Interactive lion lesson keeps kids and their caregivers busy at zoo

Feb. 26, 2013

Kids can often make animal sounds before they can speak most words. They light up when they see dogs and cats on the street and the animal world provides many of their favorite TV and movie characters.

Children ages 2 to 14 and their caregivers (grandparents, parents, nannies and more) flock to the classes offered by the Zoological Society at the Milwaukee County Zoo. The society has a mission of educating people about the importance of wildlife and the environment and uses zoo tours, hands-on learning and informational discussions to accomplish that goal.

Learning about lions

I accompanied my friend Alex and her 3-year-old son Miles to a zoo class about lions on a Sunday afternoon.

The teacher, Ms. Keri, knew just how to talk to the little ones, keeping them entertained while imparting some lasting knowledge. During "circle time" on the rug, Keri introduced vocabulary including "mane," "mammal," "camouflage" and "pounce." However, the lesson didn't stop with words - she let the preschoolers touch real claws and whiskers. She even dressed up in a homemade lion costume and demonstrated how lions pounce on zebras to get their dinner.

The children then had the opportunity to make their own lion masks, paws and tails. If they weren't feeling up to that task, there were plenty of other options.

Hands-on stations

Seven or eight hands-on learning stations were set up throughout the classroom. Participants could circulate as they pleased, a big plus for 3-year-old attention spans. Miles and Alex learned that the lionesses do the hunting and that cubs hide in the grass to protect themselves. A corner of the room was filled with fake grass so the kids could hide plush lion cubs and find them.

After a snack of animal crackers, participants walked over the Big Cat Building, where they got a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen where zookeepers prepared the lions' dinners of five to eight pounds of mixed meat. The kids also saw enrichment toys that draw on the lions' sense of smell to get them to hunt for their hidden treats.

Lion Themba and lioness Sanura were alert and active when the group entered the building. They snuggled, came up to the glass to greet the little ones and got the kids buzzing when nature called.

Lions Roar is just one of many spring classes now offered at the zoo. From the bunnies and birds classes for 2-year-olds to the zoo art club for kids ages 8 through 10 and family classes on animal photography, there are plenty of options. Registration is now being accepted for summer zoo camps. To enroll, go to or call (414) 258-5058. Zoological Society members receive priority registration and fee discounts.


Stefanie Scott is a former Wauwatosa NOW reporter who enjoys staying involved in the city. If you have an event or activity you'd like her to try out, send an email to


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