Creeping Toad in Brookfield Zoo, Chicago, USA, 9th-16th March 2001

The Hamill Family Play Zoo


The Hamill Family Play Zoo and Gardens

Brookfield Zoo has long been a pioneer in zoo exhibit design, in conservation breeding programmes and raising public awareness of environmental issues. Now a new section will continue that tradition, offering a whole new approach to children’s experience of zoos.

“This is not your father’s Children’s Zoo. This is a whole new concept in zoo experiences for children. Children need to touch, explore, build, do. The Play Zoo will offer opportunities to pet animals, build habitats, paint zoo murals and banners, examine animal x-rays, plant gardens and discover insects. The idea is not primarily to educate or inform but to foster love and caring. Brookfield Zoo wants kids to feel connected with nature. Letting them be in it and care for animals and nature is the best way to do that. And it’s fun!”

Chicago storytellersThe Play Zoo is due to open in the summer of 2001 and Creeping Toad was invited to join the Zoo’s team of Play Partners and lead them in a range of environmental arts workshops.

The Toad workshops were planned to offer Play Partners opportunities to encounter and experiment with creative activities and the principles behind these to find ways of applying such ways of working to their own situations. Workshops were designed to immerse participants in a rainbow of activities, offering activities to use in a variety of situations. There were quick things to do all in a moment, gentle ‘making’ sessions, messier and longer times with scissors and glue to make masks and processional images. There was instant drama and story-making, poems designed to enchant and movement activities to prepare ‘lemur-training’ for visitors. We looked at activities to liven people up, to warm their creativity, activities to offer confidence and inspire imaginations, activities to make and laugh in, to parade and be noisy with. As important were the quiet times; the techniques for gentle, personal reflection and those that encourage people to think about, talk over and make artifacts that capture their own responses, their personal responses to the animals they encounter and the feelings that the Play Zoo raises in their hearts.

giraffe maskmaking masks
telling tall tales
identification poems
groaning in chorus
hissing (thank you, Phoebe)
singing vowels
clapping symphonies
twig people
quick puppets
wet tissue leaves
animals by numbers
habitats tableaux
clockwork toys
wild books
just listening

Explore! programming objectives
Overall goal: to foster a love of animals and nature such that it translates into a greater likelihood of caring actions towards the natural world

The means to achieve this end will include:

  • empathy towards animals and the natural world
  • creativity; creative expressions about/for animals
  • contact: respectful, tender and/or stimulating direct contact with animals and the natural world
  • discovery: exploration and discovery of animals and the natural world
  • care: caring directly for, learning how to care for, or pretending to care for animals and the natural world

Visit Brookfield Zoo on-line at
dance activity

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Environmental storytelling, art and celebration – Education, Training & Workshops