HELLO! WELCOME TO COLCHESTER ZOO

Home Education Classes

Free educational sessions for home educated children

The details on this page refer to classes from Sept 2017-July 2018.
For information for upcoming sessions which will be offered from Sept 2018 - May 2019, click here.


These sessions are aimed at families who home educate. If you are a teacher at a school, please see our school page for more details (click here). Sessions are free to attend, but require pre-registration. Unregistered children will not be allowed to participate. Home education classes are designed to build on one another, and you can (if registered) attend all the age-appropriate sessions, or if you prefer, just register for one or two.

These sessions do not include entry to the zoo. Participants must arrange entry separately either by paying standard entry fees (click here for prices), organising themselves with 15 people to qualify for our group rates (click here for group details), or using zoo passes (click here for pass details) (recommended if you plan on attending more than one session) to gain entry to the zoo.

Sessions will be offered on TWO DAYS each month. The sessions on both days will be identical (e.g. the session will be offered on Monday and the same session again on Wednesday), and sessions will take place at the same time on both days. Please only register for one day each month.


Session Dates for 2017-2018:

  • September – Monday 4th & Wednesday 13th
  • October – Monday 2nd & Wednesday 4th
  • November – Monday 6th & Wednesday 8th
  • December – Monday 4th & Wednesday 6th
  • January – Monday 8th & Wednesday 10th
  • February – Monday 5th & Wednesday 7th
  • March – Monday 5th & Wednesday 7th
  • April – Monday 16th & Wednesday 18th
  • May – Monday 21st & Wednesday 23rd
  • June – Monday 18th & Wednesday 20th
  • July – Monday 16th & Wednesday 18th

See below for the specific topics covered at each session. Click on any of the session titles or scroll down the page for a more detailed description of each session including key points covered.

Scheduled sessions for ages 5-7 are:

Classes for age 5-7 meet from 12:00-12:45 (see below for specific dates).
These classes last 45 minutes.
All sessions for 5-7 year olds fully booked Waitlist available

Scheduled sessions for ages 7-11 are:

Classes for age 7-11 meet from 1:00-1:45 (see below for specific dates).
These classes last 45 minutes.
All sessions for 7-11 year olds fully booked Waitlist available

Scheduled sessions for ages 11-16 are:

Classes for age 11-16 meet from 2:00-3:00 (see below for specific dates).
These classes last 60 minutes.


Class registration: Participants must be registered a minimum of 2 days prior to the class. Please fill in this registration form (click here for form) and send via email to education@colchesterzoo.org to register for the sessions. After your booking form has been received by our education team, within two-three days you will be sent a confirmation email to the email address you provided confirming your registration for the sessions.

Age to Attend Sessions: The sessions are divided into different age groups because this lets us tailor the session to include terminology and activities which are better suited to different age ranges. However, the ages we provide are just guidelines of where we will be targeting the information/activities, not firm requirements. To ensure the smooth running of the session, and for the benefit of all participants, we request younger/older children do not attend if they would be disruptive to the rest of the group.

Adult Supervision: All children attending sessions must be accompanied by an adult.

Minimum Class Size: Colchester Zoo reserves the right to cancel a class, no less than 4 days prior to the first class of the month, if registration is under five participants. In this event, you will be notified via the email you provided when you registered. You will also be given the option to attend the other date the same session is offered (e.g. if the Monday session is cancelled you would be offered a space in the Wednesday class if you so wish).

Maximum Class Size: Classes have a maximum of 25 participants. If a class is full, you will be put on a waiting list and contacted if there are any cancellations. Being on the wait list does not guarantee you will be able to attend the session.

Unattended Sessions: If you are unable to attend a session, please inform Colchester Zoo via email (education@colchesterzoo.org) as soon as possible. This will allow them to contact someone on the waiting list to let them attend. If you repeatedly do not attend sessions you are registered for, without letting the zoo know, you may be removed from future sessions.

