Blog post

Dear Zoo Toddler Activity

February 2, 2018Jenny

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.

Elephant Dear Zoo
Too big!

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.

Dear Zoo looking in the basket

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?

Dear Zoo toddler activity. Three ideas for toddler and preschool children with the book Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

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Comments (31)

  • The Mum Reviews

    February 3, 2018 at 6:52 pm

    This is a great idea! My kids (3 and 5) still love this book and I like the idea of getting our toy animals involved in the fun. The kids will love unwrapping little packages too. #thesatsesh

    1. Jenny

      February 6, 2018 at 8:21 pm

      Great- I hope they enjoy it!

  • Helen

    February 5, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    These are great idea. My kids love this book but we’ve never done anything like this before – thanks for sharing #familyfun

    1. Jenny

      February 6, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      Great- it is so easy to do but they really enjoyed it, I hope your kids do, too.

  • fridgesays

    February 5, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    #thesatsesh I had this book as a child and my son now owns it. Its a lovely narrative and explores in simplicity so many varied aspects. I love the idea of receiving parcels and unwrapping the packages. Your imagination is a true blessing to your little people, its truly a rich talent. xx loved reading this.

    1. Jenny

      February 6, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      Hey, thank you so much for your lovely comment!

  • Catherine @ Story Snug

    February 6, 2018 at 9:29 am

    I love Dear Zoo and have used it lots of times in the classroom. There is a Dear Zoo website which gives lots of great ideas ands activity sheets to download.


    1. Jenny

      February 6, 2018 at 8:23 pm

      Ooh, great, I will definitely check out that website- thank you for the tip!

  • Yet Another Blogging Mummy

    February 6, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    Love your ideas. This was a book that my boys enjoyed when they were younger #readwithme

    1. Jenny

      February 6, 2018 at 8:25 pm

      Thank you, it is a great book!

  • chantelle hazelden

    February 6, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    What a lovely thought provoking activity and a great way to make the book more interactive. Thanks for sharing with #readwithme

    1. Jenny

      February 6, 2018 at 8:25 pm

      Thank you, and thank you for the great linky- I love reading everyone’s book posts!

  • Joanna

    February 6, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    What a fab idea we love dear zoo I’ll definitely have to do this with Blake. Thank you for linking up with this week’s #TacticalTuesdays

    1. Jenny

      February 10, 2018 at 11:25 am

      Thank you for reading, Joanna! I hope Blake really enjoys playing Dear Zoo!

  • Sarah – Mud, Cakes and Wine

    February 7, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    They are some super ideas and love how they go from toddler to older #tacticaltyesday

  • Helena

    February 8, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    What a wonderful waysin which to work with this book. #thesatsesh

  • Karen | TwoTinyHands

    February 8, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    We love dear zoo have had it since he was 6 months old and it’s very battered but he still loves it even at 2 and a half. I’d not thought to do activities with it. As he’s discovered the love of parcels it might be fun to do this with him! ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

    1. Jenny

      February 10, 2018 at 11:23 am

      Ah, great! Yes, it is a true classic- a worn kids book is a very special thing- it shows how loved it is!

  • 7 Ways to celebrate World Book Day- Without Dressing Up – Rabbit Ideas

    February 10, 2018 at 8:36 am

    […] If you are interested in how to bring books alive with young children, check out similar blog posts here, here and here, or follow on social media for regular updates of activities and […]

  • Siena Says

    February 10, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    Running super late with commenting for #thesatsesh but wow I love this idea. My daughter is nearly 5 but she still loves this one. What a brilliant way of extending the story and getting the most out of it. D’oh why didn’t I think of that! xx

    1. Jenny

      February 10, 2018 at 7:53 pm

      Great, Siena, yes, even slightly older children can still get a lot out of it.

  • Alana – Burnished Chaos

    February 10, 2018 at 7:55 pm

    What a great idea! My two both loved this book but I never thought of using it to do anything like this. Thank you for joining #FamilyFunLinky x

  • Acorn Books

    February 11, 2018 at 11:24 pm

    I love this post! What fab ideas, so simple but engaging and effective. I’m definitely going to try some of these out #readwithme

    1. Jenny

      February 12, 2018 at 8:05 pm

      Great, thank you for reading!

  • Rosie @ Little Fish

    March 15, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    We love this story – some lovely ideas for bringing it to life! x

  • Sarah

    March 31, 2018 at 12:56 am

    This is awesome! My little ones would love this activity, especially opening the packages! We do love Dear Zoo! Thank you for linking up! #MakeItLinky

    1. Jenny

      April 1, 2018 at 7:26 pm


  • Malin

    March 31, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Brilliant post and fantastic activity, thank you! x #MakeItLinky

    1. Jenny

      April 1, 2018 at 7:25 pm

      Thank you! So glad it is useful.

  • Kate

    April 15, 2018 at 7:39 pm

    What a fab idea! I’m sure lots of ages would love this activity!

    1. Jenny

      April 18, 2018 at 7:55 pm

      Oh thank you, yes, older ones could help with wrapping the parcels!

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