Brookfield Zoo Goes Blue for Autism Awareness

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2014, one in 68 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Although not replacing this official estimate, a new government survey of parents reported the number to be 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism, which indicates there may be more prevalence of autism in the United States as once thought to be.

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To bring awareness of one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the country, Brookfield Zoo is partnering with Autism Speaks for the annual Zoos Go Blue Campaign on Saturday, April 2, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. To commemorate the day, the water in the zoo’s Roosevelt Fountain will be dyed blue and there will be blue flags decorating the park’s grounds.

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In light of research that has shown that the presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder, the animal care staff will be on hand to provide special Zoo Chats. These informal talks will allow families to enjoy up-close experiences with some of the animals. Also, joining in the activities will be representatives from Autism Speaks, who will have booths set up at both the zoo’s north and south gates distributing information and answering questions.

Throughout the day, there will be special activities for families who have children on the autism spectrum. Youngsters can participate in a craft activity at the Hamill Family Play Zoo. The zoo’s Carousel will feature a quiet hour from 11:00 a.m. to noon, which will allow families to ride the popular attraction without loud music. In addition, at 1:00 p.m., there will be a sensory-friendly Dolphins In Action presentation. And, there will be a designated area in the Riverside Room, located in the lower level of BZ Red Hots, where families can go for some quiet time.

The zoo also has several BZ Care Kits that can be checked out during a zoo visit. These kits include noise-reducing headphones, hard copies of visual schedules, autism stickers, and safety alert badges and ID bracelets in case a child gets separated from his or her family.

How will you support Autism Awareness on April 2nd?

Hamill Family Wild Encounters at Brookfield Zoo

A visit to Brookfield Zoo is a must if you are visiting the Chicago area, but this year there’s an added incentive to check out this world-class zoo – Hamill Family Wild Encounters! This new, permanent exhibit officially opened up last week, and it replaces the old children’s zoo that closed a few years ago to make way for this fabulous new experience.

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Christopher Family Plaza

The first thing you’ll see when you walk in the all-new Hamill Family Wild Encounters is the Christopher Family Plaza, the central focal point of the exhibit, which features three captivating whimsical kinesthetic sculptures. The one-of-a-kind moving pieces of art, which range from 10 to 14 feet high, are made of metal and brilliant shapes of glass that spin and rotate with the slightest breeze.

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The rest of the exhibit features up-close encounters and multisensory experiences, where guests of all ages will have the opportunity to interact with Brookfield Zoo’s animal ambassadors and, inspired to action, become active conservationists.

The Plaza is also a place where guests can gather to meet Brookfield Zoo’s animal ambassadors, where they introduce a variety of animals to the zoo’s guests. While we visited, we met a tamandua – a small anteater.

Wild Encounters_Animal Ambassadors

GOATS

The goat habitat features 25 to 30 Nigerian dwarf goats, and guests have the opportunity to get close with the goats by petting, feeding, and brushing them. Not to worry parents – there are plenty of hand sanitizing stations right outside the exhibit.

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LLAMAS and ALPACAS

The llamas and alpacas can not be pet, however, they interact with guests throughout the day during walks and grooming demonstrations. And they sit around being cute, of course.

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BENNETT’S WALLABIES and EMUS

A walk-in wallaby yard houses more than 20 Bennett’s wallabies. Guests of all ages have the chance to connect with these Australian marsupials, along with emus, the second largest flightless bird in the world. It was interesting to see how fearless the wallabies were among the guests. Hopping throughout the enclosure, it was like we weren’t even there. My son loved it!

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RED PANDAS

The red panda habitat, although not one where you can interact with the animals, still gets you up-close to these gorgeous animals. The exhibit features two female pandas and a man-made bonsai tree, which measures 13 feet tall and 35 feet wide, has many nooks and crannies for animal care staff to place food items. Plus, they’re just really pretty to look at.

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PARAKEET AVIARY

This was, by far, our favorite part of the exhibit. My son could have spent hours here – and we nearly did! Featuring more than 700 parakeets, this is one of the largest indoor parakeet aviaries in North America. Seed sticks are available for purchase to allow guests opportunities to feed birds throughout the day. Best part of the day! A large area with hand wash stations and hand sanitizers are located at the exit.

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One of the things that really impressed me about the Hamill Family Wild Encounters exhibit (aside from all the animal interactions, of course) was the number of educational opportunities throughout – giving parents the knowledge to teach their kids more about the animals they saw.

