Tips For Your ZOO Field Trip

color-coordinated your shirts, printed out name tags, and ordered 143 bagged
lunches. You’ve counted dimes from numerous Ziploc bags and spent three hours
on the phone with the local bus service. You’ve grouped kids, crossed kids out
of groups, and added them back in. Now that you’ve confirmed your trip date… it’s
time to go! The following are my “insider” tips for a memorable field trip to
the zoo.
1.  Frontload. Print out a
list of animals currently on exhibit from the zoo’s website. The week before
the trip, have each student choose an animal (or two!). Suzy will become an
expert on the tapir.  Billy will become
an expert on the mangabey. Watch the students gleefully take ownership when
they visit “their” animal at the zoo.
Sign up for a class. Zoo classes
cost extra, but are well worth the price.
Zoo educators know that rhinos have a prehensile lip and elephants have
a “finger” on the end of their trunks. Your students will be intrigued. Classes
often include animal presentations where your students can touch a live animal.
No matter how many exhibits that students visit, they will always remember touching a tenrec! Classes also provide
tactile experiences with treasures such as claws, scutes, quills, and exoskeletons.
Spending an hour or two in the zoo classroom is not to be missed!
3.  Load an audio. For a special treat, download the audio of a kookaburra’s
laugh, the gibbon’s chatter, or another animal sound. When visiting, play your
audio and listen for the zoo animals to join in. Your students will love this!
4.  Celebrate Precipitation.
Animals don’t mind inclement weather.  When
it rains or snows, you’ll have the zoo all to yourself. December is quite
possibly the best month to book a field trip.
5.  Stay all day.  Some schools pay full admission to the zoo,
but leave early to visit other nearby attractions. Resist the temptation. The
zoo can keep students enthralled for the entire day and then some. Cutting your
trip short is not only wasting the admission price, but it rushes you through the
experience. Think you’ve seen all of the exhibits and still have an hour? Go
back to the exhibits you saw in the morning.
You’ll see the same animals in a whole new light!
Pose questions. Even
if you don’t know the answers, ask questions to your students as they tour. “What do you think the spider monkey is
eating?”  “How many pounds of food would
you estimate a warthog eats per day?”  “Does
a crocodile eat differently during the winter?”
Questions keep students in an
analytical frame of mind.  The experience
is less passive when they are looking for clues!
Show Time!  Be sure to take your gaggle to the scheduled “shows.”
At certain times every day, zoo keepers will present animals for care and feeding.
Often, this is the best time to see the giraffes or hippos perform an
interesting move and learn some amazing animal facts.
8. Mimic. Encourage
students to copy animals’ behaviors.
Students can hold their arms open like a crocodile’s mouth, run like an
ostrich, and hop like a kangaroo. The movements pique students’ interest and
help them connect.
9. AZA. Be sure you
are visiting an AZA accredited zoo. Accreditation ensures that this non-profit
organization is committed to providing the best care for animals.  The AZA requires strict guidelines and
regulations. Veterinarians are on call, exhibit size is regulated, and the food
preparation is monitored by the USDA.  No
wilted lettuce for the skink! Conversely, non-AZA zoos are personal animal
collections displayed for profit.
10. Toys and Tools.
There are more than animals at the zoo. Look for enrichment inside the exhibits.  Each exhibit is specifically created to house
and nurture its inhabitants.  Ropes,
balls, hammocks and barrels are some of the accessories used to keep animals
active. Ask students to find examples of toys and tools.  Then, link their findings to discussions of
other topics, such as architecture, ecosystems, and sociology.
11. Look for
Can’t find any toys or tools? Focus
on animal attributes. Claws, tails, fur, and feathers are all clues as to how
an animal lives. Ask students to point out body parts and hypothesize how the
animal uses them. “Does the zebra have a
Does the Babirusa have horns?” Students
will love playing zoo detective.
12. Flora.
Animal exhibits are stocked with flora.
In fact, many zoos showcase exotic plants that are often overlooked.  Point them out!  There’s more than one way to enjoy nature.
13. Write. Show student that
writing can be part of their fun! While touring, encourage students to jot down
names of species, interesting facts, and questions. Challenge them to sketch an
animal or two. Show students that using a pencil isn’t just for the classroom.
14. Follow upThe week after the trip, assign a creative
essay. Here’s an example: Due to zoo renovations,
the okapi and the rock hyrax will have to share an exhibit for a week. Write a
letter from the okapi to his new roommate, the rock hyrax. Capitalize on
student enthusiasm!
15. Shop.  Grap up some freebies on Teachers Pay
Teachers! There are lessons, printables, powerpoints, clip art and more!
Supplement your trip with resources created by teachers like you. Check out my
freebie here.
you sink, bone-weary, into the seat behind the bus driver, rest assured that
your trip was memorable. Some students may see several zoos; for others, this
is their one and only visit. What they’ve seen, what they’ve experienced and
what they’ve learned is now an indelible part of who they are. Know that for
every name tag (now stuck to the bottoms of sneakers), you have made a impact.
Kim Kroll taught middle school Language Arts before becoming
a zoo educator.
She has earned degrees from the University of South Carolina
and the University
of Delaware. Her eponymous store is on 
She and her husband (who serves in the United States Air
have three children.
Kim is still amazed that butterflies taste with their feet.


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