Click here to learn more.
The flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and baby animals are being born, making spring the perfect time to take your family to a children’s zoo. Unlike at regular zoos, many of the animals in children’s zoos aren’t behind glass cages, which means that you and your kids will have the opportunity, with the help of trained facilitators, to get up close and personal with sheep, goats, chickens — and maybe even giraffes — in a safe, supervised environment.
Interacting with wildlife isn’t just fun and exciting for kids (and adults) — it also teaches children valuable lifelong lessons that can’t be learned by watching The Backyardigans on TV or playing Farmville on a computer. To find out why visiting with animals is such an important experience for children of all ages, we spoke with two experts: Marina Haynes, Children’s Zoo curator for the Philadelphia Zoo, and Cheryl Piropato, education and communications director for the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Fort Wayne, Ind. They offered advice on zoo etiquette, how to make the most out of a zoo visit and how to nurture a love for animals that will last a lifetime.
You want your trip to the children’s zoo to be positive and filled with happy memories. To avoid boo-boos and meltdowns, follow these simple rules of etiquette.
Let the animal come to you. Haynes warns that going to the animal instead of letting it come to you is the biggest and most common mistake zoo-goers make. “If he’s walking away, he doesn’t want to interact. Pick a different animal.” Keep a close eye on smaller children, who are more likely to chase a fleeing animal.
Pet with two fingers. If your child wants to pet the pigs or goats or any animal held by a zoo facilitator, he should use what Piropato calls “scientist fingers” to touch the furry friend, rather than petting with his whole hand. Using the index and middle finger together to pet alleviates the temptation to poke or jab the creature.
Feed with a flat palm. Another common mistake zoo visitors make is not knowing how to position their hands when feeding an animal. If you hold the food in between your fingers, you’ll likely get nipped. Instead, offer food on a flat palm. And, Haynes warns, only present the palm of your hand to an animal if there’s food in it. Zoo animals are conditioned to expect food to be on your palm and won’t like it if there isn’t any.
Respect all the animals. Parents and kids usually adore the goats, sheep and horses but tend to forget that wild pigeons and squirrels are interesting animals, too — and deserve our respect. The goal of the Philadelphia Children’s Zoo, Haynes says, is to “cultivate a love of animals.” Treating an animal differently just because you don’t happen to like it or because it's not part of the exhibit sends the wrong message to kids.
Let kids explore. Instead of insisting on following the map or visiting the animals in a certain order, let your child steer the visit (with supervision from you, of course). Both of our children’s zoo experts spent most of their childhood playing outside in nature without boundaries and say this open-ended exploration is what sparked their interest in nature. The Philadelphia Zoo is even trying to emulate this kind of experience in the new children’s zoo it is planning to build.
Don’t rush. The sheep. The chickens. The horses. The turtles. The giraffes. You don’t have to see everything in one visit. In fact, if your child seems entranced by an animal you don’t think is all that interesting — an insect in a tank, for example — let him be. “Kids zero in on surprising things that are easy to overlook,” Piropato says. “Let that happen; they might develop a fascination.”
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Thank you for subscribing to Petwire. Look for the latest newsletter each Wednesday.
Jonny Justice, a Pit Bull who was rescued
from Michael Vick's dog fighting kennel in
2007, was named ASPCA's Dog…
For Halloween, we’re spotlighting the
world's most famous pet cemeteries —
even a Paris site that opened in 1899.
Our veterinary behaviorist explains
why some kitties go to the bathroom
on furniture instead of in the litterbox.
Cats have been both exalted and
persecuted for centuries, thanks to tales
of devil kitties and holy companions.
We’re getting ready for Halloween
by sharing our favorite fan-submitted
photos of dogs and cats in costumes.
Known as one of the smartest dogs, the focused Border Collie has appeared in movies like Babe and Hotel for Dogs.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.