Please note - Home Education sessions are free of charge. However, Registration for sessions does not include entry to the zoo. Participants must arrange entry to the zoo separately; either paying entrance price, organising themselves independently into a group of 15 (to qualify for group rates), or using zoo passes (gold or platinum cards) (see above for further details).


Sessions for Ages 5-7

(12:00-12:45)


September – Explore Animal Teeth and Diets

Ages 5-7, Monday 4th (Session full) & Wednesday 13th September
Children will get the chance to investigate animal skulls. We’ll discover why teeth look so different depending on what animals eat. Based on this, we’ll explore the skulls in more detail to try and guess if the animals eat meat or plants.

Key points covered: teeth (canines and molars); animal diets – carnivore, omnivore, and herbivore.


October – Under the Sea

Ages 5-7, Monday 2nd (Session full) & Wednesday 4th (Session full) October
What is it like under the sea? Do ocean animals have anything in common? How can they live under water? Children will learn some of the key adaptations of animals that live under the sea by exploring bio-facts and learning about these amazing creatures.

Key points covered: adaptions of ocean animals; variety of life under the sea.


November – Big Cats

Ages 5-7, Monday 6th (Session full) & Wednesday 8th (Session full) November
Children will learn about the four types of big cats and what makes a big cat different from other cats. Differences and similarities between these cats will be explored through the use of hands-on biofacts.

Key points covered: introduction to classification and sorting animals; big cats (lion, jaguar, leopard, and tiger).


December – Mountain Animals

Ages 5-7, Monday 4th (Session full) & Wednesday 6th (Session full) December
What are mountain habitats like? Children will learn about the key characteristics of mountain habitats. A costume demonstration will help highlight the main adaptions mountain animals have to live in such extreme environments.

Key points covered: key characteristics of mountain habitats (cold, few plants, little shelter, etc.); where are mountains found; animal adaptions to mountain habitats.


Christmas Penguin Educational Experience

Monday 4th (Session full) and Wednesday 6th (Session full) Dec 2017

Recommended for ages 5 to 9
60 minute session from 2:00-3:00

Take part in a wonderful Christmas educational experience at Colchester Zoo! The session begins with a festive elf who needs the group’s help to learn all about penguins. All participants will then get the chance to observe a real penguin up close to test what you’ve learned. Father Christmas will then join the group to see how much you’ve learned about one of his favourite winters animals! At you leave, Father Christmas will give each child a lovely penguin gift. This session will be identical to the Christmas Penguin Educational Experience we ran in Dec 2016, so if you attended last year it may be slightly repetitive, but you are still welcome to register and attend.

Due to the up close animal experience and the gift, there is a charge of £3 per child attending the session (this includes younger siblings attending).

Please note that we will still be running our usual free educational sessions earlier on in the day. You are welcome to attend both the standard education session as well as this additional Christmas Penguin Educational Experience.

This session has very limited places which will be filled on a first come first served basis. If you would like to attend this special Christmas Session, please email education@colchesterzoo.org to register with your child(ren)’s name and age and the parent/guardian’s full name (please note that this is a completely separate session and requires different registration than the usual free sessions for which registration is via the form found higher on this page). If you have any questions, please email education@colchesterzoo.org

Please note, this session (as with all the Home Education Sessions at Colchester Zoo) does not include entry to the zoo. Participants must arrange entry separately either by paying standard entry fees (click here for prices), organising themselves with 15 people and attend as a group (click here for group details), or using zoo passes (click here for pass details) (recommended if you plan on attending more than one session) to gain entry to the zoo.


January – Jungle Storytime

Ages 5-7, Monday 8th (Session full) & Wednesday 10th (Session full) January
Join us for this interactive story about life in the jungle. The use of activities and real animal biofacts will bring the story to life as we investigate what a rainforest is and which animals might live there.

Key points covered: listening to stories; rainforest habitat characteristics; animal adaptions.


February – Is This My Home?

