St. Lou…is Learning at the Saint Louis Zoo
By Robyn Frankel
From leaping lizards to laughing hyenas, the world-renowned Saint Louis Zoo is home to nearly 17,000 animals that include 588 different species in its expansive 90-acre park. And, no matter what you want to know about any animal’s natural habitat, nutritional needs, behavioral characteristics or individual personality and preferences, the Zoo’s Education Department will not only help you discover the answers, they’ll inspire you to want to learn more.
Since its founding in 1910, the Saint Louis Zoo’s mission has been “to conserve animals and their habitats through animal management, research, recreation, and educational programs that encourage the support and enrich the experience of the public.”
“The Saint Louis Zoo was one of the first zoos in the nation to include in its mission a stated commitment to educational programs. That commitment has only grown and expanded over the years,” said Louise Bradshaw, who has worked in the fields of conservation and conservation education for more than 30 years and currently serves as the Fred Saigh Director of Education for the Saint Louis Zoo. She has worked at the Zoo since 1984.
Today the Zoo’s educational programs and services reach nearly 2 million people annually, and encompass programs for preschoolers, individuals, families, overnight programs, scouts and youth groups, school groups, outreach programs, programs for children and adults with special needs, videoconferencing programs, lectures and programs for teachers. One of the newest programs is the Zoo Pre School, where 3-5 year old children go to school at the Zoo.
There are also homework helpers, a library and teacher resource center, docents and zoo ALIVE teen volunteers. The Zoo also hosts FrogWatch USA™, a long-term volunteer citizen science monitoring program to help local frogs and toads.
“Learning about animals can be a multidisciplinary experience and depending on the situation we can incorporate music, art, math, science, play, exploration, and language arts into programs for people of all ages,” said Bradshaw. “Our focus always is to encourage a greater understanding and appreciation of world conservation by learning more about the animals that share our earth and natural resources.”
Bradshaw says the Education Department is always looking for ways to reach out and engage more people, including new inclusion initiatives for people who are blind, deaf, have chronic mobility issues, Alzheimer’s or are on the autism spectrum. Zoo educators experienced in working with children with special needs offer Sensory Saturdays on the second Saturday of every month in the Monsanto Education Gallery early childhood area. Last winter, the Zoo offered a Sensory Friendly U.S. Bank Wild Lights night with accommodations for individuals on the autism spectrum and others who would benefit from a sensory-friendly experience. The education department includes a professional staff of 100, as well as more than 200 docents (volunteer teachers), in addition to more than 70 teen volunteers.