Kids Feeding Animals Through Petting Zoos

Parents with twin daughters share a common bond: the excitement and fun that kids bring to feeding their pets at the kids’ feeding zoo. The zoo offers “Zoo Vacation” for families with kids; a month-long getaway dedicated to educating parents and children about caring for animals in their natural habitat. During this special vacation, kids will meet face-to-face with many of the animals they’ll come in contact with at the zoo. They’ll also get an opportunity to play with and feed some of their favorite animals.

“Zoo Kids” is part of a nationwide initiative by the Petrie-Flanner Zoo, a private, not-for-profit organization in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Other zoos throughout the U.S. and Canada have similar programs, which highlight the important role that pets play in our communities. Both boys and girls (and occasionally even both) are welcome to participate in the “Zoo Kids” program. Participants gain new friends and learn about the care that goes into keeping animals thriving in zoos like the Twin Cities Zoo, and how kids can be mentors to future zoologists, conservationists, and pet experts. In essence, the zoo’s “Zoo Kids” program is designed to inspire kids to become caring, compassionate pet owners.

When Twin Cities parents decided to take their kids to the zoo one summer, they knew that the experience would be memorable, educational, and enriching. They were excited to see and interact with all of the animals that they would be able to touch and hug. Even before they entered the petting zoo, though, they were already thinking about what to do once their children got here. Some took pictures and created scrapbooks of their adventures. Others just talked to other parents about the experience. Still others wrote about their children’s experiences at the Twin Cities petting zoo and shared them online.

“We didn’t know anything about animals when we got our kids here, but once we did, it was really an amazing experience for us,” says JoAnne, one of the Twin Cities mothers. “I think one of the best parts was getting to help feed animals. It makes you feel good that you are making a difference.” Another mother, Pam, recalls her own first experiences with animals and felt similarly delighted as she watched her two children to feed one of the exotic cats.

The program works, in part, because kids are naturally drawn to animals. For some kids, the zoo is where mom and dad took them when they were babies. Others grew up in a home where dogs and cats were the most prominent members of the family. And still others had long experiences with farm animals growing up in Iowa. All of these kids have a natural desire to interact with animals, and the zoo’s petting zoo program helps them realize that part of this desire is to also save the animals that they come in contact with on a daily basis.

This may seem like simple, self-evident information, but getting kids excited about the subject of animals can sometimes be difficult. After all, a lot of kids aren’t used to seeing other people touch other animals, let alone have contact with them. JoAnne and Pam, for instance, had always taken joy in petting their dog, Boots. But when they saw the way the kids at their facility handled and cuddled their cat, Boots’ interest in pets seemed to fade. At first, they probably just thought the kids were being kind and loving, but when it became clear that the kids cared about the animals and wanted to see them as often as they could, they realized that petting zoo tours for kids with pets were something that they would benefit from knowing more about.

The program works because kids will naturally want to spend more time with the animals they come in contact with, whether it’s a dog or cat, a horse or duck. The more time kids spend around animals, the more they learn about them. At a young age, kids are able to pick up on things that others might not notice, such as how an animal makes a sound or how it moves its body. If they notice that an animal is frightened or anxious, they might pick up on the feeling that the animal is trying to protect itself. If the kids want to help an animal by petting it or grooming it, then it will make the experience more memorable, which helps them develop emotional connections with the creatures that will last a lifetime. And it’s something that they’ll be able to pass along to their children.

One of the biggest benefits of the petting zoo tour for kids is that the kids learn a lot about themselves. They become more comfortable around animals and are able to identify how much they love them before they’re even introduced to them. They also gain valuable knowledge about proper eating and digestion while learning more about the lives of living creatures. Kids are also given the chance to interact with other children and form lasting friendships while enjoying a day of petting zoo fun.