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It's All Happening at the Zoo: Children's Environmental Learning after School

By Jason A. Douglas, Cindi Katz

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Pairing dynamic out-of-school-time (OST) programs with zoos can encourage young people's relationships with and sense of responsibility for animals and the environment. The project presented in this article, Animal Rescuers, gave the authors the opportunity to examine how such a pairing can work. OST programs enable learning in settings that are generally unavailable during school time (Honig & McDonald, 2005). They provide space for collaboration among students, teachers, and others such as program visitors or outside educators. Taking advantage of the flexibility, location, and educational playfulness of an OST setting, the authors worked intensively with a small number of 10-12-year-old children to discover how they thought and felt about animals and to develop creative ways for them to share their knowledge and experiences with others. The children participated in zoo visits, environmental education activities, and an online space for expressing their feelings and working through their emerging ideas. Examining these activities and their effect on the children gives a better understanding of the educational role of zoos and of the kinds of OST activities that can influence children's understanding of animals, extend their knowledge of conservation issues, and foster an ethic of care for the natural environment. While the primary focus of the project was to understand children's environmental learning through a series of OST activities, the authors also looked at how zoos encourage their visitors to understand and care for animals at all scales, from the individual through the global. Despite extensive research on human-wildlife interactions, there is very little work that explores the connection of these interactions with questions of environmental and animal justice--and even less concerning their role in children's development (see Hart & Chawla, 1981; Kellert, 2002; Watts, 2000; Wolch, 2002, for some notable exceptions). Their project addressed these questions with particular attention to the ways OST programs might foster children's engagement with and attention to the natural environment.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2009
Publication Title Afterschool Matters
Volume 8
Pages 36-45
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Children
  3. Education
  4. open access
  5. Zoo and captive wild animals
  6. Zoos
  1. open access