Thursday, May 10, 2012

An Example of Making Connections on a Trip to the Zoo: Not Only a Learning Strategy but An Essential Life Skill

One of my favorite learning strategies is "making connections," and baby bookworm and I do this any chance we get.


Simply put, making connections between new knowledge and something already learned helps to organize the information in our brain and make it more meaningful.

According to Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, "making connections is at the heart of learning -- figuring out what's the same and what's different, and sorting these things into categories. Making unusual connections is at the core of creativity. In a world where people can google for information, it is the people who can see connections who are able to go beyond knowing information to using this information well."

Sounds like an essential life skill to me.

This past week we used our making connections learning strategy while on a trip to the Living Treasures Wild Animal Park in Donegal, PA. It is a fun animal park where you can not only feed all of the animals, but get a pretty up close and personal look at them. I was surprised at some of the animals we found, too - a tiger, plenty of monkeys, kangaroos, a zebra, and the largest bear that I have ever seen in person. Baby bookworm enjoyed it very much, although she was hesitant to feed the animals from her hands (as was I). We walked through the park several times, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves - which was awesome.

In addition to the coolness of getting a great view of all of these animals, we had a little learning adventure too.

Here's how I made the most our our trip to this unique zoo nestled in the mountains of Western, PA.


  • I grabbed baby bookworm's interest and primed her knowledge of the topic by reading a few zoo-themed books such as:
(Click on the images for more information from Amazon)

If you have a child with a short attention span, A Children's Zoo is probably your best bet!
  • Following reading, I asked baby bookworm questions about our upcoming trip like, "What animals do you think we'll see?" or "Which animal was your favorite that we read about?" or "What is the smallest animal you think we'll see?"


  • I made connections back to the books that we read. For example, we saw two zookeepers cleaning out the Bison exhibit, so it was a great opportunity to connect back to the book A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper. (Remember to make your connects as explicit as possible)
  • We took the time to read a little about each animal, although I kept the focus to: where the animals live in the world, and what they eat. 
  • To keep the learning going I would also ask baby bookworm questions like, what sound does this animal make? How many legs does this animal have? What color is this animal? 
  • I tied the animals we saw to any other experiences baby bookworm may have encountered with that animal.  
  • We had a discussion about what we did and saw. 
  • I asked baby bookworm a bunch of questions such as:
    • which animals had stripes? or spots?
    • which animals were big? short? 
    • which animals were fast? slow?
    • which animal had horns? a shell? sharp teeth?
  • We flipped through our books again, but this time we reflected on our trip to the animal park. For example, we looked at the Mammals book and identified the mammals we saw, and those we didn't and maybe why we couldn't see them at this zoo!
So that's it.  With just a little extra work - we made the trip to the wild animal park not only more fun but a better learning experience. Try making connections on your next field trip!

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