Thursday, February 6, 2014

Getting Wild With Science at the Phoenix Zoo!

Let's take a behind the scenes look at the Phoenix Zoo!


Did you know that there is a place where your kids can learn about animals, how to take care of them, and get a behind the scenes look at the life of a zookeeper? The Phoenix Zoo offers an incredible lineup of classes for kids of all ages, where they can learn about veterinary practices, animal relationships and behavior, adaptations and bio-mimicry, habitats and conservation, and so much more!

With their Keeper for A Day, Nature Explorers, Breakfast with the Animals, and their Zoology classes for kids, the Phoenix Zoo is a wonderful place to for animal science. Not only can your kids learn directly from the people who take care of them, but they can also get some exclusive behind the scenes experiences with the animals themselves!

Recently, we were given the opportunity to take a look at the Zoo's Wild Science Academy. My daughter is really interested in investigating animals, so the animal tracking class seemed like a perfect fit for her. She was excited to improve her tracking skills, and I couldn't wait to see what kind of classes the zoo offers for kids! They let me tag along to get an idea of how it all works.

What I saw, that these kids get to experience, is nothing short of incredible...

Becoming Expert Trackers!

The first part of our tracking experience involved learning all about tracking itself. What is it? How can people figure out what animals are nearby? What clues can we look for to identify these animals? How can we apply the scientific method to understanding how these clues can relate to the animals, and how is this information used to help us learn more about them?

I was really impressed with how quickly the kids picked up on animal tracking. After only a brief introduction, hands were shooting up in the air, with kids eager to talk about footprints, hair, poop (scat!), and food. These kids were excited to share what they knew, they were really into it!


After a discussion about the different kinds of clues they could find in the wild, the kids were able to put their tracking skills to the test! They compared casts of footprints of animals at the zoo, with tracks that had been left in bins of sand. The kids drew conclusions as to the identity of the animals, as well as what these markings might mean for their lifestyle (perching feet, sharp claws, padded feet, etc).


When they were finished identifying the tracks, it was time to tell a story about the life of an animal. The kids were invited to create their own animal stories with giant paw prints of their own! As they stamped the trails of their animals, these kids were excitedly sharing the stories of the lives of their animals. The predator/prey scenarios they came up with were just delightful! All of these little kids, suddenly sounded like expert trackers, out in the field, reading the signs that had been left behind.


After a burst of tracking activities, it was time for the kids to get up close and personal with some special guests! The zookeepers brought out three different animals for the kids to observe and interact with. They were able to pet a bearded dragon! They giggled as a giant African Millipede crawled all over their hands! They whispered in quiet awe as two Egyptian Fruit Bats were brought out for them to see. Throughout it all, they related the animals to their tracking discussions, and the kids delighted in their new knowledge.


After spending some time indoors with the zookeepers and their animals, it was time to head out into the great beyond and track some animals! The kids were led on a tracking scavenger hunt, all around the zoo! They found hair, scat, paw prints, and even some remains of what their animal had eaten for breakfast.

Their hunt gave them clues to help them determine which animal they were looking for. Finally, they reached the end of the trail, where the kids found themselves standing at the secret entrance to...

The Cheetah Exhibit!


With the cheetahs safely resting in their night house, the kids were set free to roam around inside the cheetah exhibit!!! They found cheetah hair, paw prints in the mud, and it wasn't long before they found cheetah scat, with evidence of what they had eaten the day before.


The kids were absolutely thrilled! To be able to walk around inside the exhibit, and get to see an inside view into the life of a cheetah was something these kids could only dream of! Now, they were actually doing it! The fun didn't end there though. The Phoenix Zoo had one more surprise left in store...

Meeting the Cheetahs!


The kids were treated to an experience of a lifetime as they got to meet the cheetahs at the Phoenix Zoo, face to face! The cheetah keeper told them all how they take care of them, what they feed them, where they sleep, and what their lives are like living in the zoo. The kids were delighted to see these magnificent creatures up close like this, and were even able to watch them prowl around their habitat, tracing the kids' steps, just as they had done with the cheetahs!


These kids were so excited to be able to learn so much about the animals of the Phoenix Zoo, and to be able to experience such amazing interactions with them! I am so impressed by the structure of the classes, and of the enthusiastic zookeepers who teach them! They have reached the perfect combination of classroom learning, with discussions, several activities to apply what they've learned, and special animal interactions. There was never a dull moment, and the kids had a fabulous time while learning and delving into some serious science!

This was the first class we had taken with the Phoenix Zoo, and we loved it so much, we're planning on attending every class the zoo has to offer this year. With the lineup they have, I know that Kat is going to get a lot of real science knowledge and application, and she's going to have an amazing time!

If you want to let your kids in on the fun that can be had at the zoo's wildlife programs, here is some helpful information:

For information on the Wild Science Academy classes for kids, as well as other programs for kids ages 2-13, go here.

For teen programming at the zoo, go here

The zoo also offers programs for children with special needs! Information can be found here.

For summer camp information, go here!

Helpful  Tips:

  • The cost of classes for your kids also covers full admission to the zoo for you and your child!
    Feel free to roam around, and when they're done with their class, let them show you what they've learned as you wander about the zoo for the afternoon! 
  • The zoo strives for independent learning and exploration with kids. Parents are able to accompany their kids to the indoor portion of the classes. However, the behind the scenes exhibit explorations are a special treat for kids only! When kids get to go in the exhibits, the staff will let you know where they will be, so you can take advantage of the awesome photo opportunities!

If your kids are interested in animals, and want to get a behind the scenes look at the zoo, the research it facilitates, and participate in some real science, I can't recommend this place enough. I am enormously impressed by their education team. They know kids, they know excitement, and they know science! They all work together to create some of the best animal programming I have ever seen, and they are just as excited about it as the kids are!

 I am so glad we have had the opportunity to check out their programming. Because these programs range from the very young, to the oldest of teens, the Phoenix Zoo will be an instrumental part of our animal adventures for years to come!




Happy Exploring! 



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