Thanks to the relatively mild summer we’ve had so far, we’ve had the opportunity to visit the Kansas City Zoo several times. My son, Charlie, is almost two and we’ve finally reached the age where he “gets it” — as soon as he sees his first animal, he runs from exhibit to exhibit signing and saying “more? MORE?”
Taking a toddler anywhere in public is something akin to roller skating while juggling cats, but the zoo presents a few special challenges. Here’s what I’ve found useful!
- Become a Friend of the Zoo. It is absolutely worth it, especially with a toddler. We can go for a few hours at a time (our kid usually maxes out at 3 hours or so) and not worry about wasting money by not staying the whole day. It’s a great gift to put on your child’s wish list, too — I’m a HUGE fan of “experience” gifts, and this has been one of the best we’ve received. It helps keep the toy clutter at bay, and can be shared with the gift-giver, as well. (My mom purchased ours for Christmas, and last time she visited, we all went to the zoo together!) There are also some great perks, such as this awesome catered breakfast we enjoyed last Saturday.
- Bring a stroller or baby carrier. Even if your kid is borderline too old for containment devices, or usually rejects them, there’s a lot of walking involved at the zoo. I really like babywearing (…toddlerwearing?) when the weather is a little cooler because it gets the kid up higher for a better view of the animals; but, in the summer heat, the stroller is the way to go. If nothing else, it’s a good place to stash the snacks.
- Ride the train. I have not met a toddler yet who was not absurdly fascinated with trains. It is, far and away, my kid’s favorite activity at the zoo. As a warning, there is a dark tunnel right after the train departs the main station near the front of the zoo that some kids find scary; if you board the train in Australia instead and take it to the front of the zoo, you will miss the scary tunnel but still get the train experience that kids love.
- Plan your strategy … The zoo is divided into a front area (Australia/Tiger Trail/Kid Zone) and a back area (Africa). The Australia and Africa areas are basically giant loops — so once you’re in, there is no quick way to cut out if there’s a toddler meltdown or potty emergency. I recommend hitting those first, when your toddler is more likely to be engaged and pleasant.
- …but not too much. Toddlers are irrational little creatures and if you have a minute-to-minute plan, you’re setting yourself up for a disaster. Just … go with it. If your kid wants to go “woof? WOOF?” at the red panda for half an hour … let it go.
- Diaper bag checklist: Aside from the basics, there are a few things that are always handy to have at the zoo that you might not think of.
- Sunscreen/hat: there are plenty of shady or indoor activities at the zoo, but you will also spend a lot of time outside.
- Snacks/water: I love a good zoo hot dog, but food prices are steep and my kid is just as happy with a PB&J from home.
- Quarters: There are several stations around the zoo offering food dispensers for the animals which is a fun activity for small kids who are right at goat-level.
- Hand sanitizer: Because, well, being at goat-level can get messy. The zoo has hand sanitizer stations, but they are occasionally empty.
- Band-aids: The zoo paths are paved in most places, but there are some rough spots and hills where unsteady, excited and running toddlers can trip and fall.
- Allergy medication: If you’re like me and my kid and are allergic to everything that grows naturally outdoors, the zoo may be one big trigger – between the animals, flowers, plants, and more. Best to be prepared!
What are your favorite tips for taking young kids to the zoo? Let us know by leaving a comment below or connecting with us on our Facebook page!