Common zoo animal fact to teach young children

Published: 26th April 2007
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Spending a day at the zoo was one of my favorite outings as a young child. I grew up in Chicago and had two wonderful zoos to enhance my early learning experiences.

But now, as an adult, I often find myself wondering if the animals that are caged up are happy and healthy. Learning about how zoo animals are being taken care of both physically and emotionally is a topic of new interest to me and could be a good starting point for parents and teachers as they introduce toddlers and young children to the zoo and all the zoo animals.

On of the most important parts of animal care in a zoo is their enrichment. Enrichment is made up of the many ways in which the zoo keepers provide zoo animals with the opportunities to express their own species-typical behaviors. Enrichment also provides zoo animals with an occupation; something to do with their time.

The enrichment animals receive come in forms of:

• new or unusual item or experience

• design of the enclosure

• interactions with same species, other species & humans

A bright rubber ball is one "unusual item" zoo keepers often give some animals. They can butt this ball with their heads. A bear that is given a mirror thinks, as he sees himself for the first time, that he has a new rival and he practices his "I'm bigger than you" threat display.

Elephants enjoy a chain with different-sized metal pipes hanging from it. When the elephants manipulate the pipes and swing them together they make "music". This is fascinating for them and entertains them throughout the day.

Spray from a hose gives a jaguar an unexpected rain shower and a trail of musky scent through the grass gives tigers something to track.

Enclosure designs are important as well as what is placed inside. Explain to your child that just as his own bedroom design is important to him Gorillas, for example, needs his own special environment. Gorillas are provided grassy hillsides, a tangle of tree roots, trees and bushes. Both sunny and shady spots give him a variety of places to sit, play, sleep or just hide out.

A snake, you tell your child, is provided an enclosure with a sandy area, leafy branches in a corner and a darkened cave that he can explore, curl up and hide or wind his way up to a higher, safer position.

Your young child may have begun to realize and recognize different social interactions he has engaged in during his play and work. He enjoys being with other kids his own age as well as younger or older children and adults. He also enjoys being around animals such as his pet dog, cat, or maybe a fish. You can explain to him that animals are also enriched by such interactions.

Housing social species like elephants, flamingos, or antelope together will allow them to create a social structure and learn and practice all the behaviors necessary to be successful within it. Interactions between animals and human keepers and their trainers gives animals opportunities to learn new things, just as your child learns new things from being around different people and animals.

Animals, you can explain to your child, achieve goals and experience successes (and failures), test limits on occasion, and in some cases receive praise or affection just the same as he experiences in his own daily life at home with his parents and siblings.

When teaching your child about a particular zoo animal you can explain that each animal has to receive mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Children should be taught that animals, as well as people, have choices and some control over their environment. Knowing this, children will assured that the caged up animals are happy and content.

To continue your child's early learning zoo education it is a good idea to provide him with zoo coloring pages, crafts and actual zoo play sets. I found a wonderful website from the San Diego Zoo where you can find plenty of ideas.

Even better, get your child a wooden zoo play set! Having many animals to play with will open up many teaching opportunities for both teachers and parents. As your child plays creatively you can ask him open-ended questions and "lead" his playtime to learning experiences he will long remember.

Shop around on the internet for zoo play sets and find the perfect one for your child. You want to remember to make sure it is made out of hardwood so there are no splinters. Hand-crafted and hand-painted products will also assure you of a quality, safe toy for your toddler and young child. Information about one such product is listed below and is sold on our website.

A Day at the Zoo, a wooden that includes a fabulous zoo entrance, 11 hand-painted animals, a penguin pond and 4 fence pieces will provide hours of creative fun play for your child. There are animals such as:

• mom and baby elephant

• lion

• kangaroo

• giraffe

• monkeys

Now that your child has had some pre-zoo and zoo animal lessons pack a picnic lunch and schedule a day at the zoo with your family. There is nothing like a day in the sun to go see all the wonderful African animals, sea life, birds and so much more.

Your child will be delighted to actually see the animals that you had previously introduced and talked about in their natural habitat. His lessons will "come alive"! (What better way to learn.) Your child's trip to the zoo and the new learning adventures he experiences at the zoo can be incorporated into his playtime when he comes home and many months or years thereafter.

For bountiful teaching opportunities that you will be able to talk to your children about all summer long plan a trip now - and have a wonderful DAY AT THE ZOO!

PS. Would you please bring me back a red balloon when you go?

Author is a retired Christian woman. She owns All I Can Imagine (a certified Family Friendly Website) that sells eco friendly children's learning and fun toys including giant cardboard building blocks, 3d wood puzzles, adventure and wood play sets, wood coat hooks and wood bookends.

Our website includes many parent and teacher resources and activities for kids as well as animal facts that go along with the animal puzzles. See our complete line at:

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