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A trip to the zoo: Enhancing outings teaches concepts to young children

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Kids love to visit the zoo and with some enhancement activities before, during and after the trip, you are teaching valuable skills to your young children.

Nice weather, family outings and the zoo go hand-in-hand for a day of fun. Millions of people visit zoos annually, making it one of the most popular attractions to view and usually more economical than theme parks these days. What better way to spend a special time together than at the zoo? Here are a few ideas to get the kids pumped up with enhancement activities before, during and after the trip. You will be teaching the kids many valuable concepts that will enrich their visit.

Before the zoo, choose a date but don't tell the kids until a week before the outing. Young children have a hard time anticipating an excursion for a long time. Put a picture of a zoo animal on your calendar and let the children mark off the days as they pass. Or, make a loop chain from construction paper and allow the kids to remove one link each day until the chain is gone; this is your special event day!

During this waiting time, take your children to the library and look up zoo animal books to check out and read. As you look through these books, learn the names of the animals and brainstorm to raise questions about them to discuss and answer on the trip. Write down a list of these questions, so the kids won't forget them on the big day. If you have some old magazines, let young children cut out pictures of zoo animals and glue these onto index cards. Take these homemade flashcards along with you and try to find the real animals.

On the way to the zoo, try changing the words and make sounds to this traditional song. As you sing, "Old McDonald Had a Zoo", this will get the children ready for the menagerie of animals they will see. As you stroll around the premises, talk about the names of the animals, how they live, the sounds they make, how they smell, what they eat and what they look like (sizes, colors, fur and faces). Take out your list of questions from home and see if together you can answer them. Let your children ask the zookeepers any questions you can't answer. And of course, take loads of pictures of your children's favorite animals and of your excursion together.

At the zoo, make sure to visit the zoo's petting area and let the kids pet and feed the animals. By afternoon, animals pretty much have a full belly and shouldn't be too aggressive. However, it's best to check with the zoo staff before allowing your children to enter this area.

If your zoo has a train, monorail or bus, take a ride around the premises to relax before you drive home. This experience is fun and the kids can rediscover the experiences of the day.

After the zoo, use some fun zoo play extenders at home to remind the little ones of their recent visit. Bring out the stuffed animals and boxes and invite the kids to play zookeeper. Pretend to feed, clean and care for the animals in your play zoo. Put the animals into groups of various sizes; this teaches pre-math concepts. Let the children rename their animals using alphabet letters that go with the animal's type. For example, you may have Ellie Elephant or Kristin Kangaroo at your home.

When your photos have been downloaded, make copies for the children to create zoo booklets. They can glue pictures on sheets of construction paper and dictate or write a little story about each animal.

Zoos in south Florida:

Zoo Miami

Palm Beach Zoo

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