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Goats are a safe bet. For younger children or first-timers, a good place to start is the goats. The docile animals like people and enjoy interacting with them. They are even known to be a little mischievous, which kids often find hilarious (keep an eye on your shirt).
Get a membership. Again, there’s no need to see all the animals in one visit. If your child is under the age of 6, he probably won’t have the stamina for a full visit, and it's not worth forcing him to keep going once he's tired. If your local zoo offers a zoo membership, get one and visit the children’s zoo whenever the mood suits you and your little ones.
Animals teach us empathy and compassion. Interacting with animals and just being outside in nature helps children develop empathy. When a child sees a frightened animal, Haynes says, he feels compassion for the animal. “Empathy,” she stresses, “doesn’t come naturally. It’s learned.”
Animals connect us to nature. Haynes worries that kids are losing their connection to animals because they are spending so much of their time indoors and are separated from nature. For parents who worry about letting their children roam free outside, a children’s zoo offers a safe place to explore nature.
Animals inspire us. Staying cooped up inside doesn’t inspire as much imagination in children as hanging out with furry or feathered friends. When school groups visit the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Piropato is always impressed by how creative students become just by being “among the trees and flowers.”
Animals get kids out of their shell. Don’t lose patience if a child seems scared of the furry or feathered creatures. Haynes notes that a little encouragement can go a long way. The illustrate this point, she shares an example from her own life.
When Haynes took her developmentally challenged nephew to a farm, he was riveted by the chickens. These animals are excellent choices for interactions with younger children, but he wouldn’t go near them. Without thinking about it, Haynes, as a seasoned animal professional, automatically started feeding the chickens herself.
Her nephew joined in.
What Haynes didn't realize, was that this was a breakthrough moment for the boy. It turns out that he had always been scared of the chickens, but after that successful visit, interacting with them is now one of his favorite activities.
And he isn't the only whose world has expanded due to opportunities like these. Children’s zoos create happy memories, build the foundation for a lifelong love of animals, teach children compassion and can even spark an interest in an animal-related field. The next time your child stops to pet the goats, remember: You might be looking at a future veterinarian, zookeeper or even the next Jane Goodall.
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