AboutZoos, Since 2008


Zoo camp more than just fun, it’s a pow­er­ful real-​world learn­ing expe­ri­ence for kids

pub­lished 26 Jan­u­ary 2019 | mod­i­fied 26 Jan­u­ary 2019

A zoo sum­mer camp for chil­dren boosted the key com­po­nent of learn­ing, the orga­ni­za­tion of knowl­edge, in just days

Children at penguin pool Paris ZooChil­dren hav­ing a close encounter expe­ri­ence with pen­guins in Paris Zoo, bois de Vin­cennes.
Pho­tog­ra­phy & copy­right MoosMood

Real-​world learn­ing expe­ri­ences, like sum­mer camps, can sig­nif­i­cantly improve children’s knowl­edge in a mat­ter of just days, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that 4– to 9-​year-​old kids knew more about how ani­mals are clas­si­fied after a four-​day camp at a zoo.

It wasn’t that chil­dren who attended just knew more facts about ani­mals, the researchers noted. The camp actu­ally improved how they orga­nized what they knew — a key com­po­nent of learning.

This sug­gests orga­ni­za­tion of knowl­edge doesn’t require years to hap­pen. It can occur with a short, nat­u­ral­is­tic learn­ing experience.

Layla Unger, lead author, Depart­ment of Psy­chol­ogy, Ohio State Uni­ver­sity, Colum­bus, USA.

It high­lights the enrich­ing poten­tial of real-​world pro­grams like sum­mer camps. They aren’t just recre­ation,” Unger added.

Unger con­ducted the study with Anna Fisher, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­sity. The study is pub­lished online on 20 Novem­ber 2018 in the Jour­nal of Exper­i­men­tal Child Psy­chol­ogy.

This study is one of the first to show how quickly knowl­edge orga­ni­za­tion changes can occur in children.

We didn’t know if it would take months or years for chil­dren to accom­plish this. Now we have evi­dence that it can hap­pen in days,” Unger said.

The study involved 28 chil­dren who took part in a four-​day sum­mer zoo camp in Pitts­burgh. They were com­pared to 32 chil­dren who par­tic­i­pated in a dif­fer­ent sum­mer camp in a nearby neigh­bour­hood of Pitts­burgh, which was not at the zoo and didn’t involve animals.

At the begin­ning and end of each camp, all chil­dren com­pleted two dif­fer­ent tests that mea­sured how well they under­stood the dif­fer­ences between mam­mals, birds and reptiles.

The zoo camp con­sisted of lessons, inter­ac­tions with pre­served and live ani­mals, tours of the zoo, games and craft sessions.

Most of the themes at the zoo camp were not ori­ented toward explic­itly teach­ing chil­dren bio­log­i­cal tax­o­nomic groups,” Unger said. “So the chil­dren were not spend­ing every day talk­ing about the dif­fer­ences between mam­mals, birds and reptiles.”

At the begin­ning of the camps, chil­dren in both groups had equiv­a­lent knowl­edge about the rela­tion­ships between the three types of ani­mals. But the chil­dren in the zoo camp knew sig­nif­i­cantly more by the end of their four-​day camp, while the oth­ers did not.

Kids who had been at the zoo had a 64 per­cent increase in test scores on one assess­ment from the begin­ning to the end of camp, and a 35 per­cent increase in the other. Not sur­pris­ingly, there was no change in test scores for chil­dren in the other camp.

This study was not designed to test whether a four-​day class­room les­son about ani­mals could pro­duce the same results as the four-​day zoo expe­ri­ence, Unger said.

But other research sug­gests a class may not have the same pos­i­tive effect, partly because it might not engage stu­dents as much as the real-​world experience.

Unger said it was sig­nif­i­cant that the zoo camp improved knowl­edge orga­ni­za­tion, and not just facts about animals.

Chil­dren didn’t just learn piece­meal facts like ‘ostriches are birds.’ They learned how dif­fer­ent birds such as ostriches and ducks are related to each other even when they may look very dif­fer­ent or live in dif­fer­ent habi­tats, and how birds are dif­fer­ent from mam­mals and rep­tiles,” she said.

This kind of knowl­edge orga­ni­za­tion helps chil­dren retrieve what they have learned from mem­ory, it helps them rea­son on the basis of what they learned and helps them inte­grate new infor­ma­tion. It is a key part of learning.”

Unger noted that both camps in the study charged par­ents for their chil­dren to attend and attracted mostly kids from middle-​class fam­i­lies and above. That could be an issue for fam­i­lies who can’t afford to send their chil­dren to camps.

Our study showed that the zoo camp really did enrich the chil­dren who attended. It may help explain at least a part of the learn­ing oppor­tu­nity gap between chil­dren who have access to camps like this and those who don’t.”

(Source: Ohio State Uni­ver­sity news release, 04.12.2018)

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