Your preschooler has an amazing capacity for curiosity and adventure, and going to the zoo is a great outlet for both. However, there are a few ways that you can make the experience even more fun. Here are a few tips you can use before, during and after your visit to the zoo to make it more enjoyable for both you and your child.
Before you go to the zoo, build up to the experience by buying and reading books about animals. Take a look at the zoo’s website for news and information that you can use when you visit – such as new animals, special talks or other events. Find out when events like feeding of animals and get your hands on a map of the zoo to plan your route accordingly.
Another idea is to choose a theme for the trip. This could be size (small, medium and large animals), limbs (wings, flippers or legs) or something as simple as colours and sounds that the animals make.
When you’re at the zoo, there are plenty of things you can do to enhance the experience too. You should already have a copy of the zoo map, but if not, buy one at the entrance. That way, you’ll know where the facilities are, as well as the exhibits that are of particular interest to your child.
Another good tip is not to rush. It’s tempting to move quickly between exhibits, but if you stay a while, and sit still, you’ll probably see much more interesting behaviour from the animals. You should also remember that while the petting zoo might not be as thrilling for you, it can be even more fun for your child. Touching a chicken, rabbit or goat, or having a pony ride, is much more exciting than watching lions from a distance for most children. So make sure that you plan to spend extra time there. Just remember to wash your hands and your child’s thoroughly after you’ve been with the animals!
Lastly, remember that your child’s fears are valid and that if he or she is scared of a particular animal, you should respect that. At the same time, it’s a good idea to hide your own fears from your child – you don’t want to pass on your phobias! If you are aware of your child’s fears before the trip, you can get them used to the idea by reading books or watching movies about the animals in question, but it’s a good idea to let your child know when you’re approaching the animal in question and take their lead with regards to proximity.
After the trip, make sure that you spend time talking about the animals. Keep reading your books and talk about the animals you saw. Your child might even enjoy pretending to be a lion or an eagle – that’s all part of the fun!
Aside from planning, and the actual trip to the zoo, there are a few other things you can do to make it a more fun experience for everyone. Make sure that you have a well stocked bag that includes snacks and drinks (unless you’re buying them at the zoo), sunscreen and a hat to keep the sun off, or jackets and umbrellas if it’s cooler weather, water in misting bottles or wipes to stay cool and, of course, your camera!