The best zoo animal activity for toddlers and preschoolers


Check out this easy to set-up and super engaging zoo animal activity that’s perfect for young children. My son currently loves all things animals, so we set out to create fun zoo animal activities that would keep his attention and offer different learning skills. And here’s how it ended up! 

little boy playing with animals on painters tape

Welcome to an exciting adventure through the animal kingdom right in your own home! We’re diving into a world of creativity and education with a fun and engaging zoo-themed activity using none other than painter’s tape.

This activity is not just about play; it’s about fostering development, exploration, and fine motor skills in our youngest learners. It’s the perfect way to combine education and enjoyment, paving the way for a memorable and enriching experience in their own little zoo.

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Why is this activity a great way to engage young children in learning?

In today’s digital age, finding meaningful and hands-on activities for kids can be a challenge. That’s why this zoo-themed extravaganza stands out as a great idea for parents, caregivers, and educators. It’s a much-needed break from screens and gadgets, offering so much fun while instilling essential skills in children with a fun zoo theme.

This engaging zoo-themed activity can be adapted to suit different age groups, ensuring that older kids and younger learners alike can have a blast. It’s a great idea to introduce this activity during a zoo week, after a trip to a local zoo, or as part of a zoo-themed lesson plan. Kids can even draw inspiration from picture books about their favorite zoo animals to make their creations more lifelike.

Open-ended nature 

Children of all ages love this activity because of the open-ended nature of the play. That means the child can direct how to play and what direction they’ll do with their zoo including what roads to make, which wild animals to use, and where the stops are along the way. 

little boy playing with animals on painters tape

But the fun doesn’t end there. Once they build their zoo, there’s even more room for child-directed play as they decide where and what their animals do in the zoo.

This fun activity is a perfect way to blend creativity and learning while having an abundance of fun. By using materials like tape, pipe cleaners, and even paper plates, kids of all ages can create their own zoo, complete with different animals, habitats, and roads. As they build and explore their paper plate lion’s den or the polar bear’s icy habitat, they develop fine motor skills and gain insights into animal environments.

Materials Needed

One of the great parts about this activity compared to other zoo themed activities is that you don’t need many materials outside of what you can already find in your home. The main things you need are plastic zoo animals and painter’s tape. You can also gather up spare craft material 

If you’re feeling really crafty, your child can paint different habitats for your animals to put in your zoo (that’s a great way to add messy play, too). One of the best ways to do this is either paint or draw on paper plates, so the animal habitats are easy to move for little hands along your road. 

Think of other things to make different zoo animals and props like clay, play dough, or cardboard tubes. My son wanted to also include the zoo keeper (a garbage man action figure he already had).  There’s so many different ways you can use toys and materials creatively in this activity. 

green painters tape

Here’s the basics we used:

Creating Your Zoo

Now that we’ve chosen our favorite zoo animals and habitats, it’s time to connect the dots and lead your little ones to the zoo! Let’s explore how to use painter’s tape to create roads that wind through this animal wonderland, connecting each unique habitat or stop along the way.

Our biggest suggestion when setting up this zoo animal activity is to get your child involved as much as possible! Let them show where the roads will wind, how the roads should connect, and the length of the roads. Then, let them add the stops and animals.

Designing Creative Roads

As you unroll the painter’s tape, envision it as the pathway to adventure. This is where the zoo theme comes alive! You’re not just sticking tape on the floor; you’re crafting imaginative roads that weave and wind like the trails of a real zoo. 

Encourage your little ones to use their fine motor skills as they lay the tape, shaping it into curves, zigzags, and loops wherever they want it to go. Your child can then design roads that cater to the preferences of their favorite zoo animal. 

The brown bear may prefer a winding path through a forest of green construction paper trees, while the polar bear might need a frozen tundra of white paper. This is their chance to let their imaginations run wild, experimenting with different colors of tape if you have it and envisioning the natural environment of each animal.

little by and mom putting painter's tape on the floor

Learning through play!

After you lay down your roads and any other add ons to your zoo, you’re ready to put your animals down and start playing! It’s really that simple, and you don’t have to add anything extra if you don’t want to. 

Toddlers and preschoolers will love this zoo animal activity no matter the level of detail. And you can always add more as you go or as your child thinks of new ideas to add. 

For toddlers and younger preschoolers, you may have to initiate the play or the animals “walking” on the road. But young child will quickly pick up on it, and make the play all their own. 

Also, don’t get stuck by the idea that everything in this activity has to be accurate or ‘zoo themed’. My two year old associated the road idea with real roads and decided that the roads needed some stop lights ‘to be safer’. So we made some with paper towel tubes that all the animals had to stop at until the light turned green. 

little boy with a plastic tiger at a stoplight

How to add language skills 

To enhance language skills within this engaging zoo animal activity for young children, consider incorporating storytelling and vocabulary expansion. Encourage children to say the animal names and describe each animal they encounter in their zoo, fostering word recognition and expanding their animal-related vocabulary. 

Promote interactive storytelling by asking open-ended questions about the animals’ adventures in their habitats, encouraging children to create imaginative narratives and pretend play. Additionally, you can introduce picture books or educational resources related to zoo animals, facilitating discussions about animal characteristics, behaviors, and habitats. One of our favorite books is Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (get it here!).

Encourage children to articulate their thoughts and ideas, building their verbal communication skills while making the activity not only a fun and creative endeavor but also a valuable language development opportunity.

How to add in math skills

But these roads aren’t just for show; they’re also a fantastic way to introduce some math skills into the fun. As your young learners lay down tape, you can prompt them with questions like, “How many pieces of tape do you need to make a circle around the ‘lion’s den’?” or “Should we make a long road or a short road to the ‘flamingo pond’?” 

This hands-on approach encourages basic math concepts like measurement, estimation, and spatial awareness. So, as your kids design these intricate roads, they’re not just fostering creativity, but they’re also building their math skills in a fun zoo setting.

And when children navigate these creative roads, they naturally practice important math skills such as counting, identifying shapes (think of those curving and straight roads!), and understanding spatial relationships. It’s a fun way to incorporate learning seamlessly into play.

Start this zoo activity today

For kids of all ages, including older kids and kindergarten children, this activity is a perfect opportunity to engage in open-ended play while fostering social skills and language skills. Keep adding your own fun ideas to make this experience unforgettable.

So, are you ready to create your very own zoo, complete with plastic animals, small toy zoo animals, and even animal tracks? Whether your child’s favorite animal is a brown bear, a flamingo, or a penguin, this adventure will captivate their hearts and minds.

little boy playing with animals on painters tape

Check out more animal activities to try

Create your own animal sensory bin like this one we made for farm animals. Make your own zoo animal sensory bin with our complete, easy to follow DIY sensory bin guide here. You can even more your own sensory table for your sensory bin! 

Make your own zoo animals

Plastic zoo animals may be more expensive than you’d like, or maybe you don’t need anymore toys (we definitely feel that). Try making your own zoo animals with your toddler or preschooler with play dough! Here’s the ultimate guide to play dough for young children to help. 

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