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Admission to Hamill Family Wild Encounters is $5 for adults and $3 for children 3-11 and seniors 65 and over. Children 2 and under are admitted free (Brookfield Zoo members pay half price).

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Free Fun at Phillips Park Zoo in Aurora, IL

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Running a little low on funds, but still want to have a great afternoon with the kids? Then look no further than Phillips Park Zoo in Aurora, IL. I spent an afternoon here with my son and we totally enjoyed ourselves. This zoo is no-frills, but a nearby playground and splash pad are sure to keep the kids entertained for hours – and you don’t have to spend a dime.

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The entrance to the zoo is pretty neat. There’s a board displaying the rules of the zoo, then a totally random, but still cute, painted dinosaur.

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Now, I’ll be the first to admit, that animal sightseeing outdoors was pretty difficult. There are some cages for birds like eagles, hawks, and owls; as well as wolves, goats and llamas, but we had trouble finding the outdoor animals. The elk, however, had a huge, gorgeous setting to call home and we were able to see them just fine chilling under the bridge.

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The large elk statue offers a great place for a photo op though!

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But by far, my son’s favorite exhibit at Phillips Park Zoo was the reptile house! It was very warm in there, but seeing the alligators, snakes and turtles so close was a real treat!

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Once we finished up at the reptile house, sadly we saw the exit – BUT there was a huge playground off in the distance. We high-tailed it over there!

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The playground was so fun and we spent a good chunk of time there. My son loved the giant pirate ship. SO many of the kids there were so into it. Thankfully, there was a large, shaded picnic area nearby for us to have our lunch on.

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As we were making our way back to the car, I noticed that we completely missed the visitor’s center on the way in with the giant mastodon statue in front. Another nice photo op spot, and the visitor’s center is full of information on the animals at the zoo, and lots of educational exhibits and displays. There are also restrooms, vending machines, and drinking fountains at the visitor’s center.

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There’s also a splash pad nearby, but we didn’t stop by on our last visit. Now that most pools and splash pads are open for the season, we’re going to have to make our way back here!

Tell me – what’s your favorite small zoo?

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Top 5 Things to Do in Indianapolis with Kids #VisitIndy

This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Indianapolis with my family.  Considering I live in the Chicago area – and it’s only a 3-hour drive from the Windy City – I’m surprised that I’ve never ventured to Indy before.  Little did I know that Indy had so much to offer families visiting the area.  From parks and museums to festivals and fantastic food, Indy has it all!  I broke it down to my family’s Top 5 Things to Do in Indianapolis with Kids – do you have a favorite spot that I’m missing?

Top 5 Things to Do in Indianapolis with Kids

5. Indianapolis Firefighter’s Museum

Firefighters Museum_Indy

This small museum is sure to please any fire truck enthusiast in your household.  The upstairs is designed like a real, working fire house and you’re introduced to everything from the beds the firefighter’s sleep in, to the uniforms that they wear, and the equipment they use.  Located in the trendy Mass Ave. Arts District, there’s plenty to see if you take a stroll afterwards.  Have some froyo right across the street at YoguLatte.  Their coconut mocha latte is delish!

4. Indianapolis Zoo

Indianapolis Zoo

The Indianapolis Zoo is a must-see in Indy.  Their new International Orangutan Exhibit was completed this summer, and a new aerial cable ride (not yet open when we visited, but check the park for current availability) will allow guests to view the animals like never before.  We saw orangutans climbing the structure and they are mesmerizing to watch.  The zoo’s Dolphin Adventure Pavilion is gorgeous too and their interactive dolphin show is very entertaining.

3. Rhythm! Discovery Center

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My 3-year-old had a blast at the Rhythm! Discovery Center, and I’m not gonna lie – I totally did too!  We must’ve banged on every drum, shaken every tambourine, and played every xylophone in the place!  Probably our favorite parts of the museum were the sound-proof rooms that allowed you to play a real drum set and be as loud as you wanted to be – we felt like rock stars!  Handy Tip: Visit this museum late in the day.  We arrived about an hour and a half before closing and had the entire museum to ourselves.  I’m sure it’s very noisy (and migraine-inducing) at peak times.

