Last Saturday we attended the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) members only farewell party for Bao Bao the panda. On February 21st, three year old Bao Bao will depart for her new home in China. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her story, Bao Bao was born after her mother, Mei Xiang, lost her previous cub. In fact, the name Bao Bao means “precious treasure”. Given the tragic loss of her sibling and the species’ vulnerable status, this name is indeed fitting. Her departure is a bittersweet moment for all of those who have come to visit her at the zoo.
This event definitely made our membership to the zoo worthwhile. As a matter of fact, I met a family who drove two hours and purchased a membership that day just so that they could attend the event. We arrived about 15 minutes prior to the start of the event, and all but the last two parking lots were already full. After parking the car, we made the uphill trek to the panda exhibit. Lil’ Man may only weigh 30 lbs., but pushing him up hill was quite the challenge! We arrived at our destination a bit winded, but exited to see the pandas. After producing our membership cards, we were given panda-themed stickers and a paper panda crown to wear. There were several exhibits to view during our hike to Bao Bao’s habitat, so it was almost like going through the lines at Disney World with plenty to see to keep you from getting bored. As we neared Bao Bao’s enclosure, we received free commemorative postcards featuring Bao Bao and a local grocery store was handing out breakfast cookies to guests. Lil’ Man was all too happy to oblige them and devoured his cookie with great voracity.
Once we arrived, we found Bao Bao’s mother Mei Xiang and her little brother Bei Bei play wrestling. The crowd that had gathered to watch let out shouts of glee as they enjoyed the mother-son bonding exhibition. During our previous visits, we had only observed the pandas eating or sleeping, so it was truly delightful to see them this active. Meanwhile Bao Bao, the lady of the hour, was enjoying some fresh bamboo in the neighboring enclosure. I managed to wiggle my way through the crowd and, despite some bumps and shots of various human body parts that came into frame, I got some truly memorable photos of the sweet girl. At 10 am, Bao Bao’s keeper tossed a special treat into her enclosure (it looked like what I would surmise was frozen pineapple). Everyone eagerly awaited for the treat to capture Bao Bao’s interest. Although she continued to munch on her bamboo for several minutes, she eventually turned her attention to her frozen treat much to our delight.
This time we couldn’t leave the zoo without a new stuffed friend (the zoo made sure we couldn’t exit without first passing a gift shop). Lil’ Man picked out his own stuffed Bao Bao panda which he renamed Happy Panda (we are working on being more creative with our nomenclature). We even got a free commemorative Bao Bao coffee mug (because we don’t have enough of those) with our purchase. Lil’ Man was exited to receive his new friend and enjoyed showing Happy Panda the other animals at the zoo.
The next day, I followed up our trip to the zoo with some panda bear literature we have in the house: Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr./Eric Carle and Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth. For Panda Bear, Panda Bear we conducted a shared reading. The repetitive pattern of the book is great for emergent readers and Lil’ Man knows many of the sight words in it. We than made our own panda with moveable parts using paper fasteners. It was a bit of a challenge for Lil’ Man to cut out and the panda did lose some toes, but overall it turned out quite well. Lil’ Man even seemed to be inspired by Eric Carle’s vibrant art style and took some creative license when coloring his panda.
After reading Zen Shorts, I introduced Lil’ Man to his first Venn diagram and some new vocabulary: compare and contrast. Since this exercise is a bit advanced for a preschool student and requires the ability to write in small spaces, I recorded his answers for him and took some liberty in rewording a few answers. I asked him to compare and contrast Stillwater, the panda from the story, to Bao Bao the actual panda we saw at the zoo. I had him write Bao Bao’s name in the space provided since we are currently practicing writing names with a capital letter followed by lowercase letters.
I do not feel a formal lesson is necessary to turn a trip to the zoo into a valuable learning experience. For example, you could discuss with your child what Bao Bao’s zookeeper is packing for the trip to ensure Bao Bao is comfortable on her long plane flight to China. You might then ask your child to brainstorm what your family packs for road trips or long plane flights. You can then ask them how these items are similar or different to what is being packed for Bao Bao. This sort of informal learning through natural conversation is just as helpful as the activities shown above. However, if you would like to complete the Zen Shorts diagram, you can download it here. If you are interested in creating your own moving panda bear, you can download the file and follow the instructions below.
Paper Fastener Panda Bear
- Panda Bear Cutout
- Crayons or Markers
- White Cardstock
- Paper Fasteners (2 for each panda)
- Download and print the panda cutout file on white cardstock.
- Have your child color the panda. Let them be creative. Pandas don’t have to be the standard black and white.
- Have preschool aged children and older cutout the panda. For toddlers, I recommend cutting out the panda for them.
- Use scissors to create a small hole in the designated area of each leg and two small holes in the body for the front and back legs. I did this by gently folding the paper and cutting a small slit.
- Place the paper fastener through the first front leg, then the body, then the second front leg (colored side up). Once the both legs are attached, fasten the paper fastener. Repeat this procedure for the panda’s hind legs.
- Ta da! You have your very own panda!