Saturday, July 13, 2013

Jane's Zoo (and my pending Parent of the Year Award)

Attempting to thwart the impact of entropy and the accelerating effects 4-year-old can have on any given space, I moved all the toys out of Jane's room, leaving only books and stuffed animals. But Jane's room only began to look like the Wild Animal Park every afternoon, not a federally declared disaster area. 

I thought if I could make cleaning up her stuffed animals "fun", a la Mary Poppins, I'd win the battle and the war. After checking online images for creative ways to contain animals, we made a "zoo" by using an old cabinet and some long dowels I had on hand. 

Armed with my garden pruning shears, I measured and cut the dowels, then stuffed them vertically between the shelves to make bars. The effect was instantaneous. Jane (with a little help) picked up all her animals, separating the smaller from the larger. The smaller animals, needing more bars on the cage, went on top, and the larger animals went on the bottom (where I had cut a couple dowels too short, and only had one left). 

Jane and her zoo.

Jane was so excited, she had me make a two-sided sign: "The Zoo is open at 9am", with "The Zoo is closed at 7pm" on the flip side. 

Jane's Zoo is open at 9am.

Jane's Zoo is closed at 7pm.

Once the zoo was complete, she insisted we make Zoo Passes for visitors. I gave her a copy of Zoo Nooz (from the San Diego Zoo membership), and she chose images to put on the zoo passes. Then it was just a matter of putting them together on card paper and encasing them in plastic using wide packing tape.

Jane gets ideas for animal pictures on her homemade Zoo Passes.

I cut pictures for Jane's Zoo Passes.

Putting the passes together.

Passes for Jane's Zoo.

Pass for Jane's Zoo.

Once the Zoo Passes were completed, she dragged her little table into her room and found a calculator, so that she could scan the zoo passes and tell people how many visits they have made.

Before she sat down at her table to be the zoo keeper, she told me that we had to also have a box for money. 

"What do you mean, for money?" I asked.
"For the people," Jane told me.
Thinking she meant, for people to put money in a box to enter the zoo, I reminded her that when people have zoo passes, they have already paid.
"Nooo!" she said, irritated that I didn't understand her. "You know..." and she cupped her hands like she was about to receive something, hunched her shoulders and tilted her head, raised her eyebrows in expectation, and let out a little "Eh?"
My eyes flew wide with recognition, as she was imitating the hunched-over posture of one of the Red Cross or Salvation Army volunteers who regularly sits outside the zoo exit. We always give the woman a dollar to put in the box, and when Jane asks why, I tell her it's for people who need help.

I finally understood that Jane assumed that the woman volunteer with the money box and the red cross was just another part of the zoo! So Jane wanted a box to collect money as part of her zoo. I explained a bit about how the Red Cross and Salvation Army donations work, and we eventually made a Red Cross donation box, but that's a whole 'nother blog entry. Whole 'nother.

When you enter the zoo, Jane greets you as the Zoo Keeper, takes out her calculator and "scans" your zoo pass. She then encourages you to meet the animals, assuring you they are very tame. She usually brings out the parrot to sit on your arm, gently brings an animal out of its cage and hand it to you to hold, being very careful to hold the animal's feet, so that it feels safe.

It's been almost a week, and Jane is still very excited about her Zoo. She is careful to make sure all the animals are in their cages at night, that they are fed, and tended to before the end of the day when the zoo closes. (Winning!!)

If you are in the San Diego area, you are hereby cordially invited to come visit Jane's zoo, open from 9am - 7pm weekdays, by appointment.


  1. Take it from the zookeeper's dad: Don't miss the miniature elephant - the only one in captivity (that we know of).