Today was the final event of our year-long Zoo Club, an educational program for homeschoolers offered by the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, NC. Because the Zoo has a strong mission of educating the school children of North Carolina, and they want to give homeschoolers equal opportunities to the schools, the Zoo Club offers homeschool groups a package of four classes--two at the Zoo, and two in the local community--along with an "end of the year" Fun Day at the Zoo. At Fun Day, the Zoo has some games and activities distributed throughout the Zoo, and all the Zoo Club participants from all the Zoo Clubs in North Carolina are invited and come play, learn, and even win some prizes.
This activity is always, as advertised, FUN, as well as educational, but we were having kind of a hard time selling it this year. The Zoo is about an hour and a half drive from the Cary area, so that is a consideration, although it is a beautiful and easy drive, and we always encourage carpooling (which makes it more fun as well). It was scheduled a little later this year, so it ended up being just a couple of days before our Student Showcase, when many of our families are trying to tie up the loose ends of their homeschool year.
But mostly, I think, people were discouraged by the fact that it has been in the upper 90's all this week. Several people told me they didn't want to drive all that way and then sweat all day. The North Carolina Zoo is one of those with animals in natural habitats, and it is big! There are 500 acres in the park, which means that you do a lot of walking. It is usually pretty tiring after a day at such a large zoo, so people weren't too excited with the extra heat on top of the usual exhaustion (remembering that, as moms do, we were not only bringing our children, but 10-20 pounds of snacks, water, sun screen, allergy medicine, bug spray, yada yada yada...)
So we ended up with seven of our local homeschool families going. But those who came were really glad they did. As always with the Zoo's educational staff, they put together a high quality program. The focus of the initial games were prey and predators and the food web, which is always an important concept. Plus, because it is the week before the end of traditional public schools, there were very few school groups there. And it was during the day, so not a lot of regular folks were visiting. It really felt almost like we had the park to ourselves, even though there were probably hundreds of people there (a large, spread-out zoo like that can feel that way under the right conditions). Finally, even though the thermometer on our car said it was 96 degrees, it really didn't feel that bad. The entire park was built out of a forest in the foothills of the Uwharrie Mountains, and they left most of the trees in between all the different exhibits. So there was tons of shade everywhere we went. There are also mist sprayers around, and air-conditioned buildings to stop in here and there. It was hot, but we were never miserable. And given the lack of other people, and thus the ability to walk peacefully and see all the animals without any crowds or lines or anything, it was really one of the most pleasant trips I've ever had to the zoo.
They did announce that the Zoo will be offering Zoo Club again next year, and have hired a permanent staff person to run the program. If you are a homeschooler in North Carolina, I really recommend you take advantage of this excellent educational opportunity when enrollment rolls around again next fall.