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Education

8 Best Zoo Activities for Preschoolers

How to make your little one's love for wildlife come alive, offering a perfect balance of learning and play.

8 Best Zoo Activities for Preschoolers

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If your little one is all about animals and can't get enough of movies like ZootopiaMadagascar, or Sing, why not turn that passion into a fun learning adventure?

Below are eight zoo activities for preschoolers that will make their love for wildlife come alive. They offer a perfect balance of learning and play. Bonus: Not only are these crafts and activities enjoyable, but they're also educational!

How do you teach a preschooler about the zoo?

Are you curious about the best way to teach your young child about the wonders of the zoo? Dr. Johnna Weller of the Learning Care Group recommends real-life animal interactions at the zoo for preschoolers' most impactful learning experience. However, if going to a zoo is not an option, many zoos have live webcams so viewers can tune in remotely.

Dr. Weller adds another wonderful way to expose children to zoo animals is at the public library. She advises, "Start with books about animals they already like and then slowly show them books about animals they don't know yet. It's best to pick books with real photos instead of drawings and ones that have simple facts that are fun to learn about."

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How can I make my zoo more fun?

Planning to bring your little one to the zoo? Weller suggests a few tips to make it a blast. "Start by chatting with them about the visit beforehand, letting them know what to expect — like waiting in lines, taking turns, and not climbing on barriers," she says. "Don't forget to pack some water and snacks, and be ready for any weather surprises."

Zoo activities for preschoolers

Zoo Memory Game

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Playing games with preschoolers is always a blast, and what better way to kick things off than with a memory game with a zoo animal twist?

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Dr. Weller suggests that creating matching memory cards featuring zoo animals using basic paper and craft materials is all it takes to ensure repeated play sessions are filled with joy.

"Play a Memory game by turning all the cards face down in rows, and challenge your child to turn two cards over at a time," she tells Today's Parent.

"If the cards match, remove them from play. If they do not match, turn them face down again and select two more cards. Challenge your child to remember where previously seen cards might be."

Zoo Animal Bingo Game

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If your preschooler enjoys bingo over memory games, Dr. Weller recommends playing zoo animal bingo either at home or while visiting the zoo.

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"Create bingo cards with pictures of zoo animals you might see on your trip," she advises. "Invite your child to place stamps or stickers on the cards as they see the animals in the zoo. Or, you can play bingo at home after the visit."

Zoo Journal

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Looking to combine education and crafts? Try Dr. Weller's suggestion for engaging zoo-themed activities: make a unique DIY zoo journal with paper, crayons, and a stapler.

"Staple a few pieces of paper together to create a Zoo Journal," she suggests. "Encourage your child to draw pictures of favorite zoo animals, remember facts about them, and write about their experience in their own words."

Zoo Books

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If you're looking for a fun and educational activity to do with your preschooler, consider picking up some zoo books. Dr. Weller suggests that these books can be a great way to keep your child entertained and learning at the same time.

"Select story books with animals as main characters to extend your child's language learning, and be sure to point out differences between real animals and characters," says Dr. Weller. "You can also use the illustrations in zoo books to help your child learn counting by posing questions like, 'Can you count the spots on that animal?' How many of the animals on this page have wings? How many legs does this animal have? How many of them have tails?"

Paper Plate Activities

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Help your little artist hone their scissor skills with this enjoyable zoo-themed project where they can craft their favorite zoo animals out of paper plate materials.

"Paper plates are great for making zoo animals, and you can use cut-outs of multiple plates to add their body or unique features like wings and tails," says Theresa Bertuzzi, Chief Program Development Officer and Co-founder of Tiny Hoppers, an award-winning early learning center in Canada. "Providing children with various craft supplies like glue, scissors, markers, paint, and googly eyes allows them to unleash their creativity."

Animal Figures

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Looking for another easy way to teach preschoolers about zoo animals? Bertuzzi recommends giving them animal figures to play with. This hands-on approach lets kids explore different animal sizes and types in a fun and engaging manner.

According to Bertuzzi, "Figures help children visualize animal appearances, postures, patterns, and colors. Enhance their learning with videos and pictures showing animals to scale, aiding in understanding size differences between animals and humans."

DIY Zoo Animal Masks

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Dr. Jody LeVos, Ph.D. in Developmental Science, Specializing in Children's Mathematical and Cognitive Development and Serving as Chief Learning Officer at BEGiN Learning, recommends DIY zoo animal masks as one of the best zoo activities for preschoolers, citing their effectiveness in developing children's fine motor skills.

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She explains to Today's Parent, "Using child-safe scissors for various craft activities like making animal masks is a great way to enhance fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, and hand strength."

Sensory Bins

child's hand reaching into a sensory bin with rice and farm animals iStock

Sensory bins are a fantastic way to engage preschool-aged children by encouraging hands-on exploration aiding in their understanding of new ideas.

Bertuzzi says you can easily create a sensory bin at home by hiding zoo animal figures in a bin filled with rice or sand. "You could then set up a fun game where children pull out an animal and match it to its picture," she suggests. "And for an extra challenge, have the kids match the animals to pictures of their habitats."

Experts: 

  • Theresa Bertuzzi, Chief Program Development Officer and Co-founder of Tiny Hoppers, an award-winning early learning center in Canada
  • Dr. Jody LeVos, Ph.D. in Developmental Science, Specializing in Children's Mathematical and Cognitive Development, and Serving as Chief Learning Officer at BEGiN Learning, a Company Specializing in Educational Products for Children Aged 2 to 10
  • Dr. Johnna Weller, Cheif Academic Officer at the Learning Care Group, a child care and early childhood education company

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