Friday, March 11, 2016

Review: Sea Squirts Classes

photo of a page in Eric Carle's book Mr Seahorse of a fish mouth breeding
Mouth Brooding in Mr. Seahorse
Like other classes for preschoolers, Sea Squirts at the New England Aquarium helps children work on motor and verbal skills, as well as important social skills such as taking turns and playing with other children in a classroom environment. However Sea Squirts is a unique opportunity as it also provides an introduction to aquatic life and fundamental science skills including observation and exploration; STEM!

The current Sea Squirts session is called "Ocean Babies." The four classes in this session focus on the following topics; mouth brooding, egg cases, plankton, and reptile eggs. There are 9 children in the class (classes are capped at 10) and although the classes are for children 2-4 years, most of the children in this class seem to be 3 years or younger. Note: the aquarium also offers Sea Squirts Preview classes for children 12-24 months. The instructors Miss Chelsea and Miss Ali are good with children, but knowledgeable enough to answer adult questions as well.

For the first class - mouth brooding - children arrived and played with fish puzzles, sea blue homemade play dough and other toys. Parents were provided a handout with facts about mouth brooding:
  • Mouth brooding is when one parent, usually the father, incubates the eggs with his mouth
  • During this time father fish are not eating and must be careful not to swallow
  • Some father fish will even shelter the young, known as fry, after they hatch, within their mouth until they grow too large to fit.
In addition to the story read during the class, the handout suggested Love You Dad: A Book of Thanks and Hug a Bull: An Ode to Animal Dads.

Picture of a craft fish mouth brooding from Sea Squirts class at the New England Aquarium
Mouth Brooding Fish Craft
After five minutes of playtime, the instructors guided the children in cleaning up toys. Circle time began and the children were each given maracas or bells to play while singing the Sea Squirts Anthem - a simple song to the familiar tune of "You Are My Sunshine". Before being asked to put the instruments away the children shook their instruments for a count of 5, practicing counting. 

The instructors then explained mouth brooding and showed photographs of male "Daddy" fish with eggs in their mouths. Since the children would be seeing a Daddy cardinal fish mouth brooding when visiting an exhibit at the aquarium, they were called up one at a time by name (i.e., to practice waiting and taking turns) to place cardinal fish on a felt board.

Children were then guided in a paper plate craft decorating their own Daddy fish. Once the children made the fish with huge pocket mouths from the plates, they were given toy baby fish to hold in the mouths. The children then danced and tried not to spill any of the baby fish out. When the music ended, the children were asked to have the "Daddy fish" spit the baby fish out as they were ready to go out on their own.

The children sat down for a second circle time. The instructors played a video on an iPad of a Daddy fish mouth brooding and then read Eric Carle's, Mr. Seahorse. Once again they sang the Sea Squirts Anthem with instruments.

The class then walked over to the aquarium's main building to see the exhibits and specifically the mouth brooding Daddy cardinal fish. Unlike the other cardinal fish in the tank, the mouth brooding Daddy fish did not swim about but stayed roughly in one spot. When other fish came near he pulled back away from them, clearly protective of his babies. His cheeks were also puffy and full. Once in awhile his mouth opened slightly and you could see pink fish roe, as compared to the inner mouths of the other fish which were black. Class ended but we stayed at the aquarium and enjoyed seeing blue penguins, fish in the giant tank eating a head of lettuce, and sea dragons. Just before leaving we stopped to touch stingrays and then went and said goodbye to the Daddy fish and headed home in time for lunch.

Photo of mouth brooding cardinal fish at the aquarium in Boston
Mouth Brooding Cardinal Fish
At a cost of $55 per session ($13.75 per class) for aquarium members this is well worth it. Signing up for one session at a time makes this a relatively small financial and time commitment. For Malli the social skills component of being with other children is great. While many of the activities were things we could do on our own, we probably would not. Additionally, we never would have noticed the cardinal fish that was mouth brooding at the aquarium. Best of all perhaps, the class was educational for the adults as well, which is very different than a MyGym or Groovy Babies type class.

Another benefit of the class is that it helps us to take advantage of our aquarium membership. While we love going to the aquarium, we are hesitant to go too often so as not to wear the experience out. These classes help draw a focus to each aquarium visit. While at the aquarium afterwards we did not feel like we needed to try and see all the exhibits. We had already been there long enough with the class that we could just focus on a few exhibits.

Bottom Line: Sea Squirts is a different and science-based way to engage toddlers/preschoolers in a class environment. It is exactly the type of opportunity that is unique and wonderful about living in Boston.


  1. We're thrilled that you and your family have enjoyed Sea Squirts here at the Aquarium. Our topics are always changing (check the website to see what's on tap but the enthusiasm and care of our instructors doesn't. And thank you for being part of our Aquarium community as members!


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