Zoos are SO much fun! They are filled with unlimited opportunity for adventure, exploration, and learning. But how do you best take advantage of all the animal excitement? Here are a few tips to visit the zoo.
Let your child lead. If she wants to watch hippos for an hour, cool. Some of the most amazing learning comes in these moments, but you may need to stand back and let her be engrossed. Don’t worry, there’s probably a bench for you to rest your tired legs on while they learn!
Ask your child questions
Engage them in thinking and talking about what they see, smell, and hear. Fill in some of the blanks with information from the display (if they are a reader, help them to do so on their own). What does the animal remind them of? What is it doing?
Listen to the experts
Hang out for the zookeepers talks if you can, they are often some of the most memorable parts of the visit. Take into account the different ways we learn, and try to vary the experience.
Recently we were on our way to the gates at San Diego Zoo Safari Park and came across a zookeeper doing a talk with a snake in his hand. We stopped and listened, and when he encouraged those who were uncomfortable with snakes to come closer, Bria made her way to the front. She has spoken of the lessons learned there several times since.
Let the time pass
Take off your watch, and quit worrying about all the things to see before the zoo closes. Maybe you won’t get to everything today. There is not a thing wrong with that! If she wants to race past six cages of rare monkeys doing all kinds of fun things, that’s OK, too. If you really have to leave at a certain time, set the timer on your phone and hide it away.
No need for a map
Oh, and quit looking at the map, too. Seriously, unless you need to find a bathroom, the secrets you are looking for are not on that piece of paper. Of course, this doesn’t apply if your kids totally love the map! Some days Bria likes to carry it around, stopping to check often to see where she is and what is ahead.
Don’t force it
We were recently at the zoo and this orangutan became enthralled with our daughter. She sat with her head against the glass, staring at Bria, trying to get Bria to engage with her. Everyone around us was oohing and aahing, and my poor little girl was completely uncomfortable! She put her arms over her face and wanted to get away. It is important to respect that what you see as sweet and fun is not necessarily perceived that way by your child.
Enjoy it yourself
Be mindful of the experience. Devote your total attention to experiencing the adventure through your child’s eyes. Purposely let go of your own views of things, and try to see the experience through them. There is always something new and interesting to explore when you take the time to see it.
When enough’s enough
Watch your child, and be aware of his or her cues when they are approaching their limits. Is it time for a break and a snack? Or is it time to bring the day to an end? There are so many sights and sounds at the zoo, it is easy to become overwhelmed by them. Watch for signs your child is becoming overstimulated and respond to them. It will save on melt-downs (for everyone) when things get to be too much.
Ready to put it into practice and hit some zoos? Check out some of our posts on zoos we love, and share with us those you have come to adore!