From Playgrounds to Special Needs Areas, OKC Zoo Offers Inclusive Experiences for Kids

This summer, children of all ages can find new and recently renovated experiences and adventures at the Oklahoma City Zoo. From playgrounds to new “sensory-inclusive” areas, the OKC Zoo is expanding its offerings to children of all needs, abilities and ages.

First and foremost, the Children’s Zoo, which opened in 2010, includes 2.5 acres of interactive features that are designed to get children connected with nature. The $8.3 million Children’s Zoo allows young adventurers to wade in streams, engage directly with lorikeets and feed them nectar at the Explorikeet habitat.

“At the Barnyard area, they can interact with goats, including new Arapawa Island Goats Ozzie and James,” says Candice Rennells, director of public relations.

“The Children’s Zoo features many other places to explore, such as a sand area and willow canopies that resemble forts. With the latest addition to the Children’s Zoo, Wallaby Walkabout, guests can observe and experience these lively yet smaller relatives of the kangaroo in a safe, up-close environment.”

Jungle Gym Playground

ZOOfriends, the OKC Zoo and the Junior League of Oklahoma City spent more than a year laying the groundwork for the renovation of the Eleanor Kirkpatrick Jungle Gym, undertaken in honor of JLOC’s 90th anniversary.

In 2004, the same organizations joined forces to create the 30,000-square-foot playground, and much of the project’s focus was on making the Jungle Gym more accessible. The project included the addition of an “Ability Whirl,” allowing children in wheelchairs to use the merry-go-round. The playground has been expanded to include a new “Expression Swing,” which allows an adult to swing with a child.

This summer, new components such as the “Climinator” and the “Wobbler” were added for children ages 5 to 12. Other updates included a refreshed, original mural designed by Oklahoma City author and artist Margaret Hoge, featuring animals like lions and zebras found at the zoo.

“There were 660 volunteers who contributed a total of 5,161 hours over four days to renovate the Jungle Gym at the Oklahoma City Zoo,” Candace says. “They continued working on the project during days marred by unexpectedly frigid temperatures and biting winds to enhance the zoo experience for all children, particularly those with disabilities.”

KultureCity Sensory-Inclusive Zoo Certification

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden partnered with KultureCity to become certified as a sensory-inclusive zoo. This new initiative will promote an accommodating and positive experience for guests with sensory sensitivities that visit the Oklahoma City Zoo.

“KultureCity, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to creating sensory-inclusive community spaces that provide accessibility for all individuals with unique abilities. The OKC Zoo is one of 12 accredited Association of Zoos and Aquariums members to be recognized as a sensory-inclusive location by KultureCity and the second certified attraction in Oklahoma, joining Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City Thunder,” Candace says. 

“OKC Zoo visitors will now have access to complimentary sensory bags that include fidget toys, noise-canceling headphones and more.”

These sensory bags plus weighted lap blankets will be available for guests to check out at no cost on a daily basis from the Zoo’s Guest Experience office in the Entry Plaza and Rosser Conservation Education Center. KultureCity’s comprehensive program also includes training for zoo team members and volunteers on how to respond to guests with sensory needs and on-grounds signage designating quiet zones and headphone zones for those who may feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the zoo.

Summer Educational Activities

“The Oklahoma City Zoo’s education programs offer a wonderful way for the whole family to have fun while exploring and learning together,” Candace says. “Parents seeking a unique adventure filled with fun for their children this summer should explore the summer camps taking place at the zoo.”

Summer camps are filled with crafts, animal guests, exhibit tours on zoo grounds and more. The zoo has weeklong camps for kids ages 3 to 15. For toddlers, ages 2 to 5, the zoo offers Cub Club programs every second and third Thursday of the month from 10 to 11 a.m. Classes including information about zoo animals explored through lessons, crafts, discovery stations and guided zoo tours.

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