Philadelphia Zoo critters wow 3- to 5-year-olds

Pluma, the silky chicken from the Philadelphia Zoo, comes out of her cage to show off her fancy feathers to the children at NHS Human Services on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. ( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )

Preschool students at the NHS Human Services facility in Kensington welcomed some four-legged classmates on Tuesday: a palm-size hedgehog, a turtle, and a spotted rabbit.

And there were also a couple of two-legged friends, an Asian chicken and a stuffed toy orangutan, both which got everyone's attention.

So instead of playing with building blocks or perusing picture books, the 50 or so developmentally delayed 3- to 5-year-olds gathered with their new friends for a hands-on lesson from two presenters from the Philadelphia Zoo, Toni Mosley and Maren Stinson.

They got up close, and then, hands in the air, they offered some basic observations.

The hedgehog, cradled in Mosley's hands, had "little ears"; the brown-and-white spotted rabbit, seated on a table, had "big eyes"; the python skin - which once belonged to a 20-foot snake - was long.

The kids were enthusiastic. After the hedgehog, Mosley told them, "We have another animal."

The children cheered: "Monkey!"

"We didn't bring no monkeys, guys," she responded, but brought out the toy orangutan - close enough.

After Stinson informed the children that a brown Asian chicken, known as a Silkie, "poops 60 times a day," they reacted with a chorus of "eww's."

Then they wouldn't let it go, demanding more about the bird and its you-know-what.

"You just clean it up?" one student asked.

The children were so curious about this particular topic that Mosley interrupted them, asking: "Now, do we have any questions that aren't about poop?" (They did not.)

NHS' full day Parents and Children Together program enrolls 78 children who have developmental-function delays or impairment. The program partnered with the zoo, said the nonprofit's chief executive officer, Joseph Martz, to offer the kids a new educational opportunity, and a fun one.

"Any chance you have to bring kids in the community together and let them interact with animals, it's just special for them," Martz said. "You can see it on their faces."

The zoo runs a variety of educational programs like this one, Stinson said, and July is the group's busiest month.

"It's giving children an opportunity to see things they haven't seen before," Mosley said. "Some of these kids haven't been to the zoo."

After the presentation concluded, the kids lined up to pet the rabbit. And they debated, among themselves, which critter was best.

"I liked the turtle and the monkey," said Zania Brewton, 5. She was talking about the toy orangutan, which the staff brought as an example of an endangered species.

James Levan, 5, also liked the turtle, because it could "put his head in his shell."

When asked, Zania signaled her approval of the program with a nod: "It was a show."

215-854-2819 @MadelineRConway