Ages 5-7, Monday 5th (Session full) & Wednesday 7th (Session full) February
Through story, children will learn about a mystery animal. We’ll then travel the world with this mysterious animal deciding if each location would be a good place for the mystery animal to live.

Key points covered: listening to stories; habitat characteristics; animal adaptions to habitats.


March – African Animals

Ages 5-7, Monday 5th (Session full) & Wednesday 7th (Session full) March
Participants will actively explore animal artefacts (including furs, feathers, etc.) to identify animals that live in Africa. Using these same objects, children will get hands-on and sort these animals into four of the main African habitats: mountains, deserts, rainforests, and savannahs.

Key points covered: four African habitats (mountains, desert, rainforest, and savannah); adaptions of animals to their habitats.


April – Animal Words

Ages 5-7, Monday 16th (Session full) & Wednesday 18th (Session full) April
Children will get the chance to investigate a variety of real animal fur, feathers, scales and bones. We’ll then practice using descriptive words to label the objects.

Key points covered: general exploration; sight reading; adjectives and other descriptive words.


May - Madagascar

Ages 5-7, Monday 21st (Session full) & Wednesday 23rd (Session full) May
Where is Madagascar, and what makes it so unique? Children will discover the difference between lemurs and monkeys and which ones live in Madagascar. We’ll then investigate the variety of unique animals that live there.

Key points covered: Madagascan habitats; lemurs.


June - Bears

Ages 5-7, Monday 18th (Session full) & Wednesday 20th (Session full) June
Children will learn about the eight different types of bears and what makes them unique. We’ll then discover where in the world bears live. The session ends with a discussion about how some bears are threatened with a special look into the early life of Colchester Zoo’s two sun bears.

Key points covered: key characteristics of bears; animal diet and teeth; meaning of the word endangered.


July – Mini Zoo

Ages 5-7, Monday 16th (Session full) & Wednesday 18th (Session full) July
What is it like to be a zookeeper? A variety of hands-on games will show children some of the key jobs and responsibilities of being a zookeeper and how they look after such a variety of animals.

Key points covered: jobs and responsibilities of being a zookeeper; how to look after animals; animal basic needs.


Sessions for Ages 7-11

(1:00-1:45)


September – Who Eats Who

Ages 7-11, Monday 4th & Wednesday 13th September
What do animals eat? What eats them? A variety of hands-on activities help children learn about herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores and how they link together into food chains. There are also lots of skulls to examine to get a better understanding of how teeth work.

Key points covered: food chains and food webs; herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore; producer and consumer.


October – Layers of the Ocean

Ages 7-11, Monday 2nd (Session full) & Wednesday 4th (Session full) October
Children will discover the variety of life in the ocean as we investigate the different layers of the ocean. What lives on the continental shelf compared to the abyss and why are they different? While learning this, children get hands on with biofacts of a variety of ocean creatures.

Key points covered: ocean animal adaptions; layers of the ocean (continental shelf, sunlight zone, twilight zone, midnight zone, the abyss, and the trenches).


November – Animal Classification

Ages 7-11, Monday 6th (Session full) & Wednesday 8th (Session full) November
After discovering why we classify things, children will learn how modern biological classification and binomial nomenclature developed. Following this, children get the chance to guess what characteristics define animals in different phyla, with a particular focus on the five main vertebrate groups.

Key points covered: benefits of classification; binomial nomenclature; vertebrates and invertebrates; domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species; five main vertebrate groups (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals).


December – Animal Adaptations

Ages 7-11, Monday 4th (Session full) & Wednesday 6th (Session full) December
Using costumes, as a group we’ll explore what key characteristics animals have which make them adapted to be predators or prey and to live in hot and cold habitats. Through the use of costumes and biofacts, children will learn the difference between structural, physiological, and behavioural adaptions and how these help animals survive.

Key points covered: animal adaptations for prey/predator and hot/cold habitats; difference between structural, physiological, and behavioural adaptations.


