Learning About Wildlife: Zoos and Aquariums

Here in Canada we have some quality zoos and aquariums that allow us the opportunity to learn about animals that we otherwise would probably never get to experience or see in our lives. Most zoos are intended to educate people about the creatures in their care. If you have an animal lover in your home, the opportunities that the programs offer would be an invaluable experience. Even if you don’t live close to one of these major centres, you can still learn through some of their online activities.

learningatthezooI haven’t contacted each centre to see if they offer a “homeschooling” educational experience specifically, and many of the places have a note that they are completely booked for this current school year – but even if they don’t offer a program for homeschoolers, there are typically a lot of great programs anyway.

Be sure to check out the special events calendars and daily programs that each place offers for an opportunity experience unique things like lion feedings, elephant baths, etc.


Greater Vancouver Zoo

Originally opened in 1970 as a Game Farm, quickly filling up with animals of all kinds. Today, the Greater Vancouver Zoo is an accredited member of the CAZA (Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums), committed to caring for rescued animals and education. Animals include the ever popular lions, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, monkeys, cheetahs, and lots more.  There are lion feedings every day but Wednesdays from April to September at 1pm.

Most of the teacher resources available on the website are designed for the primary grade levels (K-3) and include pre and post- trip activity books, printable worksheets, and lesson plans.

According to the website, registered homeschool organizations are considered applicable for the group learning opportunities, with a minimum of 10 people, and must be booked at least 2 weeks in advance.

There are 4 main education programs, allowing for all different grade levels: You & the Zoo, Amazing Animal Adaptations, Endangered Species, and The Web of Life. They also have a night in the wild sleepover program.

For more information about the zoo, admission, teacher resources and group events, please visit their website: www.gvzoo.com

Vancouver Aquarium

The largest aquarium in Canada (and one of the top 5 in North America!), the Vancouver Aquarium, was opened in 1956 and today has grown to become a top-notch centre for aquatic research, rescue, and education. Over 100,000 square feet, this is a huge facility.

One of the things I really love about their website is that they offer an opportunity for anyone outside the area to learn through online lessons and activities. There are live cams, online exhibits such as Canada’s arctic and Salmon Tales, as well as games.

There are printable lesson plans in the education section that allow for a variety of age groups/grade levels when they come to visit, such as photo journalling, classification, observation skills and even how animals interact with ecosystems. And, they even have special homeschool group education programs for groups between the size of 1 to 20 that can be combined with other homeschooling families. I love that they know that small homeschool groups want to learn too! Programs are separate from a membership.

For more information on the aquarium, their programs and membership, please visit their website: www.vanaqua.com

Calgary Zoo

This zoo has been around for a long time – as early as the 20s’ and survived through some pretty intense floods and weather.

Featuring animals from all over the world, including penguins, elephants, giraffes, and … dinosaurs?! (I’m not sure if these are real ones or not….!) Some fun events the zoo holds are their winter penguin walk, Sunday morning brunch, and a wildlife photography event.

Education-wise, they have a few homeschool days with programs for both preschoolers (ages 3-5) and school ages students. Some of these include learning about Canadian animals, how animals survive, biomimicry, and hands-on animals. The costs for these programs is $10/each in addition to admission charges.

The zoo also offers opportunities for families to get behind the scenes in a special tour or even spend the night having a sleepover as well as plenty of experiences throughout the day.

For more information on programs, the zoo and the fees, please visit their website: www.calgaryzoo.ab.ca

Toronto Zoo

With over 710 Acres of land, the largest zoo in Canada – the Toronto Zoo is a huge opportunity for learning. Anyone who is planning to take a visit should stop by the website and see what kinds of things they can find before heading out.

Their website doesn’t refer directly to homeschool programs, but they do have many elementary workshops through out the year which don’t *look* to be school group focused. (Although, if you are interested, I recommend contacting them directly for more details to be sure.)

The zoo also offers a unique way for high-school students to earn their Grade 11 biology credit right at the zoo in the summer! (Again, contact them to find out more information, as this seems to be a program designed for students within the school system).

One great feature is the teacher resources sections, with lesson plans and outlines for visits based on the Ontario curriculum. Here you can find worksheets and plans for everything from biology careers, to assignments for high school students, to self-guided tours, to curriculum resources booklets.

For more information about the zoo, their education programs, and to look at their printables, visit their website: www.torontozoo.com

Ripley’s Aquarium

Located in Toronto, Ontario, this accredited aquarium brings you right into the underwater world with their tunnel paths through the tanks. It is extremely popular and field trip spaces tend to fill up very quickly so plan to book well ahead of your trip.

Educational resources include field trips with either self-guided tours, tank talks, or workshops. You can download more information about the options available. There are also teacher resources to go along with your field trip – AquaQuests and worksheets for example.

Outside the official education label, you can take advantage of many different programs – sleepovers, dives and talks, photography classes, an ocean explorer club, and even toddler classes.  They have special events too, such as music, or theme nights. Make sure to check out their calendar.

Visit their website for full details: www.ripleyaquariums.com/canada/

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