The Hamill Family Play Zoo at Brookfield Zoo is turning 15 years old on June 15, 2016 and they are having a big birthday party featuring live music and entertainment, craft activities, multiple experts who will teach kids about their jobs, a plush animal clinic that your children can bring their plush pals to for some tender loving care, a parade, and more!
Open since June 2001, Hamill Family Play Zoo has encouraged millions of children and their families to take an active role in learning by touching animals, planting and tending a garden, examining animal X-rays, releasing ladybugs in the summertime, pretending to be a zoo director or animal keeper, engaging in mud finger painting, painting their faces, and building habitats as they imagine what it is like to be an animal.
“Hamill Family Play Zoo is one of our proudest exhibits,” said Stuart Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society. “At Brookfield Zoo, we understand how early childhood play opportunities help bridge the gap between children and nature. We hope that by allowing children to get up close and personal with animals and their environment, they will become active conservationists throughout their lives.”
Wednesday, June 15: The Big Birthday Party!
All Day at the Hamill Family Play Zoo from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
• Planting seeds in paper pots to take home and plant in your own garden*
• Scavenger hunt for Hami the Cat*
• Finger print painting on the South Mall
• Stuffed Animal Clinic on the South Mall
• Sand Painting in the Workshop*
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. — Meet the Zoo Veterinarian and learn how they care for animals at the Hamill Family Play Zoo.*
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. — Meet the Zoo Painter (10:00 – 11:00 a.m. will be in Play Zoo backyard* and from 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. they will be on the South Mall)
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. — Meet the Zoo Carpenter who will show what they build for animals at the Play Zoo. (South Mall)
11:00 a.m. — Zoo Chat with a special guest, Norman the Porcupine*
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. — Meet the Enrichment Workshop Crew and see how they help provide enrichment for the animals around the zoo (South Mall)
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Planting the Family Gardens at the Play Zoo. We will be planting carrots and a Three Sister Garden (corn, squash and beans).*
1:00 – 2:30 p.m. — The band CREW to perform on the South Mall (see below)
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. — Where is the Zoo Director? Meet the Executive Assistant to the Zoo Director and hear about the Zoo Director’s trip to Africa and help make a banner of all the animals they are going to see on Safari.*
2:30 p.m. — Zoo Chat on animal training*
5:00 p.m. — Play Zoo Parade around the South Mall
*additional fee applies.
The celebration continues on a smaller scale on the 15th of each month
There are also special activities from 10am-4pm on the 15th of the month, which will continue through December 15. Guests have opportunities to meet zoo professionals, participate in scavenger hunts, learn about the animals during Zoo Chats, get creative with art activities, play a part in animal training or husbandry sessions, and join in fun-filled parades.
Each month, informal chats with staff highlight a different area of expertise, exposing children to different aspects of zoo life, including veterinarians, animal care specialists, carpenters, zoo writers, volunteers, and more. Families can come back month after month to learn something new.
Here’s the schedule for the remainder of the year…
- Friday, July 15: Zookeepers and Veterinarians
- Monday, August 15: Enrichment Workshop Crew
- Thursday, September 15: Groundkeepers
- Saturday, October 15: Education
- Tuesday, November 15: Volunteers
- Thursday, December 15: Librarian, Photographer & Videographer
Hands-on Experiences at Hamill Family Play Zoo All Year Round
The Nature Swap, which resembles a children’s bedroom, is filled with hundreds of treasures, from small rocks and seashells to antlers and shark jaws. Through the program, youngsters ages 5 and older bring in items they have found while exploring the outdoors or even bring in journal entries, photos or drawings and trade them for items found in the Nature Swap’s collection.
The Greenhouse gives children and their families the opportunity to plant seeds, make cuttings, design planters, and help maintain the exhibit’s plants.
Visitors have the opportunity to interact, touch and ask questions about animals.
How children have contributed to and participated at Hamill Family Play Zoo
- Face Painting–since the opening, visiting children, and even many adults, have used more than 35,000 crayons to create a variety of animal faces on themselves.
- There have been 630 ladybug releases resulting in around 2,835,000 ladybugs taking flight.
- Approximately 1,785 stories have been told by Play Zoo staff.
- Children have created more than 7,500 feet or about a mile and a half of mural artwork to decorate the zoo. (This does not include artwork they have taken home!)
- More than 225 gallons of glue has been used for art projects.
- More than 450 gallons of washable tempera paint has been used by children to create works of art.
- Children have wrapped more than 121,752 feet of ace bandages on plush animals in the exhibit’s Animal Hospital.
- More than 90,000 toilet paper tubes have been used for art projects—that’s more than 68 miles of tubes.
- Children have made more than 18,700 bird feeders.
Hamill Family Play Zoo has also won some incredible awards throughout the past 15 years.
- 2002—Best Exhibit Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- 2009–#2 of Best Zoos for Kids by Parent Magazine
- 2011—Best Hands-on Exhibit for Animal Lovers from Chicago Magazine
- 2011—National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification
- 2011—Education Award for Significant Achievement for NatureStart: Early Childhood Nature Program from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- 2013—Champion of Change from the White House for reaching young children and their families
- 2013-2016—La Grange Area Department of Special Education Vocational Alliance Partnership
- Appreciation Award for Good Works program, which provides a job site for special education students to learn vocational skills
- 2012-2015—Nature Explore Certified Classroom from the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions
- Educational Research Foundation. (Brookfield Zoo was the first certified Nature Explore Classroom in a zoo setting.)
- 2014-2015—National Inclusion Project partnership to implement a training program titled Let’s All Play that enables Zoo Camp staff at Brookfield Zoo to better serve children with disabilities
We are so fortunate to live a car ride away from Brookfield Zoo!
Admission to Brookfield Zoo is $17.85 for adults and $12.50 for children ages 3 to 11 and seniors 65 and over. Children 2 and under are free. Parking is $11. Admission to Hamill Family Play Zoo is $3 for guests 3 and older. The exhibit is free from November 1 through December 31.