The old adage says never work with children or animals. But Dean Roots left a high profile career in electronics to do just that.
He left the rat race to set up a unique education venture and almost five years on, the project has expanded far beyond expectation.
A dad of three, Dean worked for 25 years as an electronics project manager on work that included the international space station and setting mobile phone production across the world.
But approaching 50, he decided to break away to share his enthusiasm about both science and animals with young people around the Doncaster, Sheffield and North Lincolnshire region.
He moved quickly. Soon his family home and garden was throbbing with animals and insects of all varieties - some of which arrived through the post...
In true Gerald Durrell style, Dean, wife Emma and children Naomi, Megan and Oliver shared TV viewing time with lap-pals such as geckos and guineau pigs, and spent hours hunting escaped crickets that filled their home with incessant chirping.
Dean said: “I worked with a number of primary teachers to develop a package which would help them to inspire children about science.
“I selected a range of animals which were all very safe for children to handle, but which would demonstrate elements of the science curriculum. They include reptiles such as beautiful little geckos, and interesting but not venomous snakes, as well as examples of mammals, mini-beasts and amphibians.”
By starting out with simple animal-handling workshops, Dean worked closely with schools to expand his presentations so that they covered many areas of the curriculum including literacy and geography.
He added: “I get a real kick out of seeing how children react to the animals. Just to touch and hold the animals is an amazing experience for most. Some are a bit nervous but I encourage them to touch a tail with one finger, then soon they ask to hold a snake or a spider. Quieter pupils really gain confidence.
“I’ve worked across the world on some really exciting projects but it doesn’t compare with getting an envelope stuffed full of thank-you letters painstakingly written in pencil from a class of seven-year olds.”
In fact, the one-man venture has proved such a winner that Dean is now seeking the company’s first franchisees, to build their own businesses under its successful brand.
Schools and gatherings of youngsters right across the region have enjoyed Meet a Creature visits, including teenagers at Abbey Special School, Kimberworth, who were captivated during a recent session.
The 13 to 15 year olds handled creatures as part of a class imaginitive learning project named ‘Beast Creator’.
Those involved were able to scrutinise creatures by way of a microscope attached to a laptop and projected on to the whiteboard. They saw larger than life images of a hissing cockroach, giant African snail, a millipede, tarantula, locust and grasshopper, to name but a few. Teacher Steph Colbridge said: “This sensory approach engages and motivates children, and gives the children ownership for learning, enabling them to discover interesting facts about mini-beasts at their own level.
“I am amazed with the information the children have retained; for example they know that an insect has three body parts, head, thorax and abdomen, that mini-beasts do not have an internal skeleton and that all insects have six legs.”
Following Dean’s visit, the pupils made wormeries and a mini-beast hotel from wooden pallets, manufactured materials and natural materials they found on the school nature trail for creatures to shelter and hide in.
Their teacher added: “Dean’s enthusiasm and entertaining manner is infectious and he relates very well to children with a variety of special educational needs. He is calm, sensitive and very knowledgeable.”
By watching the presentation pupils learned to treat the creatures with the respect that they deserve, she added.
Dean said: “I will build a programme to match what a school needs. It’s always very rewarding to see how fascinated pupils are when they have the opportunity to hold unusual animals.”
Meet A Creature has its own website at Meet a Creature or for more information call 07432 560371.