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Zoos around the country are packed during the summer months with families on a quest to satisfy their curiosity about animals.
Joseph A. Buckhalt, Ph.D., Professor of Counseling Psychology and School Psychology at Auburn University, says summer is a perfect opportunity for parents and children to learn together through family adventures. “Any kind of summer experience, grand or small, can be made fun and educational,” Buckhalt says. “We have found that activities where both parents and children learn new things are most rewarding and productive.”
Buckhalt suggests that parents find age-appropriate books for their children before taking a family field trip. Reading books about animals before a visit to a zoo can help to make the experience more meaningful for children. Whether you’re planning a cross-county trip to visit a zoo or a Saturday morning trek to your local zoo, the experience is bound to be exciting, educational, and filled with memories in the making. Just don’t forget to stop at the public library before you head out.
A few of the best zoos from around the country are highlighted below. The zoos range in size and price; each zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida
This zoo is home to more than 1,500 rare and exotic animals. In the process of becoming officially recognized as a botanical garden, the 89-acre Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens boasts more than 1,000 varieties of plants. The zoo is moderately priced at $12 for adults and $7.50 for children and has recently added a water park, a hands-on stingray exhibit, and a giraffe overlook. Interactive educational programs include after-dark programs, home-school programs, day camps, preschool programs, and behind-the-scenes programs. Families living in Northeast Florida can take advantage of the annual family membership package ($85 for a family of six), which also allows families discounted rates at many AZA accredited zoos around the United States and Canada.
Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, Illinois
This zoo is free to visitors, located just minutes from downtown Chicago, and is one of the nation’s oldest zoos. The Lincoln Park Zoo began in 1868 with a pair of swans and today has more than 1,100 mammals, reptiles, and birds. The zoo is located on 35 lakefront acres and attracts more than 3 million visitors a year. Aptly advertised as a place for children to “learn about the natural world in a living, breathing, and roaring classroom,” this zoo educates an estimated 1 million visitors each year through on-grounds activities and outreach programs. Former Women’s Board Coordinator and docent, Jodessa McSweeney, says, “The sea lion pool offers enormous entertainment for children and adults, and the beautiful botanical garden are lovely—delightful.” Just for fun, the Lincoln Park Zoo features an endangered species carousel ride, paddleboat rides around the South Lagoon, and an African safari simulated ride. Adult visitors should check out the Jammin’ at the Zoo concert series this summer. (The July concert features Fastball and Blind Melon; the August concert features Soul Asylum.)