© 2003 Merry L. Morris

Everything I Needed to Know To Do Well in School I Learned at a Zoo
(and my children did, too!)

Everything I needed to know to do well in school, I learned before the age of five by visiting zoos.

I learned colors at zoos. I learned that a tiger is black, white, and tan. I learned that a lion is tawny. I learned that a hummingbird's feathers are iridescent. And I learned the meaning of camouflage.

I learned to read at zoos. I learned to read the names of the animals. I learned to read the names of the zoos. I learned to read the names of the buildings. I learned to read the signs on the exhibits.

I learned to write at zoos. I learned to write the names of the animals. I learned to write the names of the zoos. I learned to write the names of the buildings. I learned to write simple information about my favorite animals (like what they eat and what sounds they make).

I learned to tell time at zoos. Zoos opened at 9:30. Feeding time for the lions was 3 o'clock.

I learned to count at zoos. I learned that a herd of antelope can have "one, two, three, four ..." antelope.

I learned to add and subtract, and even to multiply and divide at zoos. I learned that if you see one animal in an exhibit and then you see one more, that makes two. And if you see five animals in an exhibit, then three move out of sight, that makes two, too.

I learned to multiply to figure out how many chunks of meat the zoo needs to feed the lions if each lion eats two chunks of meat, and the zoo has three lions. And I learned to divide by figuring out problems like how many apples will each monkey get if the keeper has ten apples, and five monkeys are reaching for them.

At zoos, I learned that all living creatures need food, water, a place to sleep, and a place to hide. I learned that if animals don't get enough of those things, they can become extinct and we will never be able to see them again.

At zoos, I learned that living creatures come in many different sizes, shapes, and forms. I learned to classify animals at zoos. I learned which were birds, which were mammals, and which were reptiles. I learned which were herbivores, which were carnivores, and which were omnivores by watching animals during feeding time.

At zoos, I learned about seasonal changes and how they affect zoo animals and all animals. I learned that animals can adapt to changes in their environments by watching polar bears in the summer heat, and zebras playing in the snow.

At zoos, I learned what a map is. I learned where Africa and Asia are on a map and which zoo animals have relatives there. I learned that many colorful birds live in a place called South America. I learned where the "eastern United States" is, too, and which animals we might see in a park which looked just like some of the zoo animals.

By watching animals interact with each other at zoos, I learned that animals communicate with each other, with keepers, and sometimes, even with visitors like me.

And I learned to communicate at zoos by asking keepers questions. I learned the importance of calling a zebra a "zebra" and not a "horse with stripes". I learned to pronounce words clearly so "mammal" didn't sound like "mama".

I learned to observe at zoos. I learned to pay attention at zoos. I knew the animals' routines. I knew which animals were young, and which were old. I knew which were males, and which were females.

I learned to be safe by respecting animals' territories. I learned not to stick my fingers through bars or to climb on fences.

I learned how to be considerate of other creatures by not banging on glass or making a lot of noise around mother animals with babies.

I learned that being outside and walking is good exercise and that good exercise makes you feel good, and makes you sleep well at night.

I learned all of this at zoos before my first day of school. And my children did, too!

Note: If you are a parent of an infant, toddler, or preschooler, please read my tips on what to say to your infant, toddler, or preschool child while visiting the zoo to make zoo visits educational, and please also check my when your child is ready section regularly for new little lesson plans based on zoo visits.

And, if you are the head of a zoo's education department, or other person in charge of creating and designing zoo classes, please see my Class Outlines for my proposals for classes for parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
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