Can We Go to the Zoo Today, Mummy? "Can we go to the zoo today mummy", my children would often ask. "The zoo, hmmm... Let me think... Traipsing around a massive zoo for you two to only look at each animal for a maximum of 30 seconds? Paying over the odds on the entrance fee and you just spending hours in the play area or nag me for the most expensive item in the gift shop? So maybe not", I would reply. Or, at least, this used to be my generic response to this common request. Living so close to a zoo, my children had gotten a little complacent and didn't really appreciate what they could gain educationally from visiting the zoo. They just wanted to go for the fun parts of the play area, watching the penguins go wild under the water and of course the obligatory gift shop visit. That's not to say that fun isn't essential, of course. Before this particular visit, I had decided we would do a little research on some of the animals we could see. Focussing on how important it was not just to see them at the zoo but learn a little more about them too. So, my son loves birds and dinosaurs, and my daughter enjoys the penguins. Completely different agendas! We couldn't decide on a particular species to learn about, so we picked a continent, Africa! As a 37-year-old English woman, with a fair amount of travel to my name, I've always considered myself quite worldly. But definitely not wise enough to educate two very eager, squidgy little faces about Africa's wildlife. In any event, my children were also very excited about the decision to focus on Africa. They know their very own "animal policeman", as my son would put it, who works for Veterans for Wildlife. Glen, a friend whom I met on my travels, is ex-military and runs some projects on the ground for the charity. I have kept in touch with him and have admired the work he and Veterans for Wildlife have been doing. Glen's role sees him travel all over Africa, and my children are astounded by how different the landscape looks. And they still can't wrap their little heads around how he doesn't get eaten by a lion every day! Some of the questions they have thrown at him have been pretty hilarious. From "why do you live in Africa" to "are the painted dogs just like velociraptors because they hunt in packs?" The first animal they came across at the zoo was the elephant. We then decided to learn one fact about each African animal at the zoo. Which, naturally, led to the conversation about endangered species. I battled to explain the overwhelming challenge that our next generation is facing and all the precious creatures they are destined to lose if we don't educate and empower them to understand that they can make a difference. The thing is, however difficult the conversation is to have with a 4 and 6-year old, it actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. My children sat in silence when I explained that it was the horns the "bad guys" were after, but they accepted it and immediately said that they wanted to help. They made a poster, which was very simple, as they didn't have many creative supplies (I'm not a glitter/gluey mum). They found a picture of an Elephant from a colouring-in book and wrote: "leave our animals alone, when I grow up I want to see them"! Simple and straight to the point, but as a parent, I was beaming with pride. This then led to the question as to where would we put the poster. Of course, my daughter's answer was a tree in Africa, so the bad guys can see it! So the poster is now on a plane to Africa. The beautiful gesture in which my daughter offered this simple idea simply could not be ignored. Now, as adults, we know that this is a cute gesture and bless my friend Glen he can take a picture of the poster in Africa and let her heart be filled with pride that she made a difference. But, it also poses the question to us as adults: "so what should we do?" What should be done to support these ever-growing minds into proud mini-adults who are aware of the world around them? We protect our children from feeling emotional around these topics, but we also protect ourselves. How can we use positive strategies to encourage children to feel they can somehow make a difference? And how can we open our own eyes to the many ways in which we can help too? How can we make children see that they are the future? And how important conservation is, without terrifying them with the thoughts of bad guys with guns? I want my children to learn as much as they can about the world we live in and respect that we are honoured to share this earth with all of the world's creatures. This past month, after the zoo trip and their lovely poster sent to Africa, the children have taught me a lesson. To seek more knowledge about the earth's environment and real issues that affect the world in which they are growing up. Remember what it was like to be a little person and to learn something new? And tell an adult? Remember how proud you were if you had remembered that small thing and that adult showed interest and were grateful for your little piece of knowledge? Well, that's what my friend Glen has given my children. Now, I know that we don't all have someone to call up or to message a picture from Africa. But even if your child learns something from me by you reading this is, then that is great. But it would be even better if it came from the mouth of the person who they love and admire the most. You! What a gift to give your child or any other child. Your niece, nephew, cousin, stepchild, friend's child or even your inner child! Just the simple gift of giving them the chance to see if they can make a poster or a picture to take to school to share, or even just to tell another adult they learnt about something new today. So our day at the zoo turned out great. Great for them, great for the animals and great for me. I'm just praying that poster ends up where it should be or I'll feel the wrath of an angry 6-year-old girl, which knowing her mother is something I'm concerned about!