My absolute favorite excursion to enjoy with little ones is the zoo. Being somewhat of a homebody, staying home with the kiddos is perfectly fine on most days, but it is really nice to get some fresh air and give them a childhood too. :) The zoo has become my go-to adventure.
It just isn’t safe for me to take the kids to a pool yet. We’ll have time for that someday, but they need to become stronger swimmers first. The library is great, and we go there often, but the stress of keeping them quietly corralled while I check out books can leave my blood pressure a little higher than I’d prefer! Children’s museums are becoming more of a possibility for us, but I can’t bear to make any of them stay in the stroller or carrier and watch other kids play… and when they go three directions at once it gets tricky. The zoo is our best bet right now for the following reasons:
1. It’s stroller-friendly.
2. We get to be outdoors.
3. We can pack a lunch from home.
4. I can easily nurse when I need to help a little one.
5. It’s inexpensive if you buy a membership.
6. We learn about and enjoy God’s creation of animals.
7. Our zoo is far enough away that my kids get to nap on the way.
8. The schedule of the day is extremely flexible. Whenever we get out the door is fine!
9. It’s a great place to meet up with other families.
10. There are indoor and outdoor activities, so if it is windy or cold outside, we can still have a fun day together.
After all these zoo excursions, I’ve learned a few tips for making the day go smoothly, and I’d like to share them!
- If at all possible, pack a lunch the night before. I don’t like wasting the morning making food. There is enough to do to get out the door, so if the lunches are packed it’s a major plus.
- Spray bottles. For warm summer days, consider buying a spray bottle for each child. They can carry it and mist themselves to keep cool. These are a big hit with my boys!
- Pack a morning and an afternoon snack, and store them separately. I like to cut up red peppers and apples, and bring carrots for zoo snacks. Of course there are lots of easy options such as graham or animal crackers, raisins, etc… I usually have the boys eat a veggie before they get the carb option. All of these are relatively clean snacks, and easy to eat in a stroller or on a bench. I suggest packing them separately so it isn’t necessary to rummage through the stroller to get them.
- Take a stroller or a wagon even if your kids have recently outgrown theirs. A lot of walking is required. It’s great for kids to be able to sit down briefly. Also it’s extremely beneficial to have a place to store food, snack, changes or clothes, sunscreen, spray bottles, hats, etc… As shown above, not only do I make use of a stroller, I also use a baby carrier and backpacks with a harness to keep my curious toddlers close. These are useful for exhibits that require the stroller to be parked.
- Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the animals… and attend to your kiddos. I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but between lunches, snacks, bathroom breaks, and nursing sessions, we used to average seeing about one group of animals per hour. Yikes! It seems so silly to drive all that way to see four or five animal groups, but my kids are just happy to be outdoors. As soon as I adjusted my expectation that we weren’t going to cover the whole zoo, I have a lot more fun too. Thankfully we get more ground covered now. :)
- Ask each child which animal is their priority for the day. With #5 in mind, on the car ride, ask each child which animal at the zoo is their favorite to watch. That way, the day is prioritized. Anything else is an added bonus. Inevitably my boys will ask to go to the dolphin show. I usually agree, but I explain that means we aren’t going to be spending money on any other exhibits. It helps to set this expectation in the car beforehand.
- Car rules. Pick three to five zoo rules, and share them with your kids on the way. For example, “1. Stay with mommy. 2. No complaining (especially when we have to leave). 3. Try to be patient. 4. Be respectful towards the animals, zoo guests, and zoo property. 5. Try to notice or learn something new!” Go over these several times, and try to keep them the same for each zoo trip.
- Dress in layers. The temperature can vary quite a bit from midmorning to midafternoon, so I like to put my boys in layers. It just makes it simpler to remove a hoodie than be hot half the day in a shirt that is too warm. This is another reason that wagon or stroller is good to have--more storage needs!
- Leave before they melt down. We know when our kids are getting to that point. Try to hit the restrooms and make your way home before it becomes a battle. Aim to give your kids updates such as, “Okay after this snack we will see the giraffes, and then we are leaving.” After the snack, remind them again. Also refer back to the rule of “no complaining”. Good luck. :) Training our children doesn’t always mean we are met with perfection, but we still aim to teach them good habits.
- Have a fun book on tape for the drive home, and a small snack if necessary (perhaps this will be the time for the afternoon snack). I like to rent books on tape from our library, or sometimes I will let them watch part of a video in the car. However, my kids know that the video will not be started until my potential nappers have fallen asleep. It usually happens quickly, and it gives me time to recap the day with the older one(s).