Lincoln Park Zoo educates, inspires children through hands-on learning experiences

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the parenting column

Folks full of passion and fervor flock to the Lincoln Park Zoo, an enthralling place full of volunteers and educators. This place requires a love of animals as well as a love of linking people to animals, conservation and nature. The zoo has offered a free and edifying experience to visitors since 1868. This zoo has evolved from a home to escaping animals (18 sea lions ventured into a restaurant on Clark Street in 1889) to a zoo that is a global leader in animal conservation with one of the largest zoo-based conservation and science programs in the country.

"Lincoln Park Zoo is all about connecting people to nature through multi-sensory, interactive experiences," said Tiffany Ruddle, public relations specialist and major advocate for the success of the zoo. "The goal is to go beyond just the facts and inspire guests of all ages to be curious, committed and excited about what they see here and what else they can learn."

Lincoln Park Zoo has established some new flagship initiatives that are sure to get young ones involved and engaged throughout their trek through the zoo. Thematic, inquiry-based and learner-focused Mobile Learning Stations give kids a hands-on, active learning encounter while expert educators or volunteers teach them new facts about the animals in the zoo.

Every day and free of charge, kids can also take part in Meet an Animal sessions. Children can touch and see animals up close and learn meaningful details about their behavior, survival and care.

"The best part of my job as an educator is all of the discoveries that I get to make and that I get to help others make as they explore the animals, habitats and nature within the zoo," said Rachel Bergren, vice president of education and self-described animal lover. "Reminding people that we are a part of nature and that we are connected with it is what I love most."

The zoo has informational and visual intensive signage around the zoo that enables children to quickly learn about the animals that they are viewing. Kids can pull a lever at the black rhino exhibit, for example, to gauge how heavy the daily feces of a rhino weighs-something that sticks in most kids' memories for a long time.

"One of the first things we wanted to do with this graphic was to tell people who lives in this exhibit. We prototyped it and tested it and sure enough people walked up and knew right way what was at the exhibit," said Bergren.

"The graphics and interpretive elements are not just about natural history and animal facts. They are an opportunity for guests to relate to the animals; to touch, sense and hear the information instead of simply reading it; and most importantly to understand why the material matters," said Ruddle.

To enhance your educational know-how, the Lincoln Park Zoo has also created Zoo Tracks, a self-guided tour that highlights specific animals. Zoo Tracks encourages school-aged kids to ask questions and ascertain their own answers regarding various topics such as survival, conservation and animal care.

Children play a large role in animal conservation just by visiting the zoo. By learning about animal habitats, innate instincts and about how to protect and preserve other creatures, kids will develop character-building empathy and love toward animals and the natural world that they live in.

For more information, a calendar of zoo events and programs, or to plan your adventure, visit