Dear Zoo Toddler Activity
What makes Dear Zoo (by Rod Campbell) so popular and successful? Is it the simple plot, repetitive structure, the interactive nature of the flaps to open, the bold images using bright blocks of colour? Probably all of the above, as well as the opportunity to begin to draw ‘character’ from the most basic of details about the animals.
The following is a ‘Dear Zoo game’ we put together; each animal is wrapped up and as it is delivered in the book, we open the package and add them to the game. We first played this when Little was not much more than a baby and this activity can engage toddlers and pre-schoolers at different levels as they grow older with it. Here are three ideas for ways to ‘unpack’ this story:
With young toddlers, they might like to explore the different sounds the animals make. This offers great opportunities to talk about where they might live, what they might eat, etc. Encyclopaedias are useful for this; you can use them to look up ‘real’ pictures of animals in the jungle, desert, forest, etc. There are lots of resources on You Tube as well, as well as any BBC nature documentaries on BBC I player, which you can watch alongside looking at the books and learning about the animals.
With slightly older children, having a look at the initial letters of the animals; f for frog, s for snake, etc. can be fun. Introducing the alphabet and phonics like this with pre-schoolers in a gentle and undemanding way can help to familiarise them with letters and make connections between sounds and marks on paper. Using wooden or magnetic letters to match up the animal with their initial can help them to feel confident moving the letters around; learning which way up they go and practicing the sounds they make, too.
At any age, re-telling the story and adding or embellishing it can be a great way for young children to make sense of what is going on, as well as create their own alternative ending. The frog might end up eating the elephant on the moon. The snake might have a tree house on a farm. Who knows what may happen in a new story- all of this is fantastic for developing their imaginations! When they are telling their stories, you can try recording them on a device and play it back to listen to their own voice. Another storytelling idea is to let them ‘write’ their story down. Even if they are not yet able to form letters, letting them practice and talk to you as they make marks on paper will boost their confidence and their belief in their own ability to write.
Dear Zoo is a fantastic book, it is very simple, but there is so much you can take from it and use to encourage further learning activities. Have you used this book before with under 5s? What did you do?