Christmas Penguin Educational Experience

Monday 4th (Session full) and Wednesday 6th (Session full) Dec 2017

Recommended for ages 5 to 9
60 minute session from 2:00-3:00

Take part in a wonderful Christmas educational experience at Colchester Zoo! The session begins with a festive elf who needs the group’s help to learn all about penguins. All participants will then get the chance to observe a real penguin up close to test what you’ve learned. Father Christmas will then join the group to see how much you’ve learned about one of his favourite winters animals! At you leave, Father Christmas will give each child a lovely penguin gift. This session will be identical to the Christmas Penguin Educational Experience we ran in Dec 2016, so if you attended last year it may be slightly repetitive, but you are still welcome to register and attend.

Due to the up close animal experience and the gift, there is a charge of £3 per child attending the session (this includes younger siblings attending).

Please note that we will still be running our usual free educational sessions earlier on in the day. You are welcome to attend both the standard education session as well as this additional Christmas Penguin Educational Experience.

This session has very limited places which will be filled on a first come first served basis. If you would like to attend this special Christmas Session, please email education@colchesterzoo.org to register with your child(ren)’s name and age and the parent/guardian’s full name (please note that this is a completely separate session and requires different registration than the usual free sessions for which registration is via the form found higher on this page). If you have any questions, please email education@colchesterzoo.org

Please note, this session (as with all the Home Education Sessions at Colchester Zoo) does not include entry to the zoo. Participants must arrange entry separately either by paying standard entry fees (click here for prices), organising themselves with 15 people and attend as a group (click here for group details), or using zoo passes (click here for pass details) (recommended if you plan on attending more than one session) to gain entry to the zoo.


January – Rainforest Animals

Ages 7-11, Monday 8th (Session full) & Wednesday 10th (Session full) January
Rainforests are a unique habitat because they are divided into layers. Children will learn about the emergent, canopy, understory and forest floor layers of the rainforest and about the animals that live at each level.

Key points covered: rainforest habitat characteristics; the different layers of the rainforest; adaptions of rainforest animals.


February – Darwin Explorers

Ages 7-11, Monday 5th (Session full) & Wednesday 7th (Session full) February
Learn about Darwin’s big ideas through hands-on activities with real specimens. Children will travel back in time to the era of the Victorian naturalist. Armed with field journals, they’ll hunt for beetles and other insects just as a young Charles Darwin did using similar skills to identify and classify their finds. Continuing on the adventure, children focus on Darwin’s later work. Hands-on with real scientific study skins, pupils compare bird beaks and feet to investigate how birds are adapted to specific diets. The study of bird beaks is then related back to the idea of evolution through natural selection.

Key points covered: the life of Charles Darwin; adaptation; survival of the fittest; evolution.


March – African Animals

Ages 7-11, Monday 5th (Session full) & Wednesday 7th (Session full) March
Discover the four main habitats of Africa and learn cool facts about some of the animals that live there. Focus on mountain animals, desert animals, rainforest animals, and savannah animals.

Key points covered: key characteristics of African habitats; unique adaptions of a variety of African animals.


April – Are Zoos Good? Persuasive Writing

Ages 7-11, Monday 16th (Session full) & Wednesday 18th (Session full) April
Reading and writing material based on conflicting viewpoints is an essential component of understanding the English language. At Colchester Zoo we recognise that there are many different viewpoints about zoos. In this session, children are introduced to ways to evaluate how writers use language for different impacts on the reader. Participants will also discover key indicators to distinguish between statements of fact and opinion. Based on this knowledge, children can critically assess the expert opinion given about the benefit of zoos.
At the end of the session, parents/guardians are provided with packs to continue the learning. The packs contain critical reading exercises (both for zoos and against zoos), as well as worksheets to assess learning. Based on their learning and reading, children have the opportunity to write letters on their opinions which can be sent back to the zoo to receive a response.

