Discover the animal kingdom with your preschooler on these six amazing digital resources


A visit to the zoo can be an amazing learning experience for children of all ages. There are many wonderful zoos in the world and many of them have special programmes that cater to educating young children about animals, their habitat and conservation efforts. The Zoo provides children with an opportunity to pick up knowledge through a multi-sensory active learning experience which makes it easier for young children to stay engaged and learn faster.

A study carried out by the University of Warwick has shown that “a trip to the zoo can boost your child’s science and conservation education more than books or classroom teaching alone”. The study which was carried out in the London Zoo showed that children who have visited the zoo were recording a noticeable increase in understanding of animal and conservation knowledge compared to before the visit. It also indicated that guided tours supplemented by educational presentations by zoo staff resulted in a even higher increase compared to those on self guided tours.

There are lots of pre and post zoo visit activities that parents and teachers of preschoolers can do to strengthen learning and curiosity about the natural world. Websites of zoos around the world today not only serve as general visit information and ticketing portals but as digital resources for learning about animals and their habitats. Here are the 6 zoos with the best websites for kids living near and far away.

Columbus Zoo

Columbus Zoo is located in Powell, Ohio in the United States. Opened in 1927, the zoo is now home to more than 9000 animals. Jack Hanna, who frequently appeared with his animals in the The Late Show with David Letterman, was hired as the the Zoo’s Director in 1978 and until today serves as Director Emeritus.

Their website has a very informative and neatly arranged animal guide which is a great resource for young children and parents. There are 140 animal profiles in the guide; from the African Gray Parrot to the Zebra Shark. Parents can filter the selection further by animal family type, diet, continent of origin and region where they’re located in the zoo.

Source: Columbus Zoo website

Each animal profile provides the reader with a short write up about the physical characteristics of the animal, their natural predators and threats, diet in the wild/zoo and also average size. What is particularly interesting is that it also offers a “Status in the wild” meter that indicates how endangered the animal is.

Each profile also provides a nice simple heat map and notes about where the animals can be originally be found. Other useful information like the animal’s adaptation and behaviour in the wild, reproduction, population size and some fun facts are also available.

Source: Columbus Zoo website

Overall, this is a very well documented and simple to navigate website for parents to teach their preschool children more about specific animals. Here’s a bonus video of Columbus Zoo’s Director Emeritus, Jack Hanna on Good Morning America with a few cuddly and furry baby wild friends.

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo is located in San Diego, California in the United States. The zoo turned a 100 years old in 2016.  Its has a very large membership base with more than “250,000 member households and 130,000 child memberships representing more than a half-million people”. The zoo houses over 3500 animals and is home to 650 species and subspecies of animals.

They have a dedicated kids site which has a colourful layout and engaging content produced for a younger audience. There is an “Animal” profile section consisting of 46 key animals. The profiles are interactive and offer videos, animal sound clips and simple quizzes. A notable feature of the animal profile is that it offers bite sized information and interesting facts about each animal. For instance, the size of each animal is profiled against an everyday object that young children can relate to. An example is – the size of the Anaconda is said to be up to 30 feet in length and the writers then compares this with the length of an average bed which is 6.25 feet long.

The “Video” section is divided into two sections; the live cams (cameras) and general video content produced by the zoo editorial team. There are eight live cams and a broad selection of well produced one to two minute kid friendly videos of animal arts and craft activities, animal profiles and important events and celebrations in the zoo. They also have a nice “Stories” section which can make good reading material to repeat and reinforce learning as the stories tend to be broader in nature and often link multiple animals and themes together.

Source: San Diego Zoo website

Another fun aspect of the site is the “Activities” section which features 32 arts and craft related activities suitable for preschool children. Activities are related to specific animals, their behaviour and some themed around conservation. They are simple and well documented with pictured instructions. It is a very handy resource for pre or post zoo visit activities at home or at school.

Source: San Diego Zoo Website

Lastly, there are two other sections – a “Games” section and a “Save Animals” section. The games section hosts five games and a few are available on the Apple iOS and Google Play stores. The “Save Animals’ section is a nice closing section to get children to start thinking about animal conservation and also being more environmentally friendly. This is a well designed website for kids and can provide countless hours of content and learning on and off the screen.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium opened in 1984 and currently sits on a former sardine cannery site in Monterey, California in the United States. It is home to more than 35,000 aquatic creatures representing over 550 species. Although not officially a zoo, we’ve decided to include it in our list as it has one of the best digital resources on aquatic animals catered for kids on its website.

Similar to the other websites featured, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s site also hosts an extensive “Animal Guide”. However, the guide is purely focused on aquatic animals from birds, fishes to marine mammals and plants & algae. It also has nine “Live Web Cams” featuring live streams of some of the amazing exhibits they have at the aquarium such as the jellyfish exhibit, the shark exhibit and the Kelp Forest exhibit. You can even watch a live feed show that’s held twice daily via the Kelp Forest web cam.

Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium website

A very nice learning feature of the site is the “Podcast” section. The section has two parts with a general podcast section which features topics about marine life and a special podcast section which is now featuring a series about plastic pollution. There are two particularly interesting “Kids Q&A” podcasts where questions from young children like “Why can’t kelp grow in fresh water?” and “How many pounds of food does a shark eat” get answered by marine life experts.

Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium website

The site also has a “Family Activities” section where it stores plenty of marine related activity ideas and materials which can be downloaded and printed. Many of these activities are suitable for children between grades Pre-K to five. It is a great resource for pre and post visit activities to any local aquarium and teaches children about marine animals, ethnic cultures of the Pacific Northwest and also the ocean ecosystem.

Lastly, there are two sections, “Wallpaper” and “Animated GIFs” where parents can download images of marine life which can be used on their desktop computers or mobile.

