A zoo field trip is standard for most people, no matter where you live, especially for the younger kids. But as homeschoolers, this can be so much more without even planning specific things to look for.
So here’s some tips for how to not plan your field trip, but still have a good time and learn something!
1 – Go often.
We’re lucky to live close to the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Safari Park, both world class zoos people travel to see. Our family has been passholders for four years now. We typically visit the zoo at least three times a year which more then makes up for the cost of the passes. This is one of those places that that you can learn something new every time you go. Zoos, museums, science centers, nature hikes. All benefit from multiple trips, especially at different times of the year when seasons or exhibits are changing. Kids are more likely to explore an area they are familiar with so things they may have passed by the first time, they will stop and interact with another time.
2 – Don’t use a lesson plan.
When we first started visiting, I would try and make it educational. I went out of my way to find lesson plans for preschool and kindergarten children. Websites often have a page for teachers that help to coach the kids for what to look for. These can be great starting off points to help build interest and promote looking closely at something. But my kids already had their own interests. They didn’t need their hand being held or pointing out facts that they already knew.
3 – Follow their interests.
I started to go with the flow. Each visit I have the kids pick one thing they want to do or see. I do this for almost all field trips or activities we do so no one ends up going home disappointed or upset. On our last visit to the zoo, Megatron wanted to see the giraffes, Little Miss the hippos, and Green Bubbles wanted some lions. Of course, we saw many other animals as well, but no one was crying at the end of the day because we didn’t do something they wanted to do.
4 – Ask questions.
Everyone was happy with their picks but the animals and events that stand out weren’t planned or picked at all. The most memorable items from our visit happen by chance, and that’s the best kind of learning. Natural, fluid moments where genuine curiosity lead to asking questions. In my experience, people love when you ask questions and will almost always take at least a few minutes to talk with you about something they are passionate about.
As we were walking through the bird aviary on our way to the hippos, we passed a zoo keeper carrying several buckets, the kind kids play with at the playground or beach. I commented to the kids about how she was going to build sand castles and they laughed. But it led to asking her as she walked past what was in the buckets. She stopped and talked with us for a few minutes to let us know she was getting ready to feed the birds. One bucket had seeds in it but she hesitated to show us the others claiming they had other items that may be alive or gross to look at it. We told her about how our box turtle also eats mealworms and asked if they were the same kind the birds ate. That was all it took and she showed us the worms, crickets, mice and rats that were in her buckets for the birds. She explained that many birds eat items like this as well as seeds, and some birds eat things that people like too, such as fruit. The kids got a great lesson about the varied diets of different types of birds all because we stopped to ask a question.
5 – Take advantage of interest based learning opportunities.
At this time of year, the flamingos were all nesting. Little Miss loves all things pink and flamingos are no exception so, while they did not make her top pick, we always stop to see them when walking past. We had the opportunity to view their nests, see the eggs as they moved around, and saw various hatchlings from a few days old to a few weeks old. There was a sign near by, including pictures, that explained everything about this cycle and what the chicks looked like at various ages. I don’t normally read the signs to the kids unless they show an interest in whatever it is we are looking at, but this time they did. Green Bubbles loved telling me how old a chick was all by himself based off of this resource he was able to use by himself. This required very little input from me besides reading the dates for them and a short paragraph about their nesting and eggs. It was a wonderful way to end our trip to the zoo that day.
Learning is more meaningful when it is interest based and natural. I hope some of these tips help for the next outing with your family.