Learning is Everywhere: The San Diego Zoo & A Panda Adventure

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One of the significant things about our family is that everyone loves to learn. Now, they don’t always love to do their math assignments, but they do love to learn new information and share ideas. Even us adults. This past month FishPapa has been reading some books on Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Celts. And he often would turn to me and say, “Did you know….?”

Yeah, we’re geeky like that. But, truly, we love to learn.

Learning is Everywhere

And the beauty of this world is that wherever you turn, there’s something more to learn. All of life is learning.

One great place to learn new things is at the zoo. Ever since our older children were little, trips to the zoo have been a regular thing, with visits to the Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens, the Charles Paddock Zoo, the Great Plains Zoo, Minnesota Zoo, Fresno Zoo, Kansas City and finally San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park. Lions, tigers, and tons of zoos, oh my!

The Zoo is where we practice all sorts of skills.

A little boy reading a map standing in the grass at the zoo.1. Map reading

This kiddo hasn’t had a ton of formal map or geography instruction, but he’s absorbed it from books, videos, and real life. We handed him the map and he guided us — quite successfully. I was pretty impressed.

Dad and kids on the moving sidewalk at the zoo.

2. Climbing and walking

Forget buying a gym membership or fancy exercise equipment. The San Diego Zoo gives you plenty of opportunity for exercise. Thankfully, they provide long walking sidewalks up several of the large hills in Balboa Park. But, otherwise, we got our physical education for the week!

A view of animals through tall grass at the zoo.

3. Animal identification

Often there are several different kinds of animals in an enclosure, some often looking very much alike. We test each other to see who can identify animals based on the descriptions provided by the zoo. Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to do, but other times there are fine details to examine. The San Diego Zoo has three zebras which you can tell apart based on their stripes. People stand there for quite some time comparing zebras to the poster near their enclosure, trying to distinguish one from another.

A boy reading a lit sign at the zoo.

4. Reading and absorbing

We have three readers amongst the FishKids with numbers 4 and 5 on their way. I love it that they take their time to read the information posted by each animal to learn more about the critter we’re visiting. Did you know that a caterpillar was worth about 10-15 calories?

A panda bear sitting in the grass, with a birthday cake.

5. Good ol’ fashioned listening and observing

This week the Pandas at the San Diego Zoo had a Birthday Party! Three of the five Giant Pandas all celebrated birthdays this week and we got to attend ZhenZhen’s party. She turned 3 and enjoyed a fancy birthday cake, too. Girl after my own heart!

(Her cake is made of ice and colored with natural dyes.)

We learned an amazing amount of information about pandas, thanks to the Zoo ambassadors and keepers.

  • A female is only fertile 3 days out of the year, contributing to an endangered population — as well as birthdays all in the same week.
  • All pandas are considered national treasures of the People’s Republic of China. The five at the San Diego Zoo are on loan as part of a breeding and research program. At the age of three, a panda can be recalled to China to join the larger breeding program.
  • There are about 1600 pandas in the world.
  • They are really cute!
  • The festivities continue through the weekend, so if you’re in San Diego, you might want to pop in and say, “Happy Birthday!”

A Great Day

It was a great day at the zoo, despite one fairly fussy toddler who, of course, didn’t sleep until we walked outside the park gates. All the kids, right up to the teenager, said it was a great day. As a parent, I don’t think you can ask for anything better.

What’s YOUR favorite thing about the zoo?

— Disclosure: Our family visited the San Diego Zoo for free in order to attend ZhenZhen’s birthday event and to learn more about the Panda Birthday Week. I was not compensated to publish positive comments. For more information, see my disclosure policy.

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  1. My husband and I visited the San Diego zoo years ago before we had kids and were living in Arizona. The zoo was fabulous. I remember two things the most about the trip – the moving sidewalk going up a very large hill was broken that day (sigh) and we saw a baby gazelle-type animal that had just, just been born. The baby was still all gooey. Amazing zoo.


  2. We love going to the zoo, and I can’t wait until the weather cools down enough for us to visit it again. (Our temperatures right now hover around 100.) Our best visit was a chilly, overcast, misty day; there weren’t many people there because the weather was icky, and the animals were out and about because it was so cool. Nice!

  3. my husband & i went to the san diego zoo on our honeymoon last year. i LOVE pandas, and have since i was a little girl. we spent the day there and hardly covered half the zoo. i want to go back! we saw the pandas 3 times! 🙂 so much fun.

  4. We have memberships to the Minnesota Zoo (my mom’s annual birthday presents to our family), so we go frequently. They have a ton of great animals to see, and frequent fun events — like this past month’s farm festival, where my four-year-old was fascinated with the blacksmithing demonstration, as well as the butterfly exhibit, where she wanted to match up the butterflies we saw with the names on the cardboard identity sheet they handed out. (Yes, butterflies are a seasonal exhibit.) They also have some great play areas, including a playground with a rope “spider web,” and a splash pad play area not too far from the bear enclosure — great for summertime visits. We can (and do) easily make a day of a visit to the zoo.

  5. We went to the zoo yesterday! Our local zoo is very small but still lots of fun for a 2-year-old. They have a great toddler program once a month where the zoo educator teaches them about an animal, plays games, does a craft, and lets them touch some of the animals. Yesterday, we went “on safari” searching for the animals from a book she read using their toilet paper roll binoculars. At the end of the safari they got to pet a snake. So much fun!

  6. we don’t have any spectacular zoos in the CT area that I am aware of, mostly just small ones, but your post made me realize we should make a trip to the zoo in Rhode Island as my youngest hasn’t had that experience yet! I think the zoo has something for everyone – whether the penguins or the seals or the monkeys! We also really enjoy the aquarium in Mystic, CT – a “zoo” of an underwater variety!

  7. I was in the san deigo zoo about 20 years ago..(oh my goodness has it been that long????) great zoo, but alot of walking!
    Last week we did the philly zoo, and I agree about the elephants!
    We always scope out the zoos when we travel. I have been to bronx zoo, philly zoo, san deigo zoo, jacksonville fla zoo, one in tenn.
    this weekend we are going to hit up the baltimore aquarinum…

  8. i love elephants. they are my favorite animal. i am so mad because i live in philadelphia and they just got rid of the elephants. horrible! i love zoos. my mom and i traveled to ireland and one of the things we did was visit the zoo there. i hear san diego has a really good zoo. one day i will make it cross country and that will definitely be one of my destinations.

  9. It’s been 20 years since I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo. And I’ve been to alot of zoos!!! San Diego is still my favorite. I don’t know if they still have it, but the Aviary was my favorite place. It was like walking through a forest with all those wonderful birds right in your face!