A Zoo Win.

“Do you want to go to the zoo?”

No response.



Hmmm…  We went when he was little.  Perhaps now that he can identify the animals by their pictures it will be more fun.  Now that he will not be in a stroller and he can look at the giraffes and the lemurs.  C’mon, it’s King Julian!  It’s supposed to be sunny and 68 degrees!  It will be a beautiful day.

All the way there he asks, “We’re going to…?”

“We’re going to the zoo to see the animals!”

“And then?”

“Then, we’re going home.”

“Do you want to go to the zoo?”


Waiting for tickets.

We stand in line for tickets.  Well, mom and dad did.  The little guy found a place to sit and wait.  Inside the entrance, is a small train that one can ride with a conductor who acts as a tour guide.  This scared my son.  He motioned for Daddy to pick him up.  We started to walk and the train followed us a bit.  Further anxiety.  He wanted to get away!  And the timing right as we got in.

We found a little play area off to the side of the main walkway and he ran there, climbing a “walking slide”.  He liked the play area and seemed happier there than the actual zoo.

We looked at flamingos together.  I found them so much more beautiful than the lawn ornaments.  He did not appear to be interested.

Lemurs –  not focused on where they were or in the least bit curious about them at all.  Orangutan – scared of it.   I had to bribe him with M&Ms to take a photo with the wooden one.

Giraffes – scared.

Who was scared of whom?

Daddy had to carry him up over half the zoo.  Getting the picture?

I felt like the entire visit was a bust.  And then I found a study about children taking a field trip to the -guess what? – zoo!  This study discussed the findings of what children ages 3-12 learned after taking a trip to the zoo, combined with a week’s worth of preparatory lessons, and while providing each child a camera to take photographs.  The results relevant to my child are the 5-6 year old range.  Here’s what they said:

What the preschool children noticed, photographed, and said about the zoo had little to do with what an adult would consider the actual point of visiting the zoo. What they noticed and remembered was anything they saw that was an example of something they already knew. Whether the event was theme related or not mattered little to them. Taking photographs of the ground, a girl’s pink tennis shoes, or the clouds was just as important as taking photographs of turtles, snakes, or goats. . . The ordinary was valued over the extraordinary. 

Children were asked, “What was the most important thing you learned about the zoo?” Two children who were 5 years old could not articulate what they learned. However, a child who was 5 years, 9 months old said, “Seeing all the animals” was the most important thing she learned. When prompted why, she said, “Because seeing all the animals makes everybody know what all the animals are about.” When asked to discuss the most important thing she learned about zoo animals, she said, “We didn’t learn anything important.” . . .The four 6-year-old children and one 7-year-old also missed the zoo theme. 

This was a neurotypical study.  Encouraged by the knowledge that all kids my son’s age are not chomping at the bit to learn about the zoo, I asked my own son what he learned. (Remember, my kid did not have a week’s worth of classes and learned about the trip the day before).  This was his response:

“Flamingos, zebras, giraffes and lions.”

I’m thinking that was a pretty good response, without a single prompt!  Regardless of whether he memorized the animals he saw, he knew what I was asking and remembered the animals he did see.  I call that a win.  Even if King Julian doesn’t look the same…

At least not while he's licking himself or others...


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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19 Responses to A Zoo Win.

  1. utkallie says:

    That is a win!

    As I was reading the first part I kept thinking to myself, this is totally my kids at the zoo. They get so excited about the idea but then when we get there, they are just kind of lackadaisical about the whole thing. Sarah Hazel will talk to me about what she saw, after we leave but Cameron won’t say a word. Days later he might say something out of nowhere like “elephant poop giraffe eat leaves”. Just a jumble of words but those words match a picture in his mind and for some reason, he recalled that image. Their little minds really are fascinating.

    • solodialogue says:

      It’s good to see that our kids are not really all that different sometimes from the NTs. I guess most kids at the young ages of 3-5 still value the familiar over the unusual. And Cameron’s words really convey quite a lot of information! I think that’s just wonderful!

  2. Mom2MissK says:

    We have a zoo membership and went a lot when Little Miss was younger (I really need to get back into the habbit of taking her). I don’t think she noticed much about the zoo either, but as things became familiar to her, I think she started to appreciate it more. For example, she looks forward to seeing the big old polar bear now. So, maybe a few more trips are in order once school is out?

    • solodialogue says:

      Oh, you guys have a larger zoo than we do here. Ours is fairly small one. I like the idea of seeing a polar bear! They are quite beautiful and unique. LM has great taste in animals! Hope you get to go soon and have a good outing!

  3. How interesting. I think T’s answer was the best one!

    When Ryley was much younger, we took her on her first trip to the zoo. The most fascinating thing to her? The trash cans that were covered in those tiny little pebbles embedded in concrete. While I’m walking around trying to point out animals, she’s on the lookout for more trashcans. “Mama, look! ANOTHER rocky trash can!”. I don’t think she missed a single one. And she’s 100% NT. Kids…

    • solodialogue says:

      Oh my gosh! This is such a comforting story about Ryley and it’s right along the lines of what the study shows. Young children just aren’t that interested in the animals if they have not had a lot of exposure. Thanks for sharing that Lana!

  4. Kelly Hafer says:

    Am I the only person on the planet (at least adult aged) that hates the zoo? How many species of deer can one person see? The giant rats – you can keep ’em. Wild monkey sex – gets a little uncomfortable explaining what the bad monkey is doing to the other monkey.

    Perhaps Tootles, Ted and AJ are blessed and wise beyone their years; they must have the same outlook! 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      No, you are not! My hubs hates the zoo but he went for Tootles. He takes after his daddy. I, personally like the zoo but that’s probably because I see myself in some of those animals… 😛

  5. Monica says:

    That’s the Zoo I take my little guy to. I think he likes the play area the best. 🙂

  6. Flannery says:

    We haven’t been to the zoo in a quite a while. We went when he was 2 and he had a monster meltdown, so we’ve been busy doing non-zoo activities. But it makes sense that it is so foreign to see all those wild animals up close, that they zero in on things that are familiar.

    At least you didn’t have to leave with him screaming, right? And he did answer you with a great answer, so it’s still kind of a win.

    • solodialogue says:

      Was he screaming when we left? … Hmm.. no that was when we GOT THERE! 😉 Oh well, it faded as we made our way through. And yeah, once I read that he was no different from most kids his age and he remember four (!!) animals the next day? Whoo-hoo! That was definitely a win!

  7. Lisa says:

    It sounds like Tootles had a very typical experience! My boys love play equipment at the zoo…I think the physical work helps them stay organized and focused…and provides a beak from animal (and sensory) overload!

  8. I like this post. Interesting to read about the responses to zoo experience. I’ve been down that slide! 🙂 Sam Do you belong to FEAT? They do a free day at the zoo and free day at the pumpkin farm.

  9. kcunning says:

    What did my son remember from his trip to the zoo at five?

    Explosive hippo poop.

    He’s eleven. It’s still the most awesome thing he’s seen at the zoo.

  10. eof737 says:

    Wonderful… I’m glad he remembered the visit and that his response was age typical. 🙂

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