2. Conner Prairie Interactive History Museum

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Visiting the Conner Prairie Interactive History Museum was, by far, the highlight of our trip – for me at least.  We also had two teenagers with us, and they would undoubtedly say the same.  The historic aspect drew me in, but there’s so much for kids to experience here too.  For one, their indoor Discovery Station is designed for younger kids and allows plenty of room for free-play, exploring, crafting and climbing.  The Civil War exhibit even has an outdoor splash pad (open Memorial Day through Labor Day) and an indoor play area with a large climbing structure.  All that is really fun for kids, but it’s the people at Conner Prairie that really make this visit worthwhile.  They never break character, and you really feel like you’re living in the 1800’s.  I cannot say enough good things about this place – get there if you can!

1. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Childrens Museum of Indianapolis

What visit to Indy with kids would be complete without a trip to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis?  The almost 500,000-sf facility is the largest children’s museum in the world and is visited by more than 1.2 million people each year.  We love visiting children’s museums and I can honestly say that we experienced things here that we haven’t at any other children’s museum we’ve seen.  Where else can you let your imagination run wild and run a Chinese restaurant , slide down a long Great Wall of China slide, be transported to the land of dinosaurs, or create a colorful sculpture – all in one place?  Only at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

HOTEL BONUS: Indianapolis Marriott North Hotel

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Image courtesy of Marriott

Staying at the Indianapolis Marriott North Hotel was a no-brainer for us.  With two teenagers in tow – that had NO interest in visiting some attractions with my preschooler – it was important to me to be located near a place that they would find interest in.  Thank goodness for Keystone at the Crossing, a shopping mall located within walking distance of the hotel!  The hotel itself was great too – friendly staff, clean rooms, and a nice swimming pool are all things I look for that will be sure to please my family, and the Indianapolis Marriott North Hotel did not disappoint.  Be aware, however, that this hotel is located about 25 minutes from the downtown area so plan your excursions accordingly.

GOOD EATS BONUS: Great Restaurants in Indy

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I honestly didn’t think I’d be overly-pleased with the food in Indy, but I’m so glad to say that I was wrong.  Breakfast at Café Patachou was one of the highlights of my dining experience with their fresh and healthy food (and fabulous coffee too!), dining outside at Iara’s Italian Restaurant with my whole family was fun – and their portion sizes were huge – we definitely did not leave hungry, Shapiro’s Delicatessen was a delicious surprise, and Arni’s Restaurant probably had the best pizza I’ve ever had – and I’m from Chicago so that’s saying a lot!  You won’t be disappointed with all the restaurant options in Indy!

As you can tell, we had a fabulous weekend in Indy – and I am confident that we will be back.  It would be impossible for me to list all the fun things to do with kids in Indy, and I feel like we just hit the tip of the iceberg on our weekend stay.  I wish we had planned on a weeklong visit – there’s still so much to see.

What about you – have you ever visited Indy?

For more information on the Indianapolis area, connect with Visit Indy!

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Disclosure: My family was invited to visit Indianapolis by the Indianapolis CVB, Visit Indy, and were provided with complimentary admission to many attractions and a hotel stay.  I was not compensated for this post.  I was not asked to provide a particular point of view, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Making Memories at Brookfield Zoo #BZBloggers

I have been going to Brookfield Zoo ever since I was a kid.  I remember watching (& loving) the dolphin show, taking pictures in front of the fountain, watching the ducks splash around in the pond, and taking a ride on a motor safari.  Some of the best memories I have as a kid took place within the walls of the Brookfield Zoo.

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So believe me when I say that I am so thankful to be able to share these memories with my 3-year-old, and make some new ones as well.  My heart swells watching him take in the same dolphin shows and ride the same motor safari that I did as a kid.

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We usually visit Brookfield Zoo every year, but here’s a little taste of what we did on our last visit with cousins!  Spoiler:  The kids had a blast!

We were guests of Brookfield Zoo on our last visit, and they were nice enough to set-up a little Meet & Greet with some of the animals.  We got to pet an adorable wallaby.

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And watch a little tamandua (a member of the anteater species).  I’ll admit that I wanted to take this guy home in my purse.

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And watch an expert handle a hawk – and she was super-friendly too!

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The rest of the day was spent doing all the kiddie activities the zoo has to offer.  We touched some stingrays at Stingray Bay.  They also sell feed (small fish) for an additional $2 to help you attract some stingrays.  They were more active than I’ve ever seen them!

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We watched an energetic dolphin show in Brookfield Zoo’s gorgeous arena.

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We even released some energy at the zoo’s playground.

