Zoo education is sometimes a rite of passage that allows toddlers to feel grown up and experience the awe and amazement of seeing exotic animals up close. Sadie Jo Smokey at The Arizona Republic writes: “For more than five years, the zoo’s breakfast program has been popular with toddlers and parents. The kids eat, engage in some activities, and then visit the featured animal. In addition to the breakfasts this season, the zoo offers two new programs to expose young ones to other creatures and habitats; a guided trail walk and a farm experience.” Around the world, a number of zoos hold special activities, events and programs to facilitate education and interest in animal conservation. After all, the zoo is about so much more than animal exhibits!
A London Zoo has recently received two awards for its zoo education programs. In 2004, the United Kingdom’s Chester Zoo won the Sandford Award (run by The Council for Environmental Education). Judges called the Chester zoological park “an excellent resource” and said that “nothing could compare to seeing live, wild animals at close quarters.” In 2009, the zoo won this same award again. Zoo head of Discovery and Learning, Stephen McKeown, explained: “The awards take into account our whole approach to conservation education, including taught educational discovery programs for schools, interactive materials, award-winning signage at animal enclosures around the zoo and extensive library facilities. What makes us different from a normal classroom is the environment we occupy and the 7,000 animals within it. Seeing and handling things from live snakes to snake skins and exploring the x-rays of animals opens up a whole new world that more and more students are now taking advantage of.” The Chester Zoo is just one of many parks offering unprecedented access to exotic animals.
As part of its zoo education program, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden offers $35 overnight experiences, which include nighttime sneak peaks, games, activities, breakfast and special animal shows; kids can study topics like “Animal Adaptations,” “Wolf Woods,” “Sleep with the Manatees” or “Family Nights.” Adults can take classes on zoo pictures skill building or even travel overseas with the zoo. High school students can complete their freshman and sophomore courses at the Cincinnati Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMAS) and finish up their final two years at the Zoo Academy, which includes all the regular subjects with the addition of zoo keeper classes. Family events include “Food Gourmet,” which is a behind-the-scenes look at how animals eat and “Many Many Moons Ago,” a creative Native American storytelling session. Parents often bring their kids on hikes, sing-a-longs and overnight camping trips at the zoo in Cincinnati.
Zoo education programs are ideal for regular visitors who are looking for a special tour or activity that goes over-and-beyond the typical tour. Whether it’s dining at the zoo or staying the night, these programs are designed to captivate anyone’s attention, no matter if you’re 30 or 3. More often than not, you can register for these special zoo activities online at the zoo’s website, which is a convenient way to secure your position and avoid disappointment. Special discounts are available for zoo members.