I think that it’s safe to say that I’m a connoisseur of zoos. I’ve visited a bunch of them, like the Buffalo Zoo, the Kansas City Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, and I’ve even written about visits to some, like Adirondack Animal Land (a guest poster wrote it up, too) and the National Zoo in Washington, DC. I find that there’s a tension between the old-school cage zoo, where the animals seem depressed, and the huge enclosures that make it difficult to actually see the animals, and I was going to talk about this, but then I realized that I already explained it in that Adirondack Animal Land post. Anyway, the Seneca Park Zoo manages to offer really modern, humane-feeling facilities with the close-encounters aspect that makes a zoo so terrific for visitors. I thought it was an awesome zoo for families, and walking around, I was trying to determine exactly what made it seem so awesome, especially for families with young kids. So I took some pictures and made a list. Ready?
Usually, kids are looking at the animals, and some foolhardy adult attempts to make the zoo visit educational by reading off the little sign that says something like “Genus: blah-blah, Species: blah-biddy-blah, Found primarily in the plains of Africa, this 4-legged mammal known for its stripes is boring the crap out of your kids already and you need to stop reading and look up because your kid just ran away grabbed some random woman’s thigh because she wears the same jeans as you!” Now, they have some of those signs here, but they also have kid-friendly signs like this:
Big photos, less text, a tactile experience with lift-the-flaps, all so that your child might accidentally learn something while having fun at the zoo.
It can get old just standing around a fence. It stinks to be short when there are a bunch of grown-ups who can see better than you, and you’re not supposed to climb. But Seneca Park Zoo offers chances to get up close and offer opportunities for imagination, like this:
The tunnel to reach this enclosure is small enough that it pretty much discourages adults from going in unless they’re being dragged by a child or they are helicoptering their first child. The result is a front-row look at animals that also has the feel of that beloved classic, the No Grown-Ups Allowed fort. Also, this:
People checking out the lions can get a view from a safari bus and climb around and pretend that they’re on a real safari in Africa as an added bonus.
Seneca Park Zoo has this program in which teenagers are taught about conservation education and then they’re planted around the zoo, usually at tables with some sort of hands-on item to teach younger kids. They’re friendly and welcoming, like here:
And they’re frequently mobbed by kids, like here:
The program is brilliant, because of course little kids love to learn from big kids. Watching the mini-intergenerational interactions was so swe.
More Than Animals
There was plenty of fun beyond just looking at the animals. Sure, there’s a basic playground to break things up a bit, but there are other fun touches as well. The river otter habitat shifts into a natural-looking little stream where kids can wade and splash on warm days:
There’s also a lovely little sensory garden (with another great sign!):
All of these offer excellent opportunities for kids to explore whatever they’re most excited in an environment that’s both lovely and low-stress. Because often the problem with a zoo is that kids are expected to walk and look, walk and look, walk and look. I can easily imagine that a bit of stream-wading time would be a great way to re-energize a fading toddler enough to finish the visit and get back to the car.
These zoo folks know that parents love pictures, and it seemed that everywhere I turned, there was another opportunity to take an adorable photo. Like here:
An excellent chance to make memories, and some kids are more patient for pictures if they’re cool like these.
The Seneca Park Zoo, open year-round, is a great destination. It’s small enough that you can visit it all in a single morning or afternoon, and its overall size, along with these details, make it a perfect fit for young kids. Admission runs $8 to $10/per adult, $5-7/per child, and kids 2 and under are free. Details here.
My colleague June wrote a review of the newest section of the park, A Step Into Africa, over on KidsOutAndAbout.com with all sorts of insider info. and some tips on visiting.