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Category — Education

Five Ways the Zoo Can Help You Practice Mindfulness

Guest blogger: Education Intern, Kristina Meek

It seems that nearly every day another study informs us of the benefits of mindfulness–for children as well as adults. Educators use mindfulness techniques in classrooms. A wide range of authors, from the scientific to the self-help ends of the spectrum, have published books on how to be more mindful.

A meeting of the minds (Photo: Kathy Newton)

A meeting of the minds (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your thoughts. Mindfulness techniques can be as immediate as a deep breath or as long-term as a commitment to daily meditation. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to lower stress, ease pain, increase empathy, and improve concentration.

What does that have to do with visiting the Zoo? Animals are excellent tutors of mindfulness. They don’t constantly check their cell phones, worry about what others think of them, regret the past or fear the future. They live in the now. The Zoo offers myriad ways to practice mindfulness. Here are five:

  1. Watch the red pandas play. Or the river otters. Or the apes. Choose your favorite, but take several uninterrupted minutes to fully observe animals at play. They don’t worry about whether they look silly or how many calories they’re burning. They play with abandon. Science doesn’t understand completely why animals play, but it clearly benefits them. Whether you’re an adult or a child, you can learn about living in the moment from the animals.

    Visitors watch the river otters play. (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

    Visitors watch the river otters play. (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

  2. Engage your senses. A visit to the Zoo naturally coaxes you to use sight, smell, touch, hearing…and even taste, if you stop for a bite. Invite your children to describe what they see, hear, and smell. Encourage them to pet pygmy goats in the Spaulding Children’s Zoo. Sometimes it’s enough just to remember what the world looks like in three dimensions, rather than on a screen!
  3. Watch the manatees swim. Manatee Springs provides a comfy place to sit, close to the glass, with a view straight into the manatee tank. If you visit on a chilly day, mid-week, you’ll have the best chance at smaller crowds and a more relaxing experience. These hulking marine mammals twist and tumble gracefully through the water, inviting you to exhale and admire.

    Mesmerizing manatees (Photo: Kathy Newton)

    Mesmerizing manatees (Photo: Kathy Newton)

  4. Try not photographing everything. Of course, you’ll want a few photos to remember your visit. But, if you’re a member and stop by regularly, designate a “no photography” trip. Or limit yourself to taking photos of only certain activities. You’ll be more focused on what’s happening instead of capturing it for later. Plus, if your camera is your phone, leaving it holstered will minimize the temptation to check Facebook, e-mail, or other incoming distractions. Whether you’re with your kids, other family, or good friends, you’ll enjoy more quality time together.
  5. Visit the Garden of Peace. Sit a moment and relax in this lesser-trafficked corner of the Zoo, just off the path near Jungle Trails. Take in the multi-cultural messages of peace and bask, for a moment, in gratitude–one of the key elements of mindfulness.

So, wherever you are right now… take a deep breath, and start planning your next visit to the Zoo. And, when life gets too hectic to make the trip, we’re always a click away with photos and videos that offer you a mini break from everyday stress.

March 23, 2016   No Comments

Six Ways the Zoo Can Stimulate Your Kids’ Interest in Math

Guest blogger: Education Intern, Kristina Meek

numbersLike any subject, math has its fans and its detractors. If your child is one of the latter, you might struggle to find ways to make math interesting. Since kids get excited about animals in general, and the Zoo, in particular, a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo could help. Here are a few tips to get you started. With a little creative thinking, you can probably come up with a few ideas of your own!

  1. Start with counting. Visit an exhibit and ask your child, how many lemurs do you see? How many fennec foxes? How many baby animals and how many adults? Can you add the two numbers together?

    How many lemurs can you count?

    How many lemurs can you count?

  2. Make up sneaky word problems. Throughout the Zoo, and on our website, you’ll find fun facts about animals. When you encounter numbers, use them as a spark for a simple word problem. For example: An Asian elephant can consume around 100 pounds of food per day. How much food do the Cincinnati Zoo’s four elephants, together, consume in a day? A month? A year?
  3. Spot shapes. Animal bodies display a variety of shapes, which are the foundation for geometry. Some cats’ ears are triangles while others are circles. One animal may have a rectangular body, another an oval one. Ask your child to point out what shapes he or she notices.
  4. Check out the leaf-cutting ants. At the Zoo’s interactive leaf-cutting ant exhibit, inside World of the Insect, you can watch real ants haul leaves back to their nest — right over your head! Your child can stand at the colorful console to time the ants’ progress, count them, and make predictions about their behavior. They won’t even notice they’re using math.

