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Zoomazium to You: Welcome Back!

Posted by Janel Kempf, Learning and Innovation

By now, you and your early learners have heard the exciting news—Woodland Park Zoo reopened on July 1! We’ve missed all of you, and can hardly wait to welcome you back. Now that we’re all busy with the newly reopened zoo, we’ll be hitting the pause button on the Zoomazium to You blog, most likely for the summer. For this last entry (for now) let’s talk about the changes you and your youngsters will notice when you first visit us.

Welcome back! Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
The ongoing health precautions means the zoo will be different than you and your little ones remember. All the differences you’ll find are important ones, carefully planned to keep you, our staff and volunteers, and all our beloved animals safe. But, as we all know, the young children in our lives are not necessarily big fans of change!

And that’s okay! In fact, it’s important for young children to be exposed to things that aren’t dangerous or out-of-control, but also aren’t completely easy for them. Reasonable amounts of new situations, experienced with the loving support of their favorite grownups, grows them into resilient people who take challenges in stride. 

The penguins will be happy to welcome you back! There are lots of signs in familiar places, reminding all our guests to stay healthy and safe! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
It’s the same for animals. Every species on earth is built to confront and solve the problems that exist in their particular environment. But in the zoo, a lot of the problems animals solve in the wild just don’t exist. Nobody’s getting stalked by predators. There’s never a famine or a drought. And if an animal gets sick or hurt, a team of vets and keepers are there to help. So... what’s an animal to think about? 

The answer is something we call enrichment. Our enrichment program consists of the hundreds of different ways we create lives of interest and healthy challenge for each animal in our care.

Enrichment is as unique as each animal in our care. For some, enrichment means living in a habitat with other species, like you see on our African Savanna. Giraffes, zebras, and ostriches all have to navigate living alongside each other, getting their needs met without getting in each other’s way. For animals who prefer their solitude, like jaguars, invisible changes add spice to their lives—literally! Keepers add dashes of aromatic herbs, spices, and extracts to keep scent-focused animals engaged in their surroundings. And for many animals, working with their keepers to learn behaviors that help them participate in their own care is an important part of their day. If a grizzly bear can learn to calmly offer his hip to get a vaccination, we can all learn ways to accept new situations with more ease! 

Remember to mask up! Exceptions to the face covering requirement will be made for children ages 2 and younger and people who are medically unable to wear one. Children ages 3 – 5 are encouraged but not required to wear a face covering. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
Below are a few suggestions for optimizing your Woodland Park Zoo visit with young children: 

What you need: Timed entry tickets purchased or reserved online, and a sense of adventure!

Time: We expect the average visit in this phase of reopening to last about two hours—but you're free to stay longer or leave earlier

Age Range: All early learners, and their grownups, too!

School Connections: Experiencing change alongside their grownups prepares children for the increasingly independent adventures of school

Your youngster is bound to be excited by their first trip back to the zoo! But they’re likely to expect that everything will be just like they remember, unless they—and you—get prepared ahead of time.

Get Ready: Entry is timed, to help spread guests out and maintain social distancing. Definitely get your tickets online ahead of your visit! If it works with your child’s schedule, afternoons are likely to be less popular than mornings, and give you a little more breathing room. 

Mark your calendar and get ready for your next visit! Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash
When you have your tickets, let your child know you’ll be going back to the zoo. So much fun! Together, write on a calendar the day and time of your visit, telling your child that, for now, we have to plan when we go, rather than just going whenever we’re in the mood. Suggest that the two of you plan your visit together!

Print (or just look at together) a special reopening map of the zoo. The map will show you how your visit will be different. As the grownup, your attitude will be key—be excited about all the things you can see, and express understanding that not every part of the zoo can be open right now. Some favorites—Zoomazium, Bug World, the indoor parts of the Tropical Rainforest—are bound to be closed.
Even though most indoor areas are closed for safety, a redesigned map with directional signs marking one-way paths will help you and your family find many of your favorite spots!

Make sure your child knows that, acknowledge and honor any disappointment, but don't dwell on it. Move on to what they will be able to see this time. Encourage your child to find several accessible animals on the map they’re excited to see again.

Make yourselves aware of other non-animal-related differences. The FAQs for zoo reopening will get you all the information you need. Note that only the West Gate is open for entry, and there is a one-way path around the zoo (a little more about preparing for that below). Check the map for the locations of restrooms and food service. Some of the restrooms you may have used (like Zoomazium, or the family restroom in the Northern Trail) are closed, and the one-way path means you won’t be able to go back to a missed restroom or snack spot, just forward to the next one. You may want to download the zoo’s free mobile app, which includes a GPS-enabled map. And remember to check the FAQs every time you visit—as reopening guidelines from the state and county change, things will change at the zoo. 

Get Set: Just before the big day, get everything you’ll need ready. When visiting with little ones, your Early Childhood team strongly recommends bringing a wagon or stroller, even if you normally don’t. The one-way path means there will be more walking than those little legs might be used to, and the zoo is not currently offering rental wagons or strollers.

Just as importantly, bring a few small toys or activities to occupy early learners as they wait, whether during a longish ride in the wagon, or if you have to wait for access to a popular exhibit in order to maintain social distancing. Snacks are a great idea, too! (Double-secret hint: they aren’t quite ready yet, but the Early Childhood team is preparing Virtual Backpacks with great activities to enhance your visit to the zoo!)

Go! Your timed ticket allows you to enter at your designated entry time, or up to one hour after that. Don’t arrive early—if your tickets are for 1:00, we can’t let you in at 12:30, and you’ve set yourself up for an unnecessary wait. 

There will be lots of fun and easy-to-read signs around the zoo, reminding kids and families to stay safe and healthy!
Have fun! Marvel at the animals you haven’t seen for months! Check out what’s new—make a game of counting all the hand sanitizer stations. While you’re walking on the main loop path, play I-Spy. When you stop for a snack, act out all the animals you’ve seen so far.

And when you get home, wash your hands and take a nap. We’ll see you soon—we've missed you!

For other Zoomazium To You activities as well as animal-inspired activity kits and coloring pages, visit zoo.org/zootoyou to invite the zoo to your home.


Comments

  1. While we are glad Woodland Park Zoo is reopening with caution, we will miss Zoomazium to You. We are locked in another state due to COVID-19 and cannot travel. We've enjoyed the blog and will try to stay in touch via live cams (but they haven't seemed to be working lately either). Good luck and stay healthy Woodland Park Zoo - we miss you and all of the dear animals!

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