Monday, July 11, 2011

San Diego Zoo Safari Park Summer Camps In Full Swing

I am a 34 year old single girl whose largest responsibility involves feeding and cleaning up after a dog and two cats in my little one bedroom apartment in Kensington, and I would never presume to know what mommies experience on a daily basis. I see my sister with my two nieces and I think she's a miracle worker when just getting everyone fed and cleaned and dressed and into the car to go anywhere is a massive production, but last week I tried my hand at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's ABC Toddler Camp with my soon-to-be-4 year old niece, Johanna, so I could deliver all of you fine people of San Diego my version of a 'mommy blog'.

We had prepared Johanna for the camp and let her know that mommy and daddy were going to take Nadia (who was too young for camp) while she stayed with Tia Rosemary, but no amount of talking and preparation could prevent the ultimate meltdown when everyone actually walked away and she was left with me. I suppose growing up with an in-home daycare has made me a little bit tougher and I didn't break into that awful panicked sweat when she went hysterical. Even as the crying subsided and she warmed up to the kids and the counselors and the idea of camp, Johanna is fiercely independent and was not about to wear the camp required t-shirt or nametag.

The counselors Alene and Brittany were super cool and were probably instructed that since parents were present, discipline was not their responsibility...ultimately if kids didn't want to partake or they acted up, it was our responsibility to manage our kid so long as there was no danger to animals and such.

The toddler class had 6 kids and their adults and the two hour a day camp lasted for three days. Each day we went through a portion of the alphabet with "Animal Actions" and though some of the actions were a stretch ("z" is for zzzzz's because the desert tortoise sleeps through winter), for the most part the actions allowed the kids to interact, burn some energy, and have fun. To read all about it and see more photos, click 'keep on reading' below.

We started off with an animal interaction where a trainer brought out Peanut the Armadillo whose animal action was "Arching" because they can curl forward into a ball but also hyperextend their backs the opposite way. The kids emulated the action, we got to pet his hard exterior, we sang the alphabet song, and we proceeded on through the alphabet for the next two hours and subsequent two days.

I won't give the whole rundown of all of the activities but here are just a few of the pictures I took... this is Johanna and Amelia hanging out on the life-sized rhino (whose "C" action is to "charge").

I wasn't taking a whole lot of photos the first day because I was more concerned about Johanna suddenly realizing she was still stuck with her Tia. Luckily she only requested that I call her mom once. When we had our snack in a patio area, some geese walked by and as we waited to move on to the next activity, we noticed they left behind a trail of poop. The way to a kid's heart is apparently having an inside joke that they think they might get in trouble for saying to any other adult. Our secret word for each other for the remainder of camp was "goosepoop". Each day we covered a different section of the park and my only complaint for the day was that the final activity was to dress up in costumes for "Imagination". The costumes were adorable but it was nearly two in the afternoon and hovering somewhere around 90 degrees. This was the most I could get Johanna to wear and it lasted about 42 seconds. I can't say I blame her.

My parents got a room at Harrah's Rincon Casino for two nights, so after camp and exploring the park for a bit, we hung out at the hotel/casino for a few hours. While everyone played in the pool, I crashed out on a bed in the room. I realized that the 4 hours of sleep I had the night before camp was not adequate. When I finally got home, I went straight to bed to be better prepared for the next day of work in the morning and camp in the afternoon.

DAY 2:

When we drove up to camp on Day 2, my sister told me that while they were getting ready, Johanna said to her, "Mommy, today at camp you have to stay far, far away, okay?" Naturally this meant going into the day that I was feeling a lot better about her comfort level. The day involved reviewing the prior day's activities, singing the alphabet, and kicked off with a "Jungle Jam" where all of the kids danced in those furry costumes. Except Johanna. She sat on my lap quietly and tried to avoid eye contact so nobody would try to force her to dance. She's just like me in more ways than she'll ever know. The day's activities included seeing a leashed Prairie Dog (whose animal action is "kissing" though he just wanted to dig), checking out the area where the new cheetah run happens, checking out the lions chilling in their newly reopened enclosure, saw some birds, fed some ducks and catfish, and we got to pet a hedgehog.

Throughout the Safari Park, there are misting sprinklers to help fight the crazy heat of Valley Center. Johanna, for as much time as she spends at the beach and in swimming pools, hates the way the light drops feel on her skin and goes out of her way to avoid them at all costs. On day 2, our final activity was to run like cheetahs in an open shaded grass area, and after she and I chased each other and the other kids for a while, I went to a tree that had a mister spewing from it and she came and joined me as we stomped in the mud (much to the chagrin of the other parents). This was a milestone for us. We closed the day by seeing a trainer with this gorgeous owl and then went to the plaza area where the Summer Safari was in effect with music from Africa, dancers, acrobats, limbo, and other activities for everyone to let loose.

That night we all hung out at Harrah's Rincon by the pool, and my parents surrendered the room so we could stay. I ended up working until about 3:30 that morning but was still able to sleep in, get a great late breakfast, and get to the park with our final day of camp ahead.

DAY 3:
This photo is how we started our day of camp. Johanna still refused her camp shirt and nametag, but she was excited for her last day, though at some point that morning, Johanna had asked my sister if the other kids liked her and had a minor panic attack because she couldn't remember her teachers' names. And we still had the "goosepoop" thing making us giggle.

We did the ritual review of the animal action alphabet so far and all of the things we'd learned the past two days, and the final day was spent on the Safari Trail and Condor Ridge areas of the park. Johanna spent the day fighting with Amelia for Alene's hand.

The kids got to pet a kookaburra, did an activity to emulate an elephant's trunk, saw some bald eagles and prairie dogs and condors and bighorn sheep.

After a snack, we reviewed the day, the kids all ran around, and we got to see a desert tortoise close up before calling our camp to an end. Before meeting up with the rest of the family to take the tram, Johanna and I enjoyed a slow meandering walk to the elevator/treehouse.

This is what I would call a victory...Johanna playing under the misters.

On our way out, we stopped by the gorillas and were lucky to see momma holding her new baby.

If you're interested in any of the various camp programs for kids, either at the San Diego Zoo or the Safari Park, click here for more information. If camp isn't right for you or you just don't have the luxury of spending the middle of the day at the zoo, you can always just get a Zoological Society membership and build your own adventures. If you don't have children and are interested in adult adventures, there are plenty of those to go around, too, like the Room to Roam or Roar and Snore adventures. Check back here next week, too, because on Friday I'll be doing the 2/3 Mile Flightline Safari over the park. It's part of their special Moonlight Safari that only takes place during the full moon of July 15 & 16 and August 12 & 13. If you wanna join me, register now! If everything works out, I'm hoping to get there early enough to see the cheetah run, too.

Of course, I took a whole bunch more photos, so here's the full album.

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