    Leaf-cutting ant (Photo: David Jenike)

    Leaf-cutting ant (Photo: David Jenike)

  5. Manage money. When you visit the Zoo, you might stop for lunch at one of our restaurants or choose a souvenir from the Zoo Shop. If you’re using cash, and your child is the appropriate age, ask him or her to pay at the register. Regardless of your payment method, kids can help do calculations like how much you’ll save with an item that’s on sale or by using a coupon.
  6. Make connections. Visiting the Zoo might inspire your child to pursue a career in a field like botany, biology, or environmental science. Let him or her know that studying math can open possibilities along that path. Math is the “language” used in science, so it’s critical to study subjects like algebra, calculus, and statistics.

The benefits of bringing your children to the Zoo sure are adding up. Enjoy!

 

March 16, 2016   3 Comments

Six Ways the Zoo Can Stimulate Your Kids’ Interest in Reading

Guest blogger, Zoo Education Intern, Kristina Meek:

Let’s face it; some kids just don’t love to read. You know how important reading can be to school success and for life in general. Yet you may find yourself pleading just to get your child to read the simplest assignment, never mind perusing books for pleasure.booksIf your child loves the Zoo, it could provide a sneaky way to crack his or her resistance. Read on for six ideas to try.

  1. Prepare for your Zoo visit by browsing the Animals section of our website. Each animal has a short description and list of pertinent facts. Together, you and your child can browse and decide which exhibits to prioritize when you get to the Zoo. Even pre-K children can take part by identifying the first letter in each animal’s name.
  2. Encourage your child to read the signs at Zoo exhibits out loud. When a child is excited about an animal, nudge him or her to learn a few facts about it by reading the sign. The Zoo’s signs tend to be easy to read for upper elementary students, but also use words that are likely new to the child. Reading a short bit of text won’t feel like a chore and can enhance the child’s enjoyment of observing the animal. Some of the signs even rhyme!

    Balance like a Lemur sign

    Jungle Trails is a great exhibit to explore as a family. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

  3. Talk about word origin. Starting around seventh grade, kids learn to identify roots of words, which can help improve their overall vocabulary. For example, the word nocturnal (active at night) comes from the Latin root “noct” or “nox,” which also appears in the word equinox (the time when day and night are equal in length). Or, the scientific name for an Indian Rhinoceros is Rhinoceros unicornis. “Unicornis” comes from “one” and “horn,” because this species sports only one horn instead of the two that other rhinos have.
  4. Make an endangered species sign. In certain exhibits, such as Manatee Springs and Night Hunters, the Zoo offers interactive sign-making stations. Visitors can choose a species and assemble a message from suggested text and then send their creation to a friend. Kids express their creativity and support a cause while reading and learning.

    Visitors create their own sign in Night Hunters (Photo: Shasta Bray)

    Visitors create their own sign in Night Hunters (Photo: Shasta Bray)

  5. Ask your child to read to an animal. Studies have found that reading to dogs builds children’s confidence. Animals never judge, laugh, or correct pronunciation. If you have a dog, you can try this technique at home. But why not bring a book or e-reader to the Zoo and have your child read to an animal? The penguins in the Children’s Zoo tend to hang out and look at visitors as if they’re listening to what you’re saying. Try other calm, quiet animals like a camel or a manatee! Stuffed animals can also do the trick, so visit the Zoo Shop on your way out.

    Read to me, the fennec fox. I'm all ears!

    Read to me, the fennec fox. I’m all ears!

  6. Keep the spirit of your Zoo visit alive. What sparked your child’s interest most? Maybe it was a specific animal or plant, or perhaps it was an idea for a future career in animal care. Search for books, websites, or apps that relate to that interest. Ask your child regularly about what he’s been reading. You’ll help him comprehend and retain what he’s read.

What are you waiting for? Start cultivating those reading skills today and plan your next outing to the Cincinnati Zoo!

March 11, 2016   No Comments