Facility Profile - September 2006
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Zoo: A Spot for Tots

Kronkosky Tiny Tot Nature Spot At The San Antonio Zoo And Aquarium
San Antonio, Texas

By Kyle Ryan


Anatomy of tot-friendliness

KTTNS has several different zones including the Discovery House, My Backyard, Coati/Sloth Hang and Dig, Underwater Adventure, Pier and Pond, Riverbank, and the Campground.

Overdorf says his firm designed the 4,000-square-foot Discovery House to actually be four buildings housing several different exhibits: Explore Underground where kids see the subterranean world of prairie dogs and worms by crawling through the exhibit; Explore Your Pond Room with a kids' aquarium and underwater view of a turtle-filled outdoor pond; and Explore Your Zoo where kids can dress up as zoo keepers, directors and vets and play with props.

In addition to a garden for planting, the My Backyard area has holding pens for touchable animals like rabbits, goats, guinea pigs and chickens, with numerous hand-sanitizing stations to protect the animals from kids' germs and vice-versa. In the Coati/Sloth Hang and Dig area, kids can climb and hang like sloths and monkeys or crawl through a man-made log and mimic the coati, a raccoon-type animal indigenous to South America. In the Underwater Adventure section, visitors can get "face-to-fin" with giant fish and peer at silver dollars schooling back and forth.

At the Pier and Pond area, kids can play in a boat and pretend-fish (using rods with magnets to catch plastic fish), sway on the dock and feed fish, and learn about pond life. In the nearby Riverbank area, kids can play in wading water (2 to 10 inches deep) on a sandy beach, climb on giant tortoise shells and dig for pretend tortoise eggs. Considering summertime temperatures in San Antonio routinely reach 100 degrees or more, the water attractions are particularly popular.

The last part is a large grassy field called the Campground area, where designers originally intended to have rolling hills, moguls, trails and an interactive water feature. Budgetary constraints prevented its construction, but McReynolds says she prefers it that way.

"That enables us to do camp outs for families with toddlers and preschoolers, and that enables us to be able to set up tents all over the yard and do special programming," she says. "I actually think that it's much better the way that it is now, but it's hard to know that whenever you're in the design process. You see a lot in hindsight."

The spoils of success

Since it opened in October 2004, KTTNS has been an overwhelming success; Overdorf credits it for a surge in family memberships at the zoo. It's a testament to its comprehensive planning that KTTNS required virtually no adjustments (besides a few staff changes) once it opened.

"We didn't have to rush through any part of the design phase," McReynolds says. "I think that's really important—and then of course to consider your audience and your mission."

Play leaders get reminded of that mission every day.

"There's a sign as the play leaders walk out the door that says, 'Is what you're doing today inspiring people to create a better future for wildlife?'" McReynolds says. "Because, especially with this age group, it's easy to get off track."

The revolving team of play leaders helps vary the experience for kids and parents, making each visit to KTTNS a little different from the last.

"That's my favorite part," McReynolds says. "With kids, you have to be very flexible, and when you work with animals, you have to be very flexible, and when you work with both of them together, flexibility is definitely the key."


FOR MORE INFORMATION

San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium:
www.sazoo-aq.org

Kronkosky Charitable Foundation:
www.kronkosky.org

Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects, Ltd.:
www.jonesandjones.com

Moore Iacofano Goltsman, Inc.:
www.migcom.com