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Graton kindergartners learn all about the life of a snail

  • Madison Castro, 5, lets a snail slide hither and yon at Oak Grove Elementary School in Graton, Wednesday May 14, 2014. For 20 years and running kindergartners at the school have studied snails, converting their classroom in to all things snail. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

A few choice facts about the common garden snail, courtesy of the kindergartners at Oak Grove Elementary School in Graton:

; A snail can never leave its shell completely, because its heart and lungs are inside.

; Snails breathe through air holes on the underside of their bodies, not through their mouths, and have tongue-like structures with hundreds of teeth.

Oak Grove Kindergartners Study Snails


; Early snails were around before the dinosaurs. "They're really ancient," 5-year-old Max Hall said.

; Garden snails have both male and female reproductive organs — or, as William Benelli, 6, puts it, "They're boys and girls at the same time."

"When I found out," said classmate, Maddie Castro, "I was like, 'Can they marry theirself then?'"

The answer? No. It still takes two to make a family.

Weeks of such close-up inquiry into the slimy creatures — including putting them to the test on snail-sized obstacle courses with a variety of handmade apparatuses — turns out to reveal a whole range of interesting facts about the ubiquitous, and, for some, pesky, being.

The snail unit, a staple of Oak Grove's kindergarten curriculum for the last two decades, is such a consistent hit, it brings graduates back year-after-year to see what successive classes are doing, said teacher Gabi Shader, one of two whose kindergarten classrooms are devoted to snails at this time each year.

At its center, are what different classes call their "snail circus," "snail playground," or "snail city" — table-top play areas where the kids build swings and tightropes, climbing structures, tubes, snail wagons, a "snailboat" pond and all manner of playthings to see just what snails can do, which is "almost anything," said Jonah Caron, 6.

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