How to survive a trip to the zoo with small kids

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Just so you know, by "survive" Rachel Tompkins doesn't mean "how not to get eaten by a lion", more "how to get through with your sanity in tact".  

Tis the season of family daytrips, and there's no better (or pricier...) way to entertain children great and small than a visit to the zoo. On paper it sounds like a good idea, but will the lions live up to expectation and the picnic get fed to the pandas? Here are a few tips... 

Manage expectations

Yours, that is. Don’t be disappointed if your child has a quick look at each animal and then is more interested in their picnic/the gift shop. For younger children it can be quite overwhelming. So while they probably won’t spend hours watching an animal intently, you’ll be surprised how much they’ll take in. They’re guaranteed to be talking about it for days afterwards too (or making "roooooooar" noises if they haven't got to the whole talking thing just yet). 

Take wheels

Depending on the zoo and whether you drive, taking a buggy or car is essential for making life easier. On a recent trip to Whipsnade Zoo we paid a premium to drive into the zoo (rather than use the free carpark opposite) but it was well worth it. The zoo covered acres of land so although there was a shuttle bus inside, having the car was a godsend. It meant that we could drive from one area to another with all the kids’ stuff inside. It also gave us somewhere warm to have our picnic and for the baby to sleep in between stops. Some zoos don’t allow cars inside except to park, in which case a buggy is still a lifesaver for carrying around the picnic/coats/tired children.

Beware of awkward anatomy

If your child’s old enough to talk, then you need to be prepared for awkward anatomy questions. While coming face to face with an elephant’s penis might put many a parent off their sausage roll, for a child it’s sure to prompt a barrage of (inevitably loud and inappropriate) questions. Not to mention be the highlight of their day...

Snap it up

Keep older toddlers and children interested by letting them take photos of the animals and finding out something about each one. Taking their toy camera (or a disposable one) will make them feel grown-up, and stop them getting bored. Later, sticking the developed pics into a scrap book will have the added bonus of keeping them quiet for a good ten minutes (if you’re lucky). Alternatively, buying a guide and letting children tick off the animals as they spot them is good fun too.

Pack a picnic

Panic not, you don’t need to spend hours crafting sandwiches worthy of a high tea at the Ritz. Think quick and easy. Pack pouches for the baby, and things like mini breadsticks, individual cheeses, oatcakes, mini pots of hummus, pittas, boxes of raisins and pre-cut fruit for older ones. The last thing you want to do is waste time and money queuing up in a café or restaurant, and it means the kids have got stuff to keep them going on the move. Because we all know that a hangry child is like a bear with a sore head. 

Sling it

A trip to the zoo might be fun for toddlers and older chidren, but babies will often get bored being stuck in a buggy all day, no matter how many animals you shove them in front of. So take a sling too. That way, if they’re bored of the buggy you can carry them instead. Facing outwards means they’ll be able to see everything and it’ll give you a bit of a workout too. 

@RachTompkins @mushmums