Children of all ages have the run of this doctor’s office. They pick up and wear stethoscopes, listen to the heartbeats of furry pets and examine their “patient’s” internal organs on x-ray screens. Wearing their very own white coats, children pull room dividers for exam privacy, put pets into kennels, and fill-out charts to track a patient’s medical status.
Ok, so it’s not a real doctor’s office, but it sure looks like one. In fact, the playscape at the Children’s Museum of Denver was patterned after a local veterinarian’s office in an attempt to entertain and educate children about the importance of veterinary care for pets.
“We want them to understand that pets need care just like kids,” said Jennifer Mullix, senior manager of education for the museum.
The veterinary exhibit (titled Ready, Vet, Go!) is one of at least five veterinary playscapes that have been built at children’s museums across North America over the last few years.
In Colorado, the project included input from veterinarians like Aubrey Lavizzo, DVM, owner of AAHA-accredited Center for Animal Wellness, who helped create a realistic replica of his office. As a result, the exhibit includes clipboards, a reception desk, x-ray stations, lifelike kennels with stuffed animals, and an operating table for children to use.
“Our goal was to get as close to an actual setting as possible,” said Mike Pratt, who designed the exhibit and visited Lavizzo’s office in Denver to gain practical knowledge about veterinary medicine and the tools used by professionals. “We wanted it to be comfortable but realistic for children,” he added.
So far the exhibit has been a resounding hit. One boy who visited Ready, Vet, Go! quickly identified his patient’s condition using diagnostic tools and informed his mother that surgery would cost $4. Mullix, who was present at the time, said the mother chuckled and agreed with the recommendation.
The mobile exhibit, which travels to different rooms within the museum, was officially unveiled in July 2007, though it has been set-up for several weeks and thousands of kids have already played with it.
“Kids love animals, but they get scared of doctors,” said Mullix. “If children have played with a stethoscope or seen it before, it makes the setting less scary,” she said, even if the office they are most familiar with is a museum replica.
Lavizzo, who has always wanted to work with kids, describes his volunteer work with the museum as one of the most rewarding things he has done. “I feel like a kid when I go into the exhibit,” he said. “It’s fun.”
In addition to consulting on the exhibit, Lavizzo is organizing live presentations on pet topics for the museum this summer. He has recruited several local veterinarians to help him give 20-minute talks on such pet-related topics as internal parasites, behavior problems and the importance of regular exercise and nutrition. Last summer he did one presentation on “What Vets Do” for 15 kids.
Noting the short attention span of his audience (three to six year olds), Lavizzo plans to bring pets to future outdoor presentations and says the tone will be light-hearted and fun.
Overall, “the goal [of the exhibit and the presentations] is not so much about encouraging kids to become vets, but to teach them respect for animals and animal welfare,” Lavizzo said.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 3, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.