Key points covered: reading comprehension considering use of language, and impact on reader; difference between opinion and fact; identify scientific evidence that has been used to support or refute ideas or arguments.


May – Science in the Wild

Ages 7-11, Monday 21st (Session full) & Wednesday 23rd (Session full) May
Children learn how our real life wildlife ranger team use science in the wild at our nature reserve in South Africa. Working scientifically through hands-on investigation, participants will get the chance to put their skills to the test and identify what animals might be out there on the reserve based on gathered scientific evidence. This identification will involve the use of animal guides for tracks and scat as well as using dichotomous keys for harder identification skills.

Key points covered: using scientific enquiry; identification skills (including dichotomous keys); conservation jobs.


June – Australian Animals

Ages 7-11, Monday 18th (Session full) & Wednesday 20th (Session full) June
Children will learn about the major habitats of Australia and how animals are adapted to their specific habitats. The habitats covered are coasts (including coral reefs), forests, grasslands, and deserts.

Key points covered: key characteristics of habitats; variety of animals found in Australia; marsupials.


July – Being a Zookeeper

Ages 7-11, Monday 16th (Session full) & Wednesday 18th(Session full) July
What is it like to be a zookeeper? A variety of hands-on activities will illustrate the variety of jobs zookeepers do, and what key skills are required to be a zookeeper. We’ll then discuss what sort of experience and skills are needed to go into a job working with animals, such as being a zookeeper.

Key points covered: jobs of zookeepers; animal career skills.


Sessions for Ages 11-16

(2:00-3:00)


September – Conservation

Ages 11-16, Monday 4th & Wednesday 13th September
What is conservation and why should we care about it? Participants discover this while examining endangered species artefacts and learning about the threats they face. After learning about how zoos and other organisations help conservation, participants figure out why that might not be enough. The problems of uneven distribution of wealth and food are discussed leading into the issue of different stakeholder demands. The example of palm oil plantations in the rainforest is used to illustrate that different stakeholders have different priorities, which is then tied back into conservation.

Key points covered: appreciate the complexity of conservation issues as well as balancing the needs of local human communities and conserving nature.


October – Fieldwork

Ages 11-16, Monday 2nd & Wednesday 4th October
Learn details about some of the amazing conservation work being done in the wild. Following real life examples from Colchester Zoo’s wild projects, participants will learn about the variety of skills and techniques that let rangers, conservationists, and biologists monitor animals in the wild and learn more about them.

Key points covered: Key points covered: species richness vs. species abundance; animal counts (quadrants, transects, etc.); feeding behaviour; habitat utilisation; animal population estimates (including Mark-Recapture studies and the Lincoln–Petersen method).


November – Sustainability

Ages 11-16, Monday 6th & Wednesday 8th November
An introduction to the complex issue of sustainability which is balancing the needs of economy, equality and ecology. This session will include a focus on some of the more complex problems relating to long term conservation including climate change, sustainable harvesting of timber and fish, and economic growth.

Key points covered: world poverty; climate change; overexploitation; maximum sustainable yield harvest rates; harvesting efforts; recycling.


December – Managing Zoo Animals

Ages 11-16, Monday 4th & Wednesday 6th December
Participants will learn the basics of how zoos manage the complex needs and requirements of the vast number of species under their care. The session will start with an introduction to collection planning to better understand why zoos choose to house the species they do. After this, safe management of animals is explored in more detail including physical and chemical restraint (how they are used safely and when they might be required), and the pros and cons of allowing contact (keeper or public) with zoo animals.

Key points covered: role of zoos; animal studbooks; public health and safety; animal training (including operant conditioning); physical vs chemical restraint; stand-off barriers; contact vs. non-contact animals.


January – Enclosure Design: Part 1

Ages 11-16, Monday 8th & Wednesday 10th January
(You don’t need to attend part 1 and 2, but the sessions work better if you can attend both)
Participants will learn all about creating appropriate enclosures for zoo animals. Using examples from the zoo, participants learn how enclosure design must meet the needs of the keepers, animals, and visitors. The needs of the animals are then explored in more depth with relation to the Five Freedoms and how we ensure proper animal care and welfare. The session ends with an introduction to an (optional) at home activity where participants can design their own zoo enclosures to present at Enclosure Design: Part 2.

