Kids love animals. That’s a fact! And many children dream of becoming a zookeeper, just like my bestie. This zoo dramatic play set will introduce preschoolers to the exciting world of zookeepers. From building and designing habitats to feeding the zoo animals, this center is full of learning opportunities. Check out how we set this zoo dramatic play center up!
Zoo Lesson plans
Zoo Dramatic Play
Setting Up the Center
The excitement always builds when I am setting up a new dramatic play center. After the animals came out and the animal habitat printouts went up in the back of the cube shelf, the kids were begging to build the habitats.
On a separate table, I set out all of the materials to build the habitats.
On top of the shelf, I hung the Zoo sign and set out the zookeeper daily checklist. I set up two trays: one with all of the food with the animals and one with the enrichment activities. All of the fun fact sheets were placed in plastic sleeves and hooked together with a binder ring.
Okay, now we are ready to play!
Invitation to Create
Now, it’s time to create. For some of your creative little ones, this may be their favorite part. My eldest daughter just got an award for being the most inventive in her class, and so designing and building the habitats was her favorite part.
Using the habitats on each of the pictures as guides, the kiddos built all of the habitats using the materials laid out on the table. We talked about some of the different characteristics of each of the habitats to help as they went along.
Zoo Animal Habitats
Zoo Dramatic Play
I am a total list person. If I don’t write it down, it simply flies straight out of my mind. The only way I can properly adult is to make a million lists, which is also why I love Post-It notes so much. Convenient little sticky paper.
So naturally, I love including lists in all of my dramatic play centers. Plus, a lot of the tasks on the zookeeper’s daily list aren’t really things that toddlers would know to do, so this visual list gives them plenty of ideas for sustained dramatic play.
Besides the obvious of giving the zoo animals food and water, the zookeepers also need to provide enrichment for the animals. At certain times of the day, they get to give their keeper talk and tell guests some fun facts about the animals. They also have to train the animals, clean the enclosures, and lock up. My kids love keys, so this just had to be part of the list!
Feeding the Zoo animals
Zookeeper Daily Tasks
Feeding animals (even pretend ones) is always a hit with my kiddos. We are going to the zoo next week, and it was requested to go to the one where we can feed the giraffes. It is an hour and a half drive for us, but it is totally worth it to see those long, black tongues and get the experience of feeding zoo animals.
For the animals in our zoo dramatic play center, I set out a tray with all of the food for the animals.
The best part: each food label has a little picture of the animals that enjoy munching on each of the types of foods!
Zoo Animal Enrichment
Zoo Activities for Kids
Ever wonder why you see cardboard boxes or a basketball inside of an enclosure at the zoo? Since the animals are not out in the wild, they need enrichment opportunities to encourage animals to explore and interact with their environment.
Zookeepers will put different scents (pepper, perfume, etc.) for the animals to sniff out and to encourage them to mark their territory. We just used our salt and pepper shakers as scents and shook them in different areas of the enclosures.
Unfortunately, in captivity, animals can get lazy. Zookeepers will provide enrichment opportunities that encourage movement like barrels, boxes, and balls. We used the barrel from the Barrel of Monkeys game, ping pong balls, and a small cardboard box for these.
Last, zookeepers will provide enrichment through food. Some food will be placed in puzzle feeders, up high, scattered throughout the enclosure, or hidden. This keeps the animals’ cognitive skills going!
The kids can even use the target stick to try to get the animals to move to different locations or move different body parts!
Animal Fun Facts
I didn’t know gorillas make a new nest every night. How about did you know that tigers are actually bigger than lions? It must be the mane that makes lions look bigger. What about the fact that giraffes don’t need to drink water for weeks?
If you love fun facts like I do, then these fact sheets are perfect for you. I introduced different facts for each animal every day of our zoo week. That way, when the kids were playing in the zoo dramatic play center, they would understand more of what each picture on the fact sheet meant.
Also, each animal exhibit has a sign that says, “Come see the ___ today at…” I added bobby pins on brads to make the movable hour hand, so the little ones could work on number identification. Even though learning time to the hour is definitely not a preschool skill, we still worked on identifying numbers.
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I hope this zoo dramatic play can inspire some future zoologists in your classroom! If you notice interests in your little ones, write it down (again, I love lists) to encourage more exploration in that area. Your encouragement may mean more than you think to your students. Have fun with this, and make learning ridiculously awesome! Did you know if you buy the whole zoo activities bundle, you save 20%? Click below to check it out, and let me know if there’s anything you need to make these activities work for your preschoolers!