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10 Tips for a Zoo Trip with a Toddler

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My little family of four recently went to the Salt Lake City Hogle Zoo and it was incredibly fun to see my toddler react to all the animals she has been learning about.

Although I tried to prepare for the day, there were a lot of things I didn’t think about until we were already at the zoo that would’ve made the day less wild. So in hindsight, here are some tips and tricks I did, and WISHED that I had done, when planning our trip to the zoo:

Zoo Graphic

Plan ahead

How long do you want to spend there? Will you see all the animals, or just the ones your toddler knows already? What will you need and how do you plan to carry it all? What will you do if your potty training toddler has an accident? Are you going to let your kids get something at the gift shop or not? Along with these important scenarios to think about ahead of time, go ahead and talk up the zoo to your kids. Make it a big deal so they are excited to go and know better what to expect.

Teach them manners

In the days leading up to the zoo trip, or even as you’re driving there, talk to your kids about crowd etiquette. This will save you, at least a little, from having to yell constantly, “Watch where you’re going! Get out of the way! Stay close! Don’t lick the glass!”

Teach them what to do if they get separated from you

I know a 2-year-old will only understand so much, but it doesn’t hurt to start teaching them what to do if they can’t find mommy or daddy. Simple talks, like “Find a zoo person” or “Stay in one place and I’ll find you” might stick in their little minds.

For older kids, teaching them where to go (like an information booth or the gift shop) if they can’t find you will help you avoid running around the zoo in a panic. And it’s never too early for the “Stranger-Danger” lesson.

Keep your kids close

I know not everyone is a fan of child leashes. I used one that attaches to my toddler’s Skip Hop backpack for the first time this zoo trip and I gotta say, I felt super awkward walking her like a dog. At least, it felt like that, until I looped the end around the stroller I was pushing her baby brother in.

Then, it was just a way to tether her close enough that I felt secure she wasn’t going to take off when I wasn’t looking. We didn’t use it the whole time—just when we were in the most crowded area. If the child restraint (*cough* leash *cough*) isn’t your thing, there’s other ways to keep your kid close. Bribe them with treats or stickers so they will keep coming back to you.

Teach them a secret handshake they have to do before they can walk up to the fence to see the next animal. Give them a walkie-talkie so if you get separated, you can talk them. You can even set a “family color” and everyone wears that. Then, you make a big deal about what daddy’s wearing or what shirt mommy has on, so your toddler can look around and find you quickly.

Make them a form of identification

Anytime someone asks my toddler what her name is, she giggles and stares, then tells them all about her shoe. Her name is not yet in her vocabulary, despite my best efforts. And strangers can’t understand her silly toddler gibberish, anyways. If your child gets lost, it’s a good idea to have some kind of sticker, bracelet, or temporary tattoo on them with their name and your phone number.

Bring your own snacks/lunch

Just like any attraction, the zoo café’s, gift shop, and little snack carts are incredibly overpriced. They know parents generally come unprepared and then end up paying crazy prices when it’s time to eat. But $4.50 for a small bottle of water? A little preparing will cut out that cost. And what’s that child? You want a $5 churro? Is it dipped in gold? It’s not? Then no, have some fruit snacks, instead.

Side note: Try to make your snacks and lunch contain foods that are exciting, new, or things your kids don’t get to eat all the time. That way, when they smell the yummy burgers grilling nearby or see the brightly colored cotton candy, they won’t be frustrated that you’re offering them a granola bar or tuna sandwich instead.

Go early in the day

Kids tend to be more refreshed and listen better when it’s earlier in the day than during, or after, their naptime. If you’ve got young kids who seem to always wake up at the butt crack of dawn anyway, going early to see everything and getting out of there in time for afternoon naps will avoid any public explosions.

And getting to the zoo right as it opens can help avoid the crowds of older kids. You know, those ornery teenagers who don’t watch where they are going and think only of themselves as they swarm around you and block your little ones from being able to see the gorillas scratch their own butts. Don’t want to miss that!

Go when the weather might be a little cloudy/rainy

When my family and I went to the zoo recently, it happened to be on a day that was overcast and slightly rainy. I know you can’t control the weather, but if you know a day is coming up that will be like this, I highly suggest going then! Because it wasn’t perfectly sunny out, there weren’t as many people cramming to see the animals and we weren’t dying from the heat of the sun, either.

Just bundle your kids up, bring a couple of umbrellas, hit the indoor exhibits if the rain gets too heavy, and you’ve got yourself a nice day out seeing the animals without the human animals getting in the way!

Watch your child’s cues

A trip to the zoo means you’ve got to be flexible with your plans. A well-timed meltdown might mean moving lunchtime up or leaving earlier than expected and skipping the reptile exhibit. As you’re paying attention to your toddler’s actions and body language, you can get an idea of how to react or prevent certain situations. And it will make “going with the flow” much easier.

Relax and have fun

Your toddler is curious and excited about anything and everything she’s seeing! Practice your animal sounds with her. Point out where the lion sleeps or what the monkeys eat. Take silly pictures with the statues of the animals. Basically, get down on their level and see this fun experience through their eyes!

There are plenty more tips and tricks you can do to make a trip to the zoo less wild. What things would you suggest?

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Friday 13th of May 2016

Great Article and Tips, Heather. I enjoyed seeing the Animals at the Zoo also and was glad it wasn't too hot. I wished we could have made it to the train before the rain poured.

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