MODESTO -- Abby Reyes isn't even in kindergarten yet, but Saturday she was face-to-face with a Woma python. The 3-year-old girl stuck out her tongue at what would otherwise be an intimidating snake.
"She has no fear," Modesto resident Jesse Reyes said about his daughter. "That was actually her first time holding a snake."
Abby and hundreds of other children got a hands-on educational experience at this year's Science Fest at Modesto Junior College. The event's theme was "Wild Planet Day," an effort to engage children and show them how fun science can be.
Abby got to hold snakes and learn about them at a booth hosted by Weston Ranch High School's reptile and amphibian club. The students displayed more than 60 animals, including an Arizona mountain king snake, a Sierra garter snake and a California alligator lizard.
The event is a fund-raiser for the Great Valley Museum, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to providing science and natural history information to adults and children through classes, programs and exhibits.
There were more than 30 hands-on science labs involving geology, biology, physics and chemistry on both floors of the MJC science building. There also was a portable planetarium and a petting zoo on the lawn.
Ian Vu, 7, and his sister, Ani Vu, 10, know all about hands-on learning their mother is a science teacher. They couldn't wait to get to the squid dissection lab.
"I guess they like to tear things apart," said their father, Ed Vu, of Riverbank. "They wanted to cut it open and see what's inside of it."
With delight, Ian showed his parents how he found a squid's eyeballs.
Maurice Bazan, an MJC zoology student, spent some time showing 11-year-old Shelby Johnson of Modesto how to distinguish a male squid from a female one. Shelby used some diagrams to get started, but he needed to get up close to see the difference.
"That's why they do the dissection, because you can't really see it from the diagrams," Bazan said.
The highlight of the Science Fest was a wildlife presentation from Gabe Kershner of Wild Things Inc., a wildlife rescue center in Weimar, north of Sacramento.
He made it clear to the children that all his animals are wild and not meant to be in captivity, but these particular animals could not survive in the wild.
Kershner ended his demonstration by having six children help him hold a Burmese python named Miss Piggy, who is 15 feet long and weighs 100 pounds.
"She is heavy," Kershner told the children and their parents. "She's not done growing she'll eat and eat."
He said there are some who kill snakes just to sell their skin. He suggested there wouldn't be a need to skin a snake if there wasn't such a high demand from buyers. "There's no real reason to slaughter wild creatures," Kershner said.
Steve Murov, an MJC professor emeritus of chemistry, performed some experiments for the children as his "Dr. Al Chemist" character, complete with his crazy-colored lab coat. He demonstrated his brand of mad science, including electrifying a pickle.
It's his fun way of teaching children some basic principles of chemistry and safety tips for conducting experiments in a laboratory.
"Remember, keep learning," Murov told the children as he ended his show. "Learning is fun."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.