by Emily Lemons
A visit to the zoo is a wonderful opportunity to learn about animals from all over the world, but did you know it could also help your child get ready for kindergarten in a fun and meaningful context? We are fortunate to have the Chattanooga Zoo in our community and as a partner in our kindergarten readiness program, Countdown to Kindergarten. While the ideas in this post are written specifically with the Chattanooga Zoo in mind, many of the ideas and activities can apply to many other places you might visit with your child. With all of the suggestions, it is most important to make the activities fun and meaningful by focusing on your child and letting them lead. In early childhood, having conversations and time together is as important as working on any “academic skill.”
There are limitless ways to expand vocabulary at the zoo. Not only can you learn the names or classifications of animals, but you can also help your child find words to describe compare the animals and their habitats. Opposites like “big” and “little,” “hot” and “cold,” and “dry” or “rainy” all can be used on a visit to the zoo. And don’t forget to talk about the different colors you’ll see!
Since some animals may be hiding or in unique locations in their exhibits, direction words like “up,” “under,” “inside,” and “behind” are very common (but still very important) words to learn or reinforce at the zoo. Grab a map and allow your child to help you navigate through the different exhibits! Map keys and other symbols give children important pre-reading skills.
Your child can build early math skills at the zoo as well. Help them find and count animals like Tamarins or Tree frogs. Make a tally chart to keep track of whenever the train passes. Take a ride on the carousel (only $1.00) and let them pay and count the change. Then find different ways to sort and count animals on the carousel, by asking things like “How many animals with red can we count?” You can also look for basic geometric shapes as you visit exhibits.
There are many other ways to make a visit to the zoo a fun way to build school readiness skills. Try hopping or skipping or other fun ways to move along the wide paths when you first enter the zoo, to build gross motor skills. Encourage your child to draw some of the animals you saw, and help them hold their crayons or pencils correctly. You can even continue your experience at home, using the zoo’s online animal cameras or by reading some popular children’s books like Goodnight Gorilla, If I Ran the Zoo, Dear Zoo or My Visit to the Zoo. Helping your child to experience new things and encouraging their natural curiosity is the best way to get them ready for school and for life.