“Mommy, can we go to the zoo?”
Do you love or dread those words? It can be a toss-up a lot of days, can’t it? For that matter, how you feel about going to the zoo can change from moment to moment even as you’re getting ready to make the trek!
But did you know that there is more to a zoo adventure than the gathering of snacks and water bottles? The collecting of strollers and wagons? The preparing and packing of the picnic lunch?
Did you know that once you arrive there can be more to the zoo than just wandering around and looking at animals?
And here’s the best part: Turning your routine trip to the zoo into a homeschool adventure is WAY easier than you think!
In fact, here are 10 easy ways you can turn your zoo trip into a homeschool adventure – and most of them don’t need any advance preparation on your part!
#1 :: Count the Animals
Now, there are animals at a zoo. Did you know that? I’m sure you did! But how many animals are at the zoo? That’s a totally different question! Now, you could look it up online and spout out some facts and figures, but what about involving your children in the process? Here’s what I mean:
Simply count the animals that you see! So as you’re standing and watching the giraffes walk across the savannah enclosure or leaning on the rail and watching the bison graze across the prairie, count how many animals you see.
This game is made even more fun if your zoo has enclosures with multiple types of animals in it. For example, if giraffes, zebras, and ostriches are all in the same enclosure, count the zebras, then count the giraffes, then count the ostriches. Finally, you can count all the animals – or you can even add the numbers together!
#2 :: Use Tally Marks to Count the Species
Now, if you have older children, counting each and every animal might not be quite the thrill that it is for younger children. So why not practice your tally marks?
Now, this one will require a tiny bit of prep work. In other words, you’ll need to make sure that each child has a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. (Personally, I love those tiny 2-inch by 3-inch notebooks you can get from the Dollar Store for projects like this.)
Here’s what you do: As you walk through the zoo, have your child put a tally mark on their paper for every species of animal they see. Now, if you’re looking at the lions or the tigers in their enclosure, you’re only going to get one tally mark.
But, think of how many tally marks you could come up with as you walk through the butterfly enclosure or the bird sanctuary or the reptile house!
#3 :: Work on Map Reading Skills
Every zoo has a map. And – let’s face it – we as moms rely on this map quite a lot, especially when we’re visiting a zoo we’ve never been to before. I mean, how else are you going to figure out where every bathroom in the entire place is for all those potty stops that have to happen?
But bathrooms aren’t the only things on a map of the zoo. The zoo map will show you where the paths are, where to find the animals, where to find the picnic areas, and more!
So, instead of reading the map for your children and being the one telling them where to go, how about letting them brush up on their map reading skills?
Oh, I’m not saying you ignore the map! You still need to keep in mind where those bathrooms are, after all! But let your children take the lead. Help them figure out where you are on the map, then let them plot out a path to get where they want to go.
And they best part about doing this at a zoo? It’s crazy hard to get lost! Zoos are fantastic for their signage and for the helpful zookeepers who will help you get from where you are to where you want to be if you get really turned around!
#4 :: Read the Signs
Did you know that there are signs near every animal enclosure that tell you about the animals you’re looking at? Truly! The signs are created to tell you a bit about the animals you’re looking at so you can learn more about them and appreciate them on your trip to the zoo.
Many zoos also have other signs and statues to help you appreciate the different aspects of animals. This could be a sign with different paws of the cat family (lion, tiger, cougar, lynx, clouded leopard, and more) on it to show you how big the cats’ paws are compared to your hands.
It could be a life-sized statue of a grizzly bear to show you how big the bear would be if you could stand right next to it. And, let’s face it, it’s a LOT safer to stand next to a metal statue of a bear and compare sizes than it would be to stand next to a real grizzly!
It could be different wing spans of birds painted on a wall so you can see how big a condor’s wings are – and how small a hummingbird’s wings are! And best of all, you can spread out your arms and see where you would fit if you could fly!
It’s easy to pass by these signs in your day, but take the time to check them out on your next trip to the zoo. You just might be surprised what you learn!
#5 :: Come Armed with Fun Facts!
Now, this one takes a little bit of prep work on your part, but it can be so worth it! All you need to do is have some fun facts stored away in your mind about the animals you’re going to see. Then, when you’re standing with your children and looking at that animal, you simply tell them the fun fact and watch their eyes get big with wonder!
Here’s some to get you started:
- Did you know that the pads on a polar bear’s paws are rough like sandpaper? This helps these huge animals keep their traction and not slip as they walk across the snow and especially the ice in the Arctic where they live.
- Did you know that a group of kangaroos is called a mob?
- Did you know that black bears can be black, brown, blonde, bluish-gray, and even white? I’s the same with brown bears! It’s not the color of their fur that makes them black or brown bears. Instead it’s a big roll of muscle over their shoulder blades called a muscle hump that really sets them apart (among other things, too!). Brown bears have this muscle hump, black bears don’t.
