Going to the zoo can be a great way to spend the day as a family. There is so much to see and talk about, and great memories can be made. However, like most family outings, there is also the potential for the trip not to turn out how you had imagined.
Having taken our kids to the zoo several times, we’ve figured out a few tips and ideas to make the most of your zoo trip.
Making the most of your visit to the zoo
- Wear good shoes. All of you. Typically, you’ll be walking a lot at the zoo and there is nothing that sucks the fun out of a day quicker than being in shoes that don’t feel good. And you know that your kids will start complaining when you’re the furthest point from the exit. So, make sure you’re all in shoes that are good for walking before you leave the house.
- Bring a change of clothes for the kids. You never know when your zoo will have a water feature or an overzealous goat in the petting zoo and you’ll want to change your kids. You might think the older ones will be fine and they haven’t needed a change of clothes in a while, but throw an extra shirt and pants in just in case. It’s better not to need them than having your child walk around smelling like an animal for the day (and then sitting in the car smelling like that). Bring a ziplock or plastic bag too, for your wet or dirty clothes.
- Check your local library for free tickets. Our library has “Discover and Go” passes where you can get free or reduced price tickets to many locations, including the zoo. These generally don’t work for last minute visits, and may not cover all members of your family, but if you’re planning ahead, see if your library has a program like this.
- Brings snacks and/or lunch. I’ve realized that most zoos allow you to bring in food, which can save you a good amount of money rather than buying meals and snacks there. Check your zoo’s website to confirm, and even if you plan to buy your meal there, take some snacks to keep the kiddos happy.
- Consider getting a membership to the zoo. Many zoos have reasonably priced annual memberships and at one of our local zoos, if we visit twice as a family in a year, it pays for itself. You might even get additional perks like discounts on food in the stores. Your membership is also likely tax deductible, making it even more appealing!
- Plan your visit and make sure you visit your kid’s favorites. Aside from walking around in smelly or wet clothes, having your child complain that they didn’t get to see their favorite animal, and then realizing you’re on the opposite side of the zoo from it, is no way to wrap up your day. If your zoo is big, look at a map ahead of time and make sure you visit the favorites. Even if your zoo is manageable in one day, pay attention to the map so you don’t miss anything; some exhibits are tucked away and easily missed.
- Use your visit as a chance to teach about animals. This may seem obvious, but read the signs that talk about the animals and start discussions with them. I always learn new information when I go to the zoo and my sons do too.
- Expand your child’s view of the world through animals. In addition to learning about the animals, talk about the countries that the animals come from, and expand their world view. For example, the rhino at our zoo is missing a horn; we can use this as an opportunity to talk about poachers, and why it’s important to respect animals. We can also discuss that the blind sea lion is safer at the zoo than in the wild and the reasons that the zoo can be a good place for animals.
- Have a predetermined plan for the gift shop. Smelly, hungry kids with uncomfortable feet seem to pale in comparison to a child who wants a souvenir but mom and dad are saying no. Before you even arrive, talk with your kids about the plan for any purchases (or if there won’t be any, make that clear). If your child saves money, plan to have the bring it, decide when you’ll visit the store(s) (we prefer the end of the trip), how long they have to look, and any other details you think will help make this a smooth process.
- The zoo can be a lesson in giving back. If your kids save money to give, consider giving to your local zoo. Allow your kids to experience how it feels to give and to visit the place that they’re helping support.
We will continue to visit the zoo regularly, and hope that you do too. Use these ideas to help make the most of your trip to the zoo. And let us know—what are your tips for zoo visits?