Lincoln Park Zoo Offers Unique Youth Programs for Toddlers to Teens

Young kids through older teens explore the natural world, build confidence and learn leadership through Lincoln Park Zoo’s year-round youth programming.

Summer is always a great time for youth programs at Lincoln Park Zoo, but did you know that the zoo offers year-round opportunities, including camps and research opportunities? Even better, the zoo offers fun and educational activities for younger kids all the way up to high school students.

“Our goal in programming is to grow as a child grows and have something available at every stage of their lives,” says Allison Price, the Director of Learning Experiences at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Learning fun for all ages

Popular Lincoln Park Zoo in-person programs such as LEAP (Learn, Explore, and Play) offer hands-on adventures for ages toddlers and up to explore animals and nature. Young participants are provided with a variety of activities that provide all-important mental stimulation and a sense of excitement about the natural world.

What’s the next step for older kids who want to continue with zoo activities? The Lincoln Park Zoo has you covered because kids never really age out of fun, immersive experiences.

For middle schoolers with an interest in the environment, R.O.A.R. (Research, Observation, Action and Restoration) Corps engages kids with real-world conservation issues. Students choose from different learning tracks, such as “Saving Songbirds” and “Lion Leaders.”

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Photo credit: Lincoln Park Zoo

“R.O.A.R. offers a deep dive into exploring conservation work and team-building projects. Kids learn not just about animals and nature, but also that they have agency and can impact the natural environment in a positive way,” says Price.

Registration for the spring session is open now and begins in April. Check out the Lincoln Park Zoo website for more details.

Summer Zoo Crew is another great opportunity for middle school kids to explore the interplay between animals, humans and the ecosystem during a two-week summer camp experience. Registration opens in early March.

Unique opportunities for high school students

Older teens have several unique-to-the-zoo in-person options available to them.

“Sometimes an interest in animals and nature is just the backdrop,” Price says. “Our programs help high school students explore who they are, what their interests are, and even what careers they might want to pursue in the future. Plus, when teens see themselves succeed in a non-academic setting, this can be foundational to their future success.”

For example, the Malott Family Zoo Intern Program engages Chicago high school students aged 15-18 in learning about the zoo while educating zoo visitors about animal and conservation science.

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Photo credit: Veronika Hernandez / Lincoln Park Zoo

As part of the Malott Family Research Apprenticeship Program, Chicago high schoolers work alongside Lincoln Park Zoo researchers to perform actual scientific research. The Conservation Ambassadors Board allows motivated high school students to pursue their interests by collaborating on conservation projects.

Camp Teen Volunteers is another popular program for high school students who are motivated to work with preK-5 campers at the Summer Conservation Camp. Volunteers are eligible for service hours. Many of these programs currently accept registrations and applications, so check the zoo’s website for more details.

“We know that teens can have packed schedules and may not always be able to attend in-person activities, so we want to accommodate them, too,” says Price. To that end, Zoo Club is a free, virtual high school program that began during the pandemic and continues today.

A sense of community at ‘Chicago’s zoo’

Whether your child is a youngster attending Zoo Camp, or you and your family decide to do an overnight stay with Campout at the Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo offers all ages a sense of community.

“Many of our families and participants have gotten to be friends through our programs. Parents and kids might meet at a toddler LEAP program and forge long-lasting friendships.”

However, Price sees connections being made no matter what the participation level.

“Whether you participate in a day camp program, or even a one-day event like the Campout or Campfire Night, we want you to feel like you are part of our community,” says Price. “Many families make our one-day events an annual tradition.”

Additionally, Price believes that while Lincoln Park Zoo provides stellar youth programs, it’s about more than learning.

“We know that being in nature, being with animals and being in a community is good for the soul,” she says. “You have the opportunity to do all three of those things here. Our programs help kids and families find restorative moments and a sense of wonder. Lincoln Park Zoo is a magical place.”

For more information about Lincoln Park Zoo youth programs, including dates and registration requirements, visit lpzoo.org.

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.

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