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Librarian turns literary hunt into real safari for students

School children began remote learning across the Kenai Peninsula this week, taking lessons over the computer from home. Study requires a lot of time cooped up inside, but Joni Wise, the librarian at Paul Banks Elementary, has an activity that’s getting students and their parents out and about -- with a community-wide “bear hunt,” of sorts.

“Alright, kiddos, here we are again. We're gonna read 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt,' by Michael Rosen. And I want you guys to get outside today. Walk around town, walk anywhere actually, wherever your parents are, and hopefully you'll see a bear or two in some windows. I've had lots of responses to my communication about it and there are a ton of teddy bears being put out right now. So I hope you get outside, enjoy the fresh air and just go on a bear hunt with me. Let's get started. 'We're going on a bear hunt. We're gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day. We're not scared. Oh, long, wavy grass. We can't go over it,’” Wise read to her students.
    So, what’s the story about? Here’s a mostly spoiler-free synopsis of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt."
    “Their whole family and they're tromping through stuff and they, they get to a forest and they can't go over it and they can't go under it. They got to go through it. And the whole book is like that they get to a river, they can't go over it, they can't go under it, they’ve got to go through it. So they do this whole big story. And they get to an end and they finally find a bear cave. And they're like, ‘Oh, we have to go in it.’ and they go in and there's a bear and they…”
    … Like we said, no spoilers.
    Wise said she loves the book, published in 1989 by Michael Rosen, and saw online that other communities have hidden bears for youngsters to spot based on it.
     “So I did the read-aloud for them. There's a video posted and then put an activity sheet where they can go around and count how many bears they've found. And I've got quite a few kids that have sent me their activity sheets back and how many bears they found," she said. "So it's pretty, it's pretty exciting to see our little kindergarteners, first graders, second graders getting out there, and people are being so generous in our town. It's pretty great.”
    Wise said the response has been positive, with not only teddy bears, but other wildlife, showing up in windows all over town.
    “Yeah, I mean, it was incredible. I expected a few people to just be like, 'Sure I'll put a bear out.' I mean, I think we were up to 100, gosh, hundred comments or so about people putting theirs in the windows and other things in windows like octopuses. And what else did they say? A moose in the window," she said. "(The) Community's amazing. Homer's amazing. I can't lie to you, it's the best place to live.”
    The hunting of teddy bears, of course, is catch-and-release only, and Wise says the activity is not mandatory.
    “The online schooling is a little overwhelming, so I'm trying not to put too much on the parents. I kind of made it you know, like, 'Please just do it if, you know, you want to if you want to get outside.' It's not mandatory, it is trying to ease the stress of this time,” she said “But so far I've had like, gosh, I would say about 12 kids post back to me that, ‘this is how many bears a found.’ Of course me and my family went for a walk and said how many bears we found today. I posted that pretty late yesterday," she said. "So I'm hopeful we'll get some responses today for my kiddos, just interacting with them and let them know that we're still here and we miss their faces in the school.”
    Wise says she’s going to keep the bear hunt going for a while, but will be looking to adapt other activities that can engage young learners.