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Off the beaten path: Exploring nature at the Zoo

Bringing your children to visit the Zoo exposes them to a world of amazing animals, but that’s not the only way the Zoo can enrich your family. The Zoo has many opportunities for outdoor and nature exploration that are off the beaten path, too.

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From water play to a pretend kitchen to finding animal statues among the natural landscape, there is so much to do at Nature Discovery Ridge.

Stacey Panteck, an Education Specialist with Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, cites the importance of nature exploration for children, particularly in an age of over scheduling and increased screen time. Panteck explains that spending time outside has a “total body benefit” for children, with positive impacts on cognitive, physical, and social/emotional development.

The Zoo has areas particularly geared for nature exploration, which offer activities to stimulate your child’s imagination, and also respite from the busier areas of the Zoo.

Nature Discovery Ridge, located near the Circle of Wildlife Carousel, was built in 2014 and is an amazing place to start your child’s nature exploration play at the Zoo. Nature Discovery Ridge highlights habitats native to Ohio. From water play to a pretend kitchen to finding animal statues among the natural landscape, there is so much to do at Nature Discovery Ridge. Panteck said that often children just want to stay there, rather than exploring the rest of the Zoo!

Waterfowl Lake is another great place to explore nature together. There is a quiet path that weaves around the lake and allows for taking in the sights and sounds of nature at a relaxed pace.

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Check out the education stations as you enter Australian Outback to learn how animals hear, jump and eat.

There is a play area located near the dingoes in the Australian Outback. This area boasts a small maze, a xylophone, a kangaroo jump pad, and the Yagga Tree to explore during summer months. There are lots of options covering various ages and interests here, and the benches in the shade are good for parents!

Your family can also create a photo scavenger hunt by searching for the Zoo’s various animal sculptures and getting pictures at each one! (Look for the orangutan bronze statue on the path to The RainForest to get started.)

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These nature play areas give you something new and different to explore during each Zoo visit. You can incorporatethem into a day of animal exploration or simply substitute them for a trip to the playground, particularly for Zoo members who receive free admission with their membership.

All of these ideas encourage free play, cooperation, problem solving, and imagination, as well as making you feel miles away from the busy city that is actually so close.

This Member Matters feature was written by Jennifer Rome, a Cleveland blogger and Zoo member. Follow her at WHY CLE? blog online and on social for more ideas.

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