Letting Your Kids In the Zoo
With June being National Zoo Month, it’s only fitting we gave you our very best tips prior to you planning your trip. Before you let your kids in the zoo you’ll want to have a strategy. With the wide open spaces a zoo affords and determined toddlers who will not heed your warning, you might be feeling overwhelmed before you step foot in the parking lot.
Before you reach for your wallet, find out what discounts you are eligible for. Are you a teacher, first responder, member of another zoo or aquarium? If so, you might score 20%-50% off admission!
Our library offers free tickets to the zoo and other area attractions. Give your local library a call to find out if they offer the same perk. If they don’t, call the zoo directly and ask how you can get discounted or free tickets. (Imagine how less stressful this experience would be if you could let your kids in the zoo for free?!)
Now that you’ve done your research, take a deep breath, a swig of water, and repeat after me, (with confidence) I’ve GOT this.
Read the tips below, enjoy the special time with your family, and then brag to your friends afterwards about what you did.
1. Go to the zoo before nap time
If your children have outgrown naps (a scary reality for some), go to the zoo before lunchtime. The temperatures will be cooler the earlier you go, making it more likely that the animals are out and about.
Find out when keeper chats and animal encounters take place so you know where in the zoo you should be at those times.
Our local zoo only lets kids in the zoo petting area to feed the animals at certain times of the day, so if you get there late morning or late afternoon, you’ve missed your chance.
Plus, if you hightail it out of the zoo before the lunchtime rush, you can avoid waiting in long lines for food on-site (which your kids may or may not want to eat).
Many zoos do offer shaded picnic areas where you can eat, but many don’t allow you to bring large coolers. We’ve always gotten by with lunch boxes filled with snacks (and more snacks!)
2. Make the splash pad your last ‘zoo’ activity
Water play can tire out the most resistant toddler. They are yelping with joy, trying to avoid the sprinklers and spray only a splash pad can offer.
Depending on the age of your kids and the size of the splash pad, you might be able to relax in an Adirondack chair under the shade. Otherwise you might be right there with them doing your best to avoid the water bucket dump.
The warmth of the sun on their skin paired with the coolness of the water works wonders on relaxing kids. Use this to your advantage for a easy-breezy ride back home. 🚘
3. Visit the exhibits in reverse order
When you let your kids in the zoo, be sure to visit the exhibits in reverse order. By doing so, you’ll be feeling fresh and fancy-free hitting the last exhibit first, while those that started from the beginning either didn’t make it (less foot traffic for you!) or are feeling pretty darn exhausted.
Many zoos have the zoo map on their website so take a screen grab and you’ll instantly have the photo saved on your phone. Then you’ll be able to plan your visit, keeping in mind which areas are indoors (good to know if it rains or gets too hot), are shaded, or are the farthest from a restroom.
4. Always bring a covered wagon/stroller for transport
Transportation on wheels is your very best friend. Many zoos offer wagon rentals, so don’t despair if you travelled without one. This is where you’ll stash frozen fruit, semi-frozen drinks, sandwiches, bug repellent, sunscreen, and tired toddlers. Let’s be real: kids in the zoo get tired quickly.
Not carrying a toddler around? Your back and shoulders send their thanks. Your legs might also thank you because if your child is in a wagon, it means you’re not chasing kids in the zoo around!
5. Seek out the underutilized zoo attractions
Time to check out that zoo map again. There is more to a zoo than just the animals. We’re talking playground, sandbox, carousel, train, and lawn games, to name a few.
One or more of these activities will be just the thing to keep your kids in the zoo engaged. When was the last time you played the giant Connect 4 or Jenga games? Have fun battling your kids with these classics!
These hidden treasures nestled in the zoo are such good places to relax, recharge and sneak in a family photo op or two!
Pro-tips for Annual Passholders:
Go to the zoo 90 minutes before closing time to visit everything except the animals.
There were many times we just went for the splash pad/train/carousel. Less crowds, no lines, no melt-downs. This was also a great place to meet up for playdates with other annual passholders.
Have the kids visit the zoo for a seasonal event or festival on the 2nd to last day.
When seasonal events come to the zoo, the first week is usually the busiest. After all, PR is there to cover the event and local families are eager to be the first to get in on all of the excitement.
By waiting towards the end of the festival’s run, you’ve decreased the volume of visitors which also means less time spent waiting in line. Plus, if you don’t see get to see everything in one visit, you can always return the next day.
Have your holiday photos taken with the kids in the zoo.
Many zoos do a fabulous job decorating the entrance areas during holidays such as Halloween, Christmas and Easter.
Get the kids dressed up and pop by the zoo for those special photos! Ask someone to take a family photo so you’re included!
Let your kids in the zoo for trick-or-treating!
Boos at the Zoo is a unique and fun twist on the traditional trick-or-treating you and I grew up doing. 🎃 If you go during the day, it can be less scary for your little ones.
Final Thoughts on Letting Your Kids In the Zoo
Now that you have a playbook on how to approach your upcoming zoo visit, letting the kids in the zoo should be a little stressful for you.
Let’s review: you know the optimal times to visit the zoo; which exhibits to visit first and which to save for last; how to transport the kids from one exhibit to another; and where you can go to relax and recharge.
If you’re an annual passholder, you know to keep your eye out for some holiday-specific events. And don’t overlook the zoo for the perfect playdate venue!
For more kids in the zoo tips, check out our some recommendations from our friends over at What to Expect.