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Talk with the Animals. The possibilities for zoo based interactive family experiences have increased annually so the opportunities to share learning-through-play experiences have never been better. Optimizing your mini zoo adventure takes just a bit of planning. Giraffe Encounter at Oklahoma City Zoo

Is the extra effort worth it? I think so. The one-of-a kind experiences are just that and can be the highlight of a day trip and often the best part of a family vacation.
Here is the scoop. At one time the only physical encounters with animals were contained to the domesticated animal exhibit area often referred to as a petting zoo. Not so any longer. Now it is possible to camp amid a herd of caribou in Quebec, ride a camel in Arizona, talk with a giraffe in Oklahoma, pet a rhino in Tampa, and meet a penguin Kansas, feed manta rays or lorikeets in Dallas. The options depend on the zoo and the age of your children but each of these experience offers exceptional opportunities for shared learning. Many zoo websites provide helpful information in advance and often suggest games and books to reinforce the unique interactive experiences.Lowry Park Zoo Goat Feeding Time
In my discussions with zookeepers during the last year I have heard three common pieces of advice. If you have plans to make one of these interactive experiences part of your day at the zoo (or aquarium), keep these things in mind. Elephant Feeding Time National Zoo Washington DC

First, even before leaving home avoid using strong smelling cologne, hair spray, hair gel, lotion or after shave because animals are sensitive to aromas even when humans are not. Once at the zoo if hand washing is required make certain your children do a thorough job.  
Second, every zoo has its own rules and standards so make certain your children are aware of the rules as soon as you learn of them and assist in following them, of course. Things like speak softly, stand still, keep your hand open. Doing is learning for most children so make the experience the best it can be.
Third, be patient requiring everyone in your group to be respectful of the zookeeper in charge; wild animal experiences differ greatly from domesticated animal encounters.
Content and images by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files. Copyright 2017.