Overall, a fantastic resource for young children to learn more about marine life and the ocean.

Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium website

London Zoo

The London Zoo or the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is the world’s oldest scientific zoo. Established in 1828 in the city of London, England, the animal collection was originally meant for scientific study and observation. An interesting fact is that it was founded by Sir Stanford Raffles who is more famously known as the founder of Colonial British Singapore. Today (combined with its sister zoo, Whipsnade Zoo), they are home to over 20,000 animals covering nearly 700 species.

The London Zoo or ZSL website has a smaller but no less interesting dedicated kids section. A fun and interesting feature of the website is the “Curious Creatures” video series which showcases some of the world’s weirdest and fascinating animals. The videos are well narrated and contain unusual but interesting bite sized information that is sure to captivate a young audience. For example, the Axolotl which is found in Mexico has an unusual ability to regenerate entire limbs in a matter of months.

The website also hosts three arcade like animal themed games. The first two games “Land of the Lions” and “Tiger Territory Game” are designed for older children but with parental guidance, preschoolers can learn by fiddling around and experience the lively sounds and animation. However, the “In with the Lemurs” game is suitable for younger children and is great fun and suitable for a mini family round-robin tournament.

Source: ZSL website

There’s also a small collection of print and cut animal masks which is great for creating pre visit atmosphere to any zoo. There are masks for the wolverine, bison, boar, moose and even antlers. They also have a small animation activities page where they encourage children to create animal animation using a flick book, a zoetrope or even via a computer. They included a simple set of animated image frames of a kangaroo that can be printed out and made into a animated flick book.

Lastly, to add some humour into our preschooler’s animal learning, there is a “Zoo Jokes” section.  The jokes are refreshing and explores blending concepts of language, animal characteristics and names. Here’s one, “Which snake is the best at maths?”… The adder!

Overall, the ZSL’s kids section is fun, light hearted and encourages learning.

Zoo New England

Moving from (old) England to New England, we go to Zoo New England located in Massachusetts in the United States. The Zoo New England operates two Zoos – Franklin Park Zoo in the city of Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham. Both zoos were established in the early 1900s and is home to close to 2000 animals.

The zoo website has a dedicated children’s section called the “Kids’ Corner”. There are 44 learning activities to choose from. Among the interesting options available are animal profile pages with videos, fun facts and viewing tips that introduce young viewers to the animal members of the zoo. The gorilla family profile page is exceptionally interesting as it details each member (and their names) of the Western Lowland Gorilla family exhibited in the Franklin Park Zoo. This can help to teach preschoolers that like humans, animals too can have distinct personalities and favourite food.

Source: Zoo New England website

The Endangered Species Picture Books section is a great resource to teach young children about the challenges animals face to survive in many parts of the world. Each of the 10 books available showcases interesting characteristics of the endangered animal, its habitat, their plight for survival and current conservation efforts to rescue their species. The picture books can be read aloud by parents and teachers or an audio narration can also be switched on.

Source: Zoo New England website

There is a strong focus on conservation in this website which is valuable to our young children. Aside from the Endangered Species Picture Book, the site has many other interesting activity suggestions that can reinforce the concepts of ecological conservation and animal protection in children of all ages. There is a four step guide to making a compost heap, a page centred on the issues surrounding illegal poaching of elephants and rhinos, a page dedicated to saving water, and one about recycling.

Finally, they also have bunch of animal themed print out templates like masks and activity sheets which are great fun and can be done at home.

Overall, lots of things to learn about the animal kingdom on this site and a fantastic general resource to talk more to children about conservation.

Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo is located in Upton by Chester, Cheshire in England. Established in 1931, this zoo is home to over 15,000 animals and is one of England’s most visited tourist attraction. The zoo was founded by George Mottershead who wanted to create a modern zoo without iron bars and where the animals could roam and be viewed in a more natural setting. It’s founding has such a unique and interesting story that the BBC decided to make a short six-part drama series of it called, Our Zoo.

The zoo’s website as a whole is very interactive and a delight to navigate through. There is also a dedicated children’s “Learning Resources” section. This section can be further filtered by age group, subject area, topic or resource type. There’s lots of activity ideas and content for children from three to 19 years and a lot of it are tied to specific education outcomes. The ones available to preschoolers are interesting in that it encourages more interaction with nature. All of which are simple backyard project ideas such as creating bird feeding pots from recycled yogurt cups, how to make a toad house from old pots and how to grow wildflowers in your child’s old wellington boots.

It is also interesting to explore some of the larger themes that are meant for older children. Among the recurring ones are the zoo’s effort to educate children on the palm oil trade, deforestation and its impact on wildlife. The zoo is home to many animals whose natural habitats are being threatened by deforestation. By going through these themes with young children, parents can create greater awareness about how our household consumption patterns can indirectly affect the homes and environments of animals and people in other parts of the world.

Source: Chester Zoo website

The site also has over 50 videos which is a nice mix of instructional videos on backyard based activities and educational videos on natural habitat of animals with a special focus on rainforests, where many tropical animals like the orangutan and tapir are found.

Overall, a very nice zoo with a very purposeful kids learning resource section aimed at early educational outreach.

Conclusion

Zoos and their inhabitants have been fascinating children all over for hundreds of years. It is very promising to see that many of these zoos are bringing their mission of educating young minds on animals, the environment and conservation to the digital world and making it available to many more people around the world. The digital media content and activities available in all these sites are useful in creating a multi-sensory learning experience for children and help to reinforce deeper learning about the animal kingdom, the natural world and science in general.

We at Tapkins are building a word learning by typing mobile app for preschoolers which will be launched in fall 2017. We will have many learning exercises featuring animals and believe it will be a good tool to support word learning for activities surrounding the animal world. Click here to register your interest and we’ll keep you updated.


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