.

“We’re excited to offer these niche, one-of-a-kind programs for the community,” said Alex Weidner, aquatics and youth programs supervisor for the park district. “In the last year or so, we’ve seen explosive growth in our programs that involve animals. It seems like people just really want to reconnect with other people and animals, and the Little Veterinarian classes are a great way to do that.”

The STEM-based programs are not only fun for young students, but can support a child’s burgeoning desire to learn more about a given line of work, said Shaun Willis, president of Little Medical School Chicago West. With its headquarters in St. Louis, Little Medical School is a franchise with locations across the globe.

“Our feedback shows that parents most often sign their kids up because a student displays an interest in the medical field,” Willis said.

“A lot of our content is material kids haven’t seen before,” he added.

Courses typically are taught by pre-med students, with curriculum developed by board-certified physicians, as well as educators who work to ensure information is accessible and formulated in a way that fosters active learning.

“We focus on as much engagement as possible,” Willis said. “We look for a lot of participation, and the curriculum is not so advanced that a younger child can’t follow.”

In Little Veterinarian courses, children put their newfound knowledge into practice by using a mortar and pestle to crush medicine intended for an animal. Students grip safe, blunt-tip needles to do sutures and learn how to monitor and care for the affected area. At-home tasks are addressed, such as proper setup and maintenance of a cat litter box and how to make treats and toys.

Courses use supplies that are easy to come by, and material is formatted so children can take the information home with them to share with their families.

“There are a lot of ways for parents to get more involved,” Willis said.

Willis particularly enjoys seeing how students respond to the information and exercises showcased in Wilderness Medicine.

“The program includes so many fun activities,” he said.

Among them is concocting homemade repellent to ward off mosquitos and learning 20 ways to use a bandana. The class covers other real-world dangers such as snake bites and hypothermia, so students leave armed with know-how about nature.

At the end of every program, students will have the opportunity to mark their achievements with a special diploma.

For information and to sign up for the classes, visit