Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wild Wednesdays: A zoology lesson, at the zoo

Cotton top tamarin
I mentioned some time back that we went to the zoo over the weekend, and we're planning to go back there more often since we've gotten membership passes!  Now some of you parents would shrug and tell me you've been there many times and you're sick of the hippos. And perhaps you've braved the hot sun and stood the kids in front of the elephant enclosure for 10 minutes trying to get a nice shot, only to get a picture of your kids as well as a couple of huge grey backsides with tails flicking at flies.  

Since I know its a commonly visited spot for any family with kids (the really long line of parked cars extending a long way from the zoo when we went there was probably a testament to that), I won't go much into what animals you can see there, or their various attractions available.  Except maybe that the place has a really good water play area that had the hubby drooling (the hubby, not the boy mind you!):

Anyway, you could explore those things much better over at the official zoo website.  However, I thought I might offer up a few alternative "activities" you could do with your kids when you are there, aside from the usual "Look Ma, there's the camel! And the zebras!", snap snap photos and go home routine.

So how about trying these:
:: Encourage the kids to choose just one species of animal to look at for say, 20 minutes or so.  Give the older kids a clipboard and some writing paper, and encourage them to observe just one animal for 5-10 minutes.  Get them to write down all the behaviours the animal engages in (eg. feeding, moving, fighting, sleeping etc).  For the younger kids, they could just give a code name to each behaviour, like F for feeding, to make things easier.  (Meanwhile, you could enjoy your Ben and Jerry's ice cream, with no one bugging you for a mouthful. :p)  If you've done that, you have basically constructed what zoologists term an "ethogram" (Hop over here to read more about them.)

:: After they've gotten a list of behaviours (ethogram), they could extend it even further (if they are not restless that is!).  You could get the kids to observe just one individual for a set period of time (different kids could follow different individuals, for say, 15 minutes), and get them to note down the behaviours that the individual is engaged in at fixed time intervals (eg. every 20 seconds or so, using a digital watch to keep track), using codes to record them down (codes make recording way easier, but you might want to pre-plan your codes with the kids before you start the observation period!).  This actually is known as instantaneous sampling, and is used frequently for research on animal behaviour (for more info on various sampling methods, check this site.)

:: If you're still not sick of that particular animal, the kids can go back and calculate out the percentage time spent engaging in each activity, and maybe draw out bar graphs or pie charts too!  (If they do that, they would have constructed what we call an "activity budget", which shows us how much time an animal spends engaging in each activity.)

This would probably be more suitable for slightly older kids.  The younger children could also observe the animals, however they'll need a lot more guidance (eg. you could ask them about what the animal is doing every 15 seconds, and help them to record it down).  This way, you'll hone their observation skills (and you'll be teaching them an important skill, rather than just stuffing animal facts down their throat!), help them to learn more about and appreciate a certain animal (you could try others the next round), and even teach them some math along the way!

Oh, and before you embark on this activity, you might want to do some planning first, and read up about the animal BEFORE you head down to the zoo.  For younger kids, choose an animal with a simpler behavior repertoire (eg. the goats at the children's zoo).  If you want a challenge, then try the monkeys or primates, since they have a huge range of behaviors, but be warned, there's usually some sexual components there!

If you ever try this, do let me know how it goes!  Happy observing!

Come and play at the Childhood101 ‘We play link up’!


  1. Great photos and I gave you a Sunshine award. Stop by my blog to get it! Copy the button and follow the instructions on the post.

  2. Thanks Lisa, I'm honoured... :) Have a great weekend!

  3. What a terrific idea! I'm heading to the zoo soon so I'll try this with my 4-yr old. I was thinking...another idea is to get them to sketch/draw the animals. Maybe difficult for my boys to be able to sit still to do it but worth a try for older kids?

  4. Great pics and tips!

    That water play area at the zoo is really awesome, my hubby got introduced it when that "flood" that comes every 2-3 minutes (you know what I'm talking about right?) or so completely drenched him when he was standing under there completely unawares.

  5. Oh a totally brilliant idea! Thank you.

  6. I am ashamed to admit we spent longer playing in that water play area than looking at animals when we were in Singapore! Oops! Though Immy still remembers the polar bear eight months later.

  7. Chocklitmom: That's a great idea too! :) Let me know how the observations go for your boys?

    Daphne: Heehee, yes I know what you're talking about! Your poor hubby! My hubby was so excited when he saw the huge bucket... and was almost jumping up and down...

    Marita: :) Thanks!

    Christie: Ah, I thought the water area was really fabulous! So many things to splash through, Immy probably had loads of fun there?



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