1) “Pe-e-e-yew, it stinks!” Before you go to the zoo, remind your kids that animals have different smells than humans, and while most of us find those smells unpleasant, it’s part of the experience.
2) “I can’t see anything!” Explain to your little ones before you begin visiting the exhibits that you may not always see the inhabitants. Children will be less confused and disappointed when certain animals are feeling shy or antisocial.
3) “Daddy, what’s that monkey doing?” If the primates are up to something that may seem, uh, curious, you can totally avoid answering this question by reminding your kids that it’s not polite to stare. Gorillas, especially, don’t like being stared at. Or you can be more direct and say that animals don’t behave the same way in public that humans are expected to. Either way, get your kid gloves ready for this one.
4) “Look Mom, that snake might be dead. Maybe if I bang on his cage …” This one goes for all ages. Despite signage at most zoos, kids (and certain adults) need to be reminded not to ever tap or bang on any of the animals’ cages.
5) “Carry me, I’m tired!” Strollers and wagons are available for rent at many zoos. Take advantage of them, even if your kids think they’re too old. My six-year-old daughter happily hopped into a stroller after we’d been hoofing it around for a mile or so. The whining ceased, and all were happy.
6) “Feed me, I’m hungry!” Most zoos have snack stands where you’ll often wind up paying elephant-size prices for peanuts. Consider bringing your own treats or sack lunches (plus, you won’t have to wait in line).
7) “When are we going to see the lions?” I recommend taking kids to see their favorite animals first. Children are more likely to appreciate the other fauna if they’re not feeling impatient. And if you save the best for last, everyone may be too tired to enjoy it.
8) “Can I buy a souvenir?” If you can’t stand the idea of another tacky plastic animal or key chain cluttering your house, consider letting your kids make their own souvenir with a disposable camera. You can nurture the little nature photographer in them, and they can make their own memories while pretending to be on safari.
9) “I’m hot!” If you must visit the zoo in the middle of a brutal Texas summer, plan on spending a lot of time at the indoor exhibits. If you do brave the heat, be sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water, including some that your kids can shower themselves with.
10) “Why do zoos keep animals in cages?” Talk to your kids about the endangered species and animals’ natural habitats. It’s never to early to teach them about preservation.