Most children have a fascination with animals; perhaps they insiticitvely understand the benefits interacting with animals can have on their growth. Researchers found that children who regularly have animal encounter activities have strong empathetic and caring skills, tend to stay active and also have a deeper sense of responsibility.

However, for many families it may not be possible or practical to have a pet. Instead, to help your little ones form bonds and interact with animals, visit zoos, parks and farms. Here are some you can visit this weekend:

Melbourne Zoo

The Melbourne Zoo is home to a massive range of animals from native kangaroos and koalas to African lions and gorillas to a beautiful tiger. It’s extremely child friendly with several rest and changing areas and special activities for children at each collection of enclosures.

For older children it has a ‘Keeper Kids’ program which welcomes children to experience what it’s like to be a zoo keeper or a vet. They’ll be given a list of ‘duties’ like making mock meals or be able to pretend to be a vet where they can look at real x-rays. This experience will give your little on a deeper insight into the important of caring for animals.

The zoo has several keeper talks about different animals including giant tortoises, koalas, giraffes and lions, all of which have special information for children.

Every Tuesday it has an event called Tasmanian Devil Tuesday while on Fridays it has the Corroboree Frog Friday, which are programs specially designed for toddlers with stories, crafts, games and face painting.

Find out more about the Melbourne zoo here. 

Werribee Open Range Zoo

animal encounter activities for kids help foster a deeper sense of emotional responsibility toward our pets and animals

The Werribee Open Range Zoo is modelled after an African savannah and aims to provide a similar safari experience where you and your children can see rhinos, zebra, giraffes and even a cheetah in the ‘wild’.

The zoo holds birthday parties for children with a feast in an African Hut and a tour of the savannah. Through May, it is hosting ‘Tuneful Tuesdays’, ‘Toddler Thursdays’ and ‘Story Telling Sundays’, all of which have story telling, craft and song sessions that are designed  to deepen children’s understanding of animals.

Find out more about the Werribee Open Range Zoo here. 

Collingwood Children’s Farm

On the banks of the Yarra River is the Collingwood Children’s Farm which has several animal encounters designed for toddlers. Your child can try their hand at milking gentle, friendly cows or have a cuddle with a guinea pig. Follow the ducks around or hunt for eggs after a meal at the wholesome cafe.

Find out more about the Collingwood Children’s Farm here. 

Myuna Farm

The Myuna Farm also offers an immersive farm experience. Toddlers can go on pony rides (priced at around $3),train ride spast various animals and for a Nature Walk at the Wetlands where they can feed ducks and birds. There’s even a fun playground and maze for children to explore!

Find out more about the Myuna farm here. 

To read more about the benefits that learning about and interacting with animals can have, head here.