The battle against screen time is a constant struggle with my kindergartener so when I find an activity that he loves and keeps him engaged for a long time I feel like I’ve won the lottery. This build your own zoo pretend play hit all the right notes for him. I intended it to be for both kids but my daughter was not so excited about his vision for the zoo so we read zoo animal books while he crafted his very own zoo. I loved how involved he was from start to finish and that I could work in some writing practice ( every little bit helps) that didn’t feel like practice at all.
- Gather your materials. You will need some craft paper ( get it at the dollar store and save!) , blocks, animal toys/ puzzle pieces , crayons, some painters tape and scissors.
- Start by cutting a large piece of craft paper and taping it ( using the painter’s tape ) to the floor. Only do this on hard surfaces or the paper will rip and tear when you try to write and draw on it.
- Talk about the design for a zoo. My son and I have made up worlds we tell stories about all the time ( Mine is called Mommyland … original eh?) and we decided to base the layout on the zoo from his imagination. I drew the outline as he explained it to me but the rest was up to him.
- Next sort the animals and build their enclosures. He started with snakes. These stretchy snakes are adored in our house for some odd reason . He wrote the sign, the built the house and arranged the snakes. It took a lot of patience to arrange them just so.
- Arctic animals were next. Starting with the sign then building the structure and adding the animals.
- Africa and the petting zoo were next followed by the whales. No he didn’t write those words , after a few he asked if I could do it and I did to keep the momentum of the play going. The goal wasn’t to force him to write it was to play so I was happy to help.
- I think the most interesting observation for me watching my son do this was how he really wanted a specific design. I loved seeing him sit back like this to take it all in.
Check out our favorite books about the zoo here! I like to include books with activities to deepen the learning and extend the interest in the topic.
Hi Allie, it’s Cil. Love your site, so many great ideas and books. I’m not a vegetarian let alone a PETA person but for awhile now I’ve felt ambivalent about promoting zoos in early childhood education. I know freedom is a human construct; responsible zoos have helped bring animals back from the brink of extinction. But I deplore the notion of large animals put in small enclosures for our entertainment, especially when I read about ‘surplus animals’ and canned hunting. I know there are zoos that strive to do their best what what they have. I suppose all we can do as educators is emphasize the exploration of the animals’ natural habitat. Perhaps at least older preschoolers will understand that rather than in a cage, some lions live in the savannah–in Africa, as your son seems to know. 🙂
Allison McDonald says
I am glad you brought this up Cil because I know you won’t be the only one who feels like this and I have wrestled with this too. For me the interest the zoo sparks in my son about animals have tipped me on the side of going to our local zoo and exploring the theme at home. We talk about why zoos exist and how animals should be in the wild but aren’t because of conservation and so we can learn more about them. It’s hard because yeah I am not the biggest fan of zoos either but I absolutely adore seeing how they can turn kids that are uninterested in animals into animal lovers. I agree whole heartily that we should spend as much time as we can teaching about animals in their natural habitats and plan to continue focusing much more time on that than the zoo theme.
This activity in particular though I am still really proud of because it used something recent for my son ( we’d just been to the zoo) and incorporated so many areas of learning. Maybe in a class this could be changed to simply be habitats and the blocks could be trees and hills and deserts instead of zoo enclosures.
Eddie - The Usual Mayhem says
I love it! We have a play ocean going on here the last few days…I keep stepping on little sharp shark figurines!
I can’t wait to do this with my boys. We have a trip to the zoo coming up and since we don’t get to go very often, I wanted to do something special to help them remember the trip. I think an activity like this will be perfect!
I actually thought they took very good care of animals in the zoo. Am I wrong?
Anyway if your kids get nervous about the pieces getting moved and knocked around, why not take a picture of the scene so they can always redo it. It would also be a good literacy activity to add all kinds of signs around and when he needs them again , he will have to read them to get them.
I love this activity and’ll soon do it with my boys…i wonder from wherre did u got those wooden cubical blocks…thx
Keep up the good work!
Love your site and your activity as well. I can’t wait to do this with my girls…Your wooden blocks looks so perfect for this activity…from where u bought it…let me know. Thanks again.
Allison McDonald says
Half are Tegu magnetic blocks and the other half are classic blocks from Oompa Toys http://www.oompa.com/item/JJA-BLKS-KUB-BLK-NAT-50-08069/Janod-Kubix-50-Natural-Blocks/1.html