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We spent most of our time this trip at the Hamill Family Play Zoo.

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The kids had fun setting up a pretend animal cage,…

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petting some more animals,…

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and even “earning their admission” by going behind the scenes in the kids exhibit.  I loved watching them pretend to be zoo keepers and how the Hamill Family Play Zoo allows kids to be “hands-on”.  It’s this kind of creativity that make the play zoo a fun, educational activity for young kids.

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My son’s favorite part of the Hamill Family Play Zoo was the Zoo Greenhouse.

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He loved watering the plants.

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And this one.

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Oh, this one too.

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Can’t forget this guy.

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Wait…still more.  I swear, I think he just might have gotten every single one while we were there!  It was adorable.

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Finally, the kids started to get tired so we spent the end of our day expending some more energy outside. The Hamill Family Play Zoo also has an amazing outdoor play area where you can climb a camel,…

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climb through a tunnel,…

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play in the sand, and so much more!

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Brookfield Zoo is the ideal spot to spend the day with the kids in the Chicago area.  There are so many animals to see, you’re almost guaranteed to make a return trip!

General Information

Brookfield Zoo is located west of Chicago, approximately a 30 minute drive from the city at 8400 31st Street (1st Avenue and 31st Street) in Brookfield, IL.  General admission is $16.95 for adults, $11.65 for seniors 65 and over, and $11.95 for children ages 3 to 11.  Parking is $10.00.  The zoo is open 365 days a year.

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Disclosure:  My family received complimentary admission to Brookfield Zoo to facilitate this post. I was not asked to provide a particular point of view, and all opinions are 100% my own.

There’s Lots to Do at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI #ExperienceGR

One of the biggest surprises for my family during our trip to Grand Rapids was the John Ball Zoo. We had no idea we’d have such a great time, and even see some animals we’d never seen before! My family – my husband and I, my teenage daughter, my toddler son, and my mom – spent about 3 hours at the zoo, and only wish we had more time to explore more.

John Ball Zoo_ExperienceGR

The John Ball Zoo, just a short drive away from the downtown area of Grand Rapids, is a smaller zoo with a surprising number of animal exhibits. Admission to the zoo in the summer is $8.50 for ages 14 and up, and $6.50 for ages 3-13 (admission prices vary during the off-peak season). There are a number of concession stands throughout the zoo, as well as picnic table areas.

One of the neat features of the zoo is the Idema Funicular, a train-like vehicle that can take you to the highest point of the zoo (or back down near the zoo entrance). It’s a great way to quickly move from one side of the zoo to another, although you won’t see any animals on the ride. There is an extra charge of $3 per person for a one-way ride.

Photo courtesy of John Ball Zoo on Facebook

Another unique feature of the John Ball Zoo is the number of “adventure” opportunities offered. You can take off on a zip line ride ($6 per person), navigate a ropes course ($6 per person), ride a camel ($5 per person), and touch some stingrays and sharks in a small pool ($1 per person). I really wanted to try the zip line (an item on my bucket list), but both my husband and teen had no intention of trying it with me.

Photo courtesy of John Ball Zoo on Facebook

Some of the exhibits here seemed too close together to me, but that didn’t take away from our experience at all. One of our favorite exhibits included the Pelican Pier, located near the entrance of the zoo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pelican in real-life, and I was mesmerized by these beautiful birds.

John Ball Zoo_Pelican

My toddler loved the Aquarium, where he got to play with a penguin. It was so cute – the penguin would follow him from one side of the tank and back. He got a kick out of his interaction with the penguin, and we all did too!

John Ball Zoo_Penguin

Red’s Hobby Farm, the children’s zoo at John Ball, was another family favorite. Both of my kids got to pet some sheep and goats!

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We also enjoyed watching a zoo keeper interact with a grizzly bear, watching a mountain lion pace back and forth in his habitat, and watching the monkeys playfully interact with each other.

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John Ball Zoo_Mountain Lion

John Ball Zoo_Monkeys

Overall, I’d say that my family would definitely revisit the John Ball Zoo the next time we’re in Grand Rapids. A new tiger exhibit, set to resemble their natural habitat, should be completed in 2014 and it’s a great reason to bring my family back next year!

Disclosure: My family received complimentary admission to the John Ball Zoo in order to facilitate this review, and I was not asked to provide a particular point of view. All opinions are 100 % my own.

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This review originally appeared on Trekaroo!

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