- Do you know why a giraffe’s tongue is black? It’s so it won’t get sunburned! A giraffe’s favorite food is the leaves on the top of the trees, where there is no shade from the sun. So, their tongue is black to help them not get a sunburned tongue as they eat their favorite snack!
- Did you know that the reticulated python is the world’s longest snake? The longest one ever measured was 35 feet long!
- Did you know that hummingbirds are the only birds in the world that can fly backwards? They have a unique shoulder joint that allows them to rotate their wings 180 degrees. In other words, they can fly in all directions because they can rotate their wings in all directions!
#6 :: Where in the World?
As you wander through the zoo, it’s pretty easy to see that not all the animals in the zoo are found where you live. In fact, many of the animals in the zoo are not even found on the continent where you live! Let’s face it, the only elephants and lions and giraffes we have in North America are the ones that live in zoos!
So why not add a little bit of geography to your zoo adventure? Now, don’t get scared! Geography isn’t a horrible thing when you make it fun.
Here’s what you do: Bring a world map with you to the zoo. This doesn’t have to be big by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, you can print one out on a regular piece of paper. The point is, you want to have some type of portable world map with you.
Then, as you look at each animal, find out where they live and find that place on your world map. Simple, right?
Here’s an example for you: Let’s say you are standing and looking at the African Rhinos. Now, African Rhinos live in the southern part of Africa. So, pull out your world map and find the southern part of Africa.
This simple activity of finding out where the animals live helps bring so many homeschool lessons to life. Now, you’re not just looking at books, but you’re connecting an experience to the lesson and taking your homeschooling to a whole new level!
#7 :: Lunch Time
Let’s face it, a day at the zoo isn’t complete without lunch – or at least snacks, right? So why not take the time as you’re eating your food to talk about the animal’s food?
Sounds too simple, right? Well, it is super simple, but it’s really fun, too! All you have to do is ask your children what food the animals like to eat. You can have them start with their favorite animal, their favorite animal at the zoo, an animal that you’ve seen already, or just pick an animal to start with.
In fact, you might just be surprised that some of the foods you’re eating for your lunch are foods the animals enjoy, too!
#8 :: Sketch an Animal
Now, this idea does require taking a bit more time at a specific animal exhibit, but if your child likes to draw, this idea has the potential to be a big winner!
The idea behind it is simple: Bring your sketch pad and drawing pencils to the zoo with you and pick an animal to sketch. Find a comfortable seat, grab your sketch pad and start bringing the animal to life in your drawing.
Now, this is an idea you want to take your time with and not rush. However, if you have older children who love to draw and younger children who don’t quite have the attention span to wait for an older sibling to draw an animal, it could pose a conundrum.
But, even though it might be tricky you can still do it – with the help of a few minutes of observation and a camera!
And while the ideal situation would be to sit and sketch the animal as you’re watching it in person, you can always watch the animal for a few moments, take a few photos, and use the photos to help create your sketch later on.
#9 :: Work on Photography Skills
Along the same line of thinking, the zoo is a great place to practice photography! You can find all types of environments at the zoo: Full sunlight, shade, partial sunlight, indoor, and more. You can find wide open spaces with just a few trees and enclosures with lots of trees and foliage.
You can find subjects that barely move like the tortoise, subjects that meander like the giraffe, and subjects that are constantly moving like the monkeys.
Plus, in this day of digital cameras, you don’t have to worry about the number of photos your child is taking to get the best shot! Gone are the days of having to pay to develop each and every photo you took (remember back when?).
So, have fun with it! Try experimenting with light and shade and different camera settings! And enjoy your zoo adventure through the lens of your camera.
#10 :: Storytelling
There’s nothing quite like sitting down with your children and reading a book or telling a story, is there? It’s one of the most iconic and memorable moments of childhood.
So, if stories are a treasured part of childhood, why not use the zoo to create a few stories of your own?
Now, you can do this one of two ways: The first way is more of an on-the-spot approach. In other words, as you’re standing watching the animals at the zoo, start making up a story about them. Maybe the animals start talking to each other and having a conversation about their food or something that is happening at that moment. In this approach, it’s a lot of fun to start an idea, then let it hang in the air and see where your children take it.
The other approach is to incorporate zoo storytelling into the creative writing part of your homeschooling day. Over the next few days after your zoo adventure, challenge your children to write a story featuring one or more of the animals you saw on your zoo adventure.
The End of the Adventure…for this Time
Don’t let your next zoo trip be just another trip to the zoo. Instead, take the day and turn it into an adventure you and your children will never forget!
Now, keep in mind that you don’t have to use all 10 of these suggestions on your very next trip to the zoo! In fact, start small so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
But no matter what you do, start! Pick a couple suggestions and breathe new life and excitement into your next day at the zoo. You never know where the adventure might take you….
- How to Teach World Geography in a Fun, Engaging Way
- 12 Reasons to Fall in Love with Adventures Around the World
- Epic Travel Adventures for You to Explore: Travels with Gannon & Wyatt
- Animal Adventures Around the World with Bindi’s Wildlife Adventures
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.