© 2003 Merry L. Morris

What to Say at the Zoo
How to make zoo trips educational for infants, toddlers and preschoolers

It is easy to make zoo trips educational for your infant, toddler, or preschooler. You don't need any supplies. You don't need to prepare ahead of time. You don't need to do any follow-up activities. From the time your child is born right up until his first day of school, all you have to do is to visit zoos often and talk to your child during the entire zoo visit.

You don't need to know a lot about animals. In fact, you don't need to know any more about the animals than what you can observe on each visit. Talk about the animals you see. What are they called? What color are they? Are they covered with fur or scales? Are they big or small? What are they eating? What other animals are they similar to?

Read all the signs aloud to your child and run your finger over the words from left to right as you read. Read the words on the signs exactly as they are. Then, after you finish reading the sign, say, "That means ... " and summarize what the sign says. Try to use different words to convey the same meanings as the words on the signs. (Click here for more about how to read signs to your child.)

Your infant will hear your voice, and the words you say will be planted in his brain as educational seeds which will one day sprout and grow. Your toddler will listen to you, and he will learn words because he hears you say them over and over on each visit to the zoo. By the time your child is three or four, he will begin to use the words you have been saying to him. By the time he encounters those words in school, he will know them.

Talking to your child during zoo visits provides a wonderful opportunity to increase your child's vocabulary. Talking to your child while pointing out all there is to see at a zoo also provides opportunities to:

  • to teach your child the alphabet
  • to teach your child concepts like color, shape and size
  • to teach your child to count
  • to show your child how letters of the alphabet are put together to form words
  • to show your child how and why people read signs
  • to show your child how people use comparing and contrasting to describe what they see, hear, taste, and smell
  • to show your child how people ask questions to find answers
  • to show your child how people add, subtract, multiply and divide

While talking to your preschool child, remember:

#1: Always use the correct words. Do not "talk down" even to your infant! If you don't know the name of an animal, look at the sign on the exhibit, or ask a keeper!

#2: Use a variety of descriptive words to describe animals and exhibits.

#4: Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repeat names, repeat words, and repeat descriptive phrases.

The next sections show photos of typical exhibits at zoos. Below each photo are examples of things to say to your preschool child while at that location.

Exhibit One - Philadelphia Zoo
Exhibit Two - Philadelphia Zoo
Exhibit Three - Philadelphia Zoo
Exhibit Four - Philadelphia Park Zoo
Please also look at the little lesson plans for parents of preschoolers in my when your child is ready ... section.

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