There are a great deal of amazing online resources that have been created because of the lockdown/quarantine situation we’re currently living in. One of them is the ‘Home Safari’ from Cincinnati Zoo, and we’ve been using this as one of our learning resources this spring.
The amazing zoo keepers do a facebook live every day at 3pm EDT (which translates to 8pm BST for us here in the UK), and each day there is also a suggested activity (such as an art or craft activity, or a quiz or game) about the same animal as the video of the day. If you watch it live, you can ask questions to be answered there and then, but you can also catch up on all the videos and learning activities to date on their website, at http://cincinnatizoo.org/home-safari-resources/
The zoo has a very wide range of animals, including some quite unusual ones, and if your child has a particular favourite animal, there’s a good chance you’ll find it there!
We’ve really enjoyed watching all the fascinating animals. Sometimes we’ve ‘only’ watched the video (and often not all of it to be honest, as Penguin can have a short attention span), but for some of the animals, we’ve gone all in with added activities as well.
Some of the suggested activities on the website aren’t suitable for our boy’s abilities (for example he doesn’t really ’get’ pretend play, and generally struggles with quizzes due to severe communication difficulties), so in some cases I’ve made adjustments to the suggested activity or made up a completely different one. Thing like art and crafts are usually great options for us, and I thought I’d share a few of the things we’ve done and hopefully it can be of inspiration for you and your kids, too!
One of the first Home Safari broadcasts was about this very unusual looking yet adorable young porcupine, named Rico. The task assigned was to pay attention to the shapes and textures of his body, and then try to recreate him in whatever materials you might have at home. We love playdough, and I thought it might be suitable for this, so that’s what we used for our little porcupines.
We froze the video at a point where we had a good picture of Rico, and kept that in front of us to refer to as we worked with the playdough. We used two shades of brown playdough to roughly simulate the mottled colours of his quills, a large pink blob for his nose, and tiny balls of black playdough for his eyes. To add texture, we scratched the surface of our porcupines with a (not too sharp) knife.
The two sloths featured in the video were called Moe and Lightning, and the task suggested on the website was to collect some leaves and other natural materials, and then make an image of one of their sloths out of those materials.
I thought that it probably wouldn’t be clear enough to Penguin what the goal was, and that it might be quite difficult to make something that would actually look sloth-like out of leaves etc. So to start with, we went for using oil pastels and watercolours instead.
We worked in tandem, meaning Penguin and I both worked at a sloth picture each, next to each other. This usually works well for us as I can show him on my paper what we’re supposed to be doing, rather than just give him verbal instructions, or help him on his paper (which would mean me doing some of the work for him, and make it less of his own creation).
Again, we paused the video at a point where we could see one of the sloths well, in full. We then drew him, hanging from a branch, using our pastel crayons. Because of the crayons being oily and water repellent, we could then add a djungle-like background using watercolours, which we applied using a sponge.
Later that evening we went on to make the sloth pictures out of leaves, too. We collected some mostly brown and more or less decaying leaves that we found in our little garden (sometimes it’s a good thing to not have kept it too tidy, eh?).
We then used a couple of papers which we’d painted a few days earlier, as base for our leaf sloths (again, working in tandem), just adding a black ‘branch’ using paint. We looked at the sloth pictures we’d made earlier, and tried to create something similar using the leaves and glue. I think Penguin enjoyed squeezing the glue out more than anything else really, but it was a fun multisensory process, and the final results weren’t to bad either.
These giant Galapagos tortoises were really fascinating, and we had a very tactile little tortoise figure for Penguin to fidget with while we were watching it and hearing the keepers answering questions that had come in from children (and adults) watching it live. The suggested activity for extended learning was to make a giant tortoise shell for pretend play (out of a large box, for example). We didn’t go for that, but rather kept it very simple by drawing a portrait of one of the tortoises.
We used a kind of sand coloured paper as base, to make it look more ‘finished’ without needing to add a background. It worked out well, and often the simplest activities can be the best, right?
I know I said earlier that quizzes generally doesn’t work well for us, mainly due to Penguin’s communication difficulties (he doesn’t talk, sign or use any alternative communication method fluently). However, to accompany the very first Home Safari video from Cincinnati zoo, which was about their gorgeous hippos, we used some learning materials which we’d already created a while back, and one of them was a sort of simple quiz.
You can see it to the left in the picture below, and the little square pictures with text on are the optional answers to the four questions on that hippo quiz sheet. The idea is to keep it visual as well as simple. The four question lines are lose so that I can put them in different order each time. I read the questions out and Penguin chooses and answer from the picture squares, and puts it on the little Velcro pad next to the question. When all four questions are answered, we lift the flap on the right, to reveal the correct answers and see if he got them right.
So now you’ve seen some of the activities we’ve done in connection with the #zoohomesafari from Cincinnati Zoo. I hope you can take some inspiration from this for some fun learning at home with your children! I also know that there are several other animal parks that do facebook lives similar to the ones from Cincinnati. Perhaps you already have a favourite one that you’re following? If so, please let us know about it in the comments below! And maybe somewhere local to you is doing this? I know that a couple of the animal parks near us have been doing facebook lives too, such as Wingham Wildlife Park for example, and Port Lympne have 24 hr live cams in several of their big cats enclosures!
Plenty of great online learning about animals available, while we wait for being able to visit animal parks again. Don’t forget to explore the wildlife on your doorstep, too 😉
Thank you for reading! Take care & stay safe x
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