The Brookfield Zoo of my childhood was green and gray, its wide lawns dotted with concrete animal houses and grottos, nothing like today’s colorful zoo. Decorated with bright animal signs and fun sculptures, the zoo is filled with colorful places for kids to play, including fountains, streams, playground equipment and a brand new carousel.
The just-opened carousel, near the North Gate, features 72 wooden animals to entertain kids while still keeping with the zoo’s broader goals of conservation and education. The hope is that after choosing an animal to ride, a child will want to find that same animal at the zoo.
In the weeks prior to the carousel’s opening, my sons circled the construction site looking at the pictures of the animals to come, planning future rides, debating which animal is "coolest."
As families wait in the line (which actually circles around the carousel), they can spin stars that are mounted to the railings. Each star contains a short poem about an animal, along with information about where to find that animal at the zoo. Even my 5-year-old "animal expert" learned something new.
Tickets for the carousel are $2.50 per ride with a $1 discount if you are a zoo member. (Even if you are just standing next to a little rider for safety, you must buy a ticket.)
There are also two new playgrounds. One is on the east side of the zoo, outside Safari Grill, and the other is an update of the old playground on the west end near The Living Coast exhibit. Also outside The Living Coast is a water play area where kids can run through intermittent jet sprays (a towel or change of clothes is recommended).
The drawback to these new play areas is their ability to distract kids from the zoo’s main attraction—the animals. The playgrounds were crowded and noisy, disrupting the rhythm of our recent visit, so I used them as a before-lunch treat. The need to eat put a time limit on play and we got back in our groove during lunch.
Curious visitors can also explore sculptures that decorate the grounds, inside and out. Most of these are meant to be touched and even climbed on.
So, what’s with all these new activities? According to Sondra Katzen, zoo spokesperson, it is all about having fun. Kids learn best through play, so adding ways for kids to learn and explore through play is just another part of the zoo’s mission.
Open every day of the year, Brookfield Zoo is located off First Avenue between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways. For more information, go to www.BrookfieldZoo.org or call (708) 485-0263.