Yesterday, Kai and I went to the Woodland Park Zoo. We’ve gone a lot (we have a membership and live about ten minutes away by car), so this wasn’t too unusual.
We ended up not meeting up with anyone (typically, we go with other homeschoolers), so I decided to try a couple of new things: we checked out an “early childhood education” backpack and signed Kai up for the nature exchange program.
Kai picked up a map from the front entrance and we headed for Zoomazium. He doesn’t NEED the map. He knows where it is. But he likes USING the map and I think it’s good practice. Zoomazium is the indoor kids’ area. As far as Kai is concerned, the zoo is “Zoomazium, the carousel, and, oh yeah, I guess they have animals, too.” Zoomazium has a small stage, a nature exchange, an area for little kids, a big treehouse (pretend tree with slides in it), and an area for the bigger kids that has a slide and looks like natural rocks. (They’re not abd that’s good thing, too, because the way these kids play, they’d all wind up seriously injured.)
I let Kai play in Zoomazium for a bit before “Creature feature”. “Creature Feature” is a neat presentation for kids, generally in the form of a puppet show or a story with stuffed animals. Afterwards, the kids get to touch an animal that somehow relates to the story. Whenever we go to the zoo, we try to hit up “Creature Feature”. Today, the kids got to touch a baby corn snake (really, they got to touch two).
Afterwards, I wandered up to the desk in Zoomazium to ask about the backpacks I’d heard of people being able to check out AND the nature exchange, which I’d seen online.
They have a few backpacks to choose from. They call them “early childhood education” backpacks or something like that. They’re each themed – they remind me very much of a “mini unit study”. The backpack had some stuffed animals in it, asking questions and encouraging the kids to go find them, listing where the animal could be found in the zoo. It had a numbers puzzle that had different animals for each number, an activity the kids could do in the zoo (making tally marks to show what kind of animal covering the zoo animals had the most of – like feathers, scales, fur, etc), and a few other things. But Kai’s FAVORITE thing inside the backpack was the snake skin. We talked a lot about that. I made notes about what he said: “Feels soft. Looks like a beehive. Looks yellowish white. Doesn’t have colors like the snake. Shaped like a snake. Maybe the snake BODY has colors.” His actual favorite part of the backpack was the backpack itself – he kept wearing it and calling himself a “spiky turtle”.
The backpack was nice, though, because we tried to answer the questions on the animal cards. So, it gave meaning to seeing specific animals (he was very sad, though, that the red pandas, which were in the bag, were not on display).
Before we turned in the backpack, we had a bit of lunch and took a ride on the carousel.
When we turned the backpack in, he was able to register for the Nature Exchange. The program is pretty cool. He got 200 points for doing all the backpack activities and talking about them. He was able to “buy” a shark tooth worth 150 points. He LOVES the tooth and has excitedly been talking about going back to get more points (he can also bring things in, do reports, talk to the staff about things, etc. to earn points).
I’ve talked to a few people about these programs and most weren’t aware EITHER program existed. Kai had such a blast, it gave our trip a bit more “direction”, and he’s looking forward to returning – because of these programs. I just wish the zoo would advertise them a bit better so more people could use me.
But this has me thinking that in the future, I might set up some scavenger hunts or plan some other specific activities for Kai.
I’m curious… do any of you have memberships to zoo? If so, what do you do when you go to the zoo? I used to try to see everything every time we went. That left me QUITE exhausted… and Kai kind of cranky. Now, we just do whatever. And I like that. But having a bit of direction was nice, as well.