These Freeport mothers organized a socially distanced neighborhood zoo featuring homemade animal exhibits to provide entertainment for their children during the outbreak of the coronavirus.

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FREEPORT – Other than weekly Zoom video conferencing calls, most Freeport students haven’t seen their classmates in weeks.


Three mothers in Windswept Estates changed that Sunday with a socially distanced neighborhood zoo featuring homemade animal exhibits at 40 homes. While physical distance remained intact, they bridged some social distance as people drove by or rode their bicycles to see the Windswept Zoo.


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With the help of Allie Spiva and Kristen Carl, Leslie Barr, a mother of four, organized the event after seeing a social media post about one in her hometown in Michigan.


“At first I told her she was crazy and no one would want to come and see a bunch of homemade zoo exhibits, but she talked me into it,” Carl said. “The three of us made a flyer and posted it on our neighborhood page and our town Facebook page. People jumped at it – people with kids, people without kids. It was something fun to do on a Sunday afternoon.”


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Each of Carl’s five children picked an animal. Harper, 8, did a penguin exhibit; Anabelle, 10, did monkeys; Garett, 5, and Daven, 3, teamed up for the butterfly; and Tyler, 13, took on the wandering albatross.


“They were in charge of creating their own exhibit out of stuff we had at the house – Amazon shipping boxes, tree branches we found in the yard – stuff we had that didn’t require anyone to go out anywhere,” Carl said. “It probably started like something you would’ve done as a school project, then when you realize you have your whole yard to do whatever you want with, they got creative. They brought the jungle gym from the backyard and hung cardboard monkeys all over it, took out Christmas decorations to make snow for penguins. They had a lot of fun.”


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Spiva’s children – Carly, 7, Lucy, 5, and Luke, 1 – teamed up to build an aquarium for their bottlenose dolphin exhibit.


“We have a huge stuffed bottlenose dolphin that we got from Sea World a couple years ago,” Spiva said. “My husband built a fairly large aquarium tank out of PVC pipe and blue cling wrap. We hung the dolphin inside the apparatus. The kids painted fish and secured that all around the outside. We had a huge tent set up and we put a screen up that showed the dolphin show at Sea World on repeat.”


It was not only an art project, but also a research project. The Spivas watched videos about bottlenose dolphins on National Geographic and read E-books available through the public library.


Other exhibits were an alligator, flamingos and giraffes. Some featured live animals, such as goats, bunnies and a cockatoo.


“There was a goat exhibit, where the kids would yell out the window and the owner of the home, she would pull a string and the goat would faint and fall down,” Spiva said. “Carly thought that was the funniest thing. One of our neighbors, Pam Shipp, she made a diamond back rattlesnake using paper machete. Her display looked so real. It was really cool.”


Carl posted a map of the zoo on Facebook for the event.


Spiva said her husband, Guy, provided a special form of transportation to see the other exhibits.


“My husband engineered this zoo choo choo train out of a riding lawn mower and a couple of the kid’s wagons,” Spiva said. “He took my kids for a ride through the nearby streets on their choo choo train. It was so adorable and so much fun and so funny.”


Zookeepers stayed in their yards and attendees were on the road or sidewalk, often at least 15 feet apart, Carl said. Even from afar, the kids loved physically seeing their fellow students.


“They were just so sweet,” Spiva said. “You could see their faces light up when they saw each other.”


“They got to talk to each other from the car about their projects, show their friends what they did and what they made,” Carl said. “I think the kids enjoyed the social aspect of it more than the educational aspect.”


Carl and Spiva understood. They felt the same.


“I enjoyed talking to the other parents for the 5 minutes they were in front of my house,” Carl said. “I’ve got five kids and at-home learning and they’re doing Zoom meetings with their teachers. There’s no real adult interaction either, just like the kids don’t get to see other kids. It was just fun for the adults to see other adults for a few hours.”


Spiva recalls a 10- to 15-minute stream of steady traffic in their neighborhood.


“I was watching the faces of the young and the old,” Spiva said. “It was a whole family event. I saw moms and dads and all their kids in the backseat, all hanging out the window looking. It was a feel good day. Everyone was together, even though they were distanced.”


The event was so rewarding, neighborhood members have discussed making the Windswept Zoo an annual event, Spiva said.


“Most of our neighbors agreed, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’” Spiva said. “A couple of them said, ‘I wonder how this will work when we’re not in quarantine – if people would really want to do this.’ It really made me think, ‘We should make this happen.’ We don’t want to lose sight of all the wonderful good community feelings we’ve had. I’m hoping that, that was the message that was sent – not just, ‘Oh something to keep us occupied during quarantine,’ but something to reconnect humans and people in communities.”


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