Key points covered: enclosure design; UV lighting requirements; boiler and heating systems; off-show areas.


February – Enclosure Design: Part 2

Ages 11-16, Monday 5th & Wednesday 7th February
Based on the information and learning from the Enclosure Design: Part 1 session, participants were given an at home activity to design their own zoo enclosure for an animal at Colchester Zoo. This session will be an opportunity for participants to present their enclosure to qualified zoo staff to share their work and receive professional comments and questions on their designs.

(This session will be most relevant if participants attended Part 1 in January. If you are unable to attend Part 1, we can provide the information for the at home activity in January, email education@colchesterzoo.org for details.)

Key points covered: public speaking; presentations; zoo enclosure design.


March – Zoos as a Business

Ages 11-16, Monday 5th & Wednesday 7th March
This session will provide participants with an overview of Colchester Zoo as a visitor attraction. It covers a wide range of topics including: running costs, competition, staffing and job roles, our customers, zoo surveys, our products, marketing strategies, and advertising.

Key points covered: mission statements; zoo finances; customer service; advertising and marketing.


April – Are Zoos Good? Debating Skills

Ages 11-16, Monday 16th & Wednesday 18th April
At Colchester Zoo we recognise that zoos are an often debated topic. In this session, participants are introduced to key debating terms and practice their speaking and listening skills. Through a series of debating games, participants learn the concepts of agreement, disagreement, and persuasive speaking. After the session, participants are provided with worksheets for them to record first-hand observations about the pros and cons of the zoo. Participants will also be provided with further take home activities including critical reading exercises. These activities can be used in conjunction with the worksheets to culminate in an at-home formal debate about the purpose and benefit of zoos.

Key points covered: introduction to formal debating skills and vocabulary; the role of zoos.


May – Wildlife Rangers

Ages 11-16, Monday 21st & Wednesday 23rd May
Colchester Zoo owns a nature reserve in South Africa, UmPhafa. Participants will learn how our team of wildlife rangers at UmPhafa are working to conserve the local wildlife, while improving habitat quality and learning more about the animals that live there. Through hands-on activities and real-world field-science skills, participants will then get the chance to utilise some of the same techniques that our real wildlife rangers use to answer the question: what is living at UmPhafa?

Key points covered: habitat rehabilitation; using dichotomous keys; animal identification skills (tracking, browse id, etc.).


June – Q&A

Ages 11-16, Monday 18th & Wednesday 20th June
This is a unique session because it is simply an hour timeslot for participants to ask any questions at all to Colchester Zoo staff. For some of the more frequently asked questions we have a number of prepared slides which cover topics in depth and provides facts, figures, and information not available elsewhere. Staff are prepared to answer any questions on a wide range of topics including how we use science; specific job roles and requirements; specific information about individual animals; etc. This session will suit the needs of any participants who are gathering specific information for an activity/project/assignment, or anyone who is curious about how zoos (including Colchester Zoo) work.

This session will work best if participants come prepared with a list of questions to ask.

Session time may vary depending on the number of questions. Every effort will be made to answer all questions, but due to time constraints this may not be possible.

Key points covered: topics covered will be dependent on specific questions asked.


July – Animal Careers

Ages 11-16, Monday 16th & Wednesday 18th July
This session investigates the wide range of jobs which are available working with animals, including being a zoo keeper. Participants will learn which key skills are required to work in this industry, as well as potential career paths which lead to jobs working with animals.

Key points covered:
where to gain volunteer experience; relevant diplomas/courses/etc.; beneficial skills for specific jobs; the range of animal jobs available.


OPENING TIMES

Open daily from
9.30am - 6.00pm

upcoming events
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