With Halloween behind us and November rolling in, most people start thinking about the holidays. And that means presents. And shopping.
But, let's face it - toys are overrated and eventually end up in a landfill anyway.
Why give a toy, when you can give something more meaningful? Here’s one idea:
The Gift of A Zoo Experience
If your children or grandchildren love animals, giving a zoo experience is a natural solution.
Many zoos have gift certificates that can be purchased from them directly. Or you can make your own, like the example below:
But why not take that gift to the next level?
I asked Patricia Newman, author of ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE, to help me share ideas on how you can turn an ordinary trip to the zoo into a Christmas gift experience. She was kind enough to answer all my questions, and Annie Crawley allowed me to post a few of her fabulous photos from their book. Hi, Patricia!
Thanks for having me on your blog, JEN. What ideas did you have in mind?
Making a Zoo Experience Kit
Your Christmas gift can start the day gifts are opened, even if you don’t go to the zoo that day. In addition to the Zoo certificate, here are some items to put in the kit:
1. A Map
Help your children personalize their gift by including a map and maybe some highlighters to mark out your route.
That’s a great idea! Zoos can be very large, and it’s often difficult to see everything in one trip. Look at the zoo’s map and decide which enclosures to visit.
What’s your favorite animal to visit, Patricia?
That’s a hard question. I love elephants, tigers, rhinos, monkeys, giraffes, butterflies…I guess I could go on and on. But my books have taught me to think beyond individual animals to ecosystems. While it’s okay to love one specific animal for itself, that animal also plays a role in its ecosystem. Sometimes we know what that role is and sometimes we don’t.
I know zoo animals are often grouped together according to how they would live in the wild. Your zoo trip gift will be more meaningful when the children look around and realize that their favorite animal is part of an ecosystem.
Yes! Challenge the children to try to find out the important role their favorite animal plays in its ecosystem and what would happen if the animal became extinct.
OK, a map is a perfect thing to add to a zoo experience kit. What else?
2. An Activity
For extra fun, combine the trip to the zoo with a science project.
I love that idea! Something you can start on Christmas day, and continue at the zoo. Any ideas what science project could be included in the kit?
Of course! Feel free to use the following example:
Learn about the interactions between black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs. Research some of the ways scientists are trying to keep these animals safe. At the zoo, ask the zookeepers specific questions. Pretend you are a newscaster and interview the zookeeper.
What a great way to personalize the experience! The children can decide their interview questions ahead and maybe even film themselves giving the news at the zoo.
3. A Preview
Another item to include is the link to a preview, either written out or on a thumb drive. Where can they find previews online, Patricia?
Ooh, I especially like the third idea. The zookeeper may show you animals that you won’t get to on your actual trip or give a sneak peek at the must-see exhibits.
4. The ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE book
What better way to get children excited about a zoo experience of their own than a book about great zoo experiences? Tell us about your amazing book, Patricia!
Annie and I visited three zoos to research and write ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE: Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago; Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C.; and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. We met with the scientists at each zoo and toured behind-the-scenes to bring our readers as close as possible to the animals and the science that helps save them.
You can buy the book at Barnes & Noble and other online retailers:
You might think that a "true zoo experience" has to include holding or petting the animals. But that's not always a good idea. Why might zookeepers say "no" to holding or petting animals, Patricia?
We did not pet or hold the black-footed ferrets or the orangutans because they are susceptible to human diseases. We did, however, get to touch a rhino and it was awesome!
How can children have a great zoo experience while still showing respect for the animals?
When you approach an animal’s enclosure, try to imitate Meredith who studied orangutans in the forest. She stayed quiet and still so she didn’t interfere with the apes’ natural behaviors. Loud screams and fast movements can frighten animals. Be a good nature observer!
About the Creative Team
Photographer Annie Crawley and Patricia Newman are the award-winning duo who brought you Plastic, Ahoy! and we are so excited about Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, our latest Junior Library Guild Selection. This narrative nonfiction book for middle-grade readers explores how zoo scientists are saving endangered orangutans, black rhinos, and black-footed ferrets. Kirkus says, “This volume provides lots of encouragement for budding young scientists. Three experts, three species, three zoos: these elements add up to a fascinating story of how specialists make a real difference in conservation today.”
Learn more about this creative team at their websites:
Have you considered giving an experience as a gift, instead of a toy? Let me know in the comments!
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)