To a five-year-old, a lion is not just a lion – it’s Simba from The Lion King! A trip to the Singapore Zoo can be a magical experience for your pre-schooler. What’s more, it can be a fantastic learning experience, too.
“The zoo is much more than just a place to have fun — without realising it, pre-schoolers can actually pick up important skills or lessons at the zoo that are useful for their everyday lives,” says paediatric occupational therapist Florence Yew.
“It is a safe and controlled environment where children can explore the animal world in greater detail and proximity. Here, they can see different actions in motion, such as monkeys swinging, fish swimming, tigers playing and birds flying. They can also touch animals at the feeding stations and feel different textures like rabbit fur and the hard shells of turtles. Older pre-schoolers can learn how to distinguish between different types of birds, monkeys and snakes.”
As children reach five to six years of age, they become much more interested in the world around them – they begin to organise and categorise information as well as learn to recognise similarities and differences between things. The Singapore Zoo, with its acres of exhibits, gives your child plenty of fodder to fuel his interest in the world around him.
So if you’re planning a trip to the zoo, here are a few suggestions on how to make it both fun and educational:
CHECK OUT THE DISPLAYS
Look for the many educational panels around the exhibits that
contain information about the animals, such as how to tell the difference between a cheetah, a leopard and a jaguar. Younger children can read the panels on their own, or you can explain the information to them if necessary.
Pre-schoolers love to pretend and act like other people or things,
such as animals they see at the zoo. Ask your child to slither like a snake or ‘fly’ like a bird – this helps them learn better motor coordination and boosts their creative juices. “This will help them build their imagination, while at the same time becoming more aware of their bodies and the various positions and movements they can make with their bodies,” says Ms Yew, who works at a private clinic.
SHARE A DIFFERENT POINT OF VIEW
As you walk around, try emphasising different animal habits as you view the different exhibits. “Pre-schoolers only see things from one point of view — their own — and are unable to comprehend the fact that other people may have different perspectives,” says Ms Yew. “By going to the zoo, they can see that there are different ways of looking at things — for example, how different animals take care of their young in different ways.”
ORGANISE AND CATEGORISE
Children at this age want to understand the world about them. A big
part of helping them learn is to encourage them to organise and categorise things that they see – point out similarities and differences as you walk around, suggests Ms Yew. Perhaps they already know that dogs and cats have four legs – but a quick count will show that lots of animals at the zoo also have four legs – and some have none!
WRAP THINGS UP
After the visit’s over, you can also suggest ways for your kids to
remember the different animals they saw — for instance, they can classify animals into different categories, draw the patterns on animals’ coats or write a story about an animal.
DON’T MISS A THING!
Children at this age might fare better with a half-day visit to the zoo
so they don’t get over-tired. To make things easy, here’s a guide to morning and afternoon highlights so your child won’t miss a thing.
Morning Highlights (9 am–1.50pm)
• 9 am: Arrival at Singapore Zoo
Spend a short while at Rainforest Walk with the playful Asian small-clawed otters, before heading to Gibbon Island to visit these energetic primates.
• 9.15am–9.30am: Elephant Bathing
Watch these gentle giants get cleaned up at the Elephant Bathing area, and then treat them to fruit snacks during the feeding session. You might even get to touch the elephants’ trunks!
• 9.30am–10.15am: Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife
Eat with a family of orang utans and stop for a photo opportunity.
• 10.15am–10.30am: Take a tram from Stop 1 to Stop 2
These open-sided tram cars offer an informative audio commentary that introduces the various animals and exhibits as you pass them, making it an easy way to entertain your child.
• 10.30am–11.15am: Kidzranger Tour
This children-only tour allows them to have a go at being a zookeeper. Kids will get their own Kidzranger vest, and a pin-on button that grants them special access to areas in Rainforest Kidzworld normally restricted to zookeepers. They will get up close to animals such as goats, horses, ponies, and falabellas or miniature horses, and learn what it takes to be a responsible pet owner.
• 11.15am–11.50am: Rainforest Kidzworld
Treat your kids to the Wild Animal Carousel Ride, and bring along some swim gear to splash around in at the tropical animal-themed Wet Play Area. If the weather permits, you can also watch your kids go off on a pony ride or join them on a colonial horse-drawn carriage ride.
• 11.50am–12.15pm: Fragile Forest
Step into this massive biodome for a walk-through recreation of a rainforest. You can come up close with critters such as free-ranging mousedeers, lemurs and sloths.
• 12.15pm–12.30pm: Take the tram from Stop 2 to Stop 3
• 12.30pm–12.50pm: Rainforest Fights Back Show
Rainforest Fights Back is a 20-minute, fun-filled performance that brings together the amazing natural talents of 15 species of mammals and birds, including otters, snakes, macaws and lemurs. Watch how they “fight” to save their rainforest home from destruction.
• 12.50pm–1.50pm: Lunch at Ah Meng Restaurant
Sit back, relax and enjoy a delicious lunch at this eatery. It is named after the famous orang utan Ah Meng, who died in 2008 after living at Singapore Zoo for over 30 years.
• 1.50pm: Giraffe Feeding
Did you know that giraffes have the longest tongue in the animal kingdom? Experience this first-hand as they wrap their tongues — which can extend to a record length of 53cm — around their snacks when you feed them yourself.
Afternoon Highlights (2.00pm–5.30pm)
• 2.00pm: Arrival at Singapore Zoo
Spend some time with the playful Asian small-clawed otters at Rainforest Walk, and walk past the Malayan tapirs, babirusas or pig-deers, and white tigers on your way to the Boat Dock.
• 2.30pm–2.50pm: Take the boat from Dock 1 to Dock 2
Keep your eyes peeled, you might even spot a crocodile in the water!
• 3.00pm–3.45pm: Kidzranger Tour
• 4.00pm–4.20pm: Animal Friends Show
Zoos are not only for wild animals! Domestic animals like cats and dogs also get a chance to shine in this show. See them perform their skills and tricks, and stay behind after the show to have your picture taken with these furry friends.
• 3.45pm–4.00pm: Take the tram from Stop 2 to Stop 4
• 4.00pm–4.30pm: Australian Outback
Hop into the Australian Outback zone to visit “mates” from Down Under such as kangaroos and bearded dragons. Start your visit to the Australian wilderness with the 4.00pm kangaroo feeding session, where the kangaroos will literally eat out of your hands!
• 5.00pm–5.30pm: Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia
This award-winning zone features a troop of close to 90 hamadryas baboons and other creatures from the Ethiopian deserts. Don’t forget to take part in the baboon feeding session at 5pm — these entertaining primates are known to do handstands and somersaults to get your attention for food!
• 5.30pm onwards: Pygmy Hippos and Snack
Stop by the pygmy hippos as you trek out and see these underwater “ballerinas” tiptoeing on the riverbed.
CREDIT: Photos courtesy of Wildlife Reserves Singapore