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How to Spot a Homeschooler at the Zoo

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(To be read in the voice of David Attenborough)

The homeschooler. Enigmatic and unconventional to much of the known world, the homeschooler is most at ease in its familial tribe or among creatures with similar interests. Contrary to popular belief, the homeschooler does have the ability to blend into its surrounding environment. However, to the well-trained, observant eye, there are some distinct ways that you can spot one in the wild. Today, in continuation of my series “How to Spot a Homeschooler,” we’ll be discussing how to spot a homeschooler at the zoo.

how to spot a homeschooler at the zoo

While we have yet to gain our own exhibit, homeschoolers can often be found at the zoo. We homeschool families are always amenable to a good field trip, and there are a few reasons the zoo never disappoints. Our love of outdoor spaces, animals, and the way that zoos can offer something new and educational to all different ages on each visit are all appealing factors. Plus, annual memberships and zoo passes mean that we can head out on a wild adventure (AKA field trip) as many times as we want throughout the year, taking advantage of slower seasons and times of day, too.

3 Tips on How to Spot a Homeschooler at the Zoo

If you’re a member of the homeschool flock, here are a few ways you can spot some fellow members of the species on your next zoo day (think of it as “bonus points” on your nature scavenger hunt!).

On public school field trips, students typically arrive in a school bus lined with same-aged peers and several adult volunteers. Sometimes these students even wear matching t-shirts to set them apart in a crowd. Spotting a crowd of public schoolers as they arrive for a field trip to the zoo is pretty easy. But here’s how to spot a homeschooler at the zoo: by their arrival, or “migration” to the zoo.

Obviously, there’s the time of day you can expect homeschoolers to arrive at the zoo. Do they wait until after school hours, when the zoo becomes more crowded and the snow cone line frustratingly long? Never! When a family with school-aged children shows up in the middle of the public school day, you know you’ve likely got some homeschoolers on your hands.

But it’s more than that. If you carefully watch for the homeschooler’s arrival, you will observe that we make an entrance—a migration, of sorts. For one thing, we often come with lots of ages, accompanying attachments, and—of course—snacks (sometimes even sneaking them in…shhh).

In short, you can observe that we have come to the zoo prepared to stay a while. No one is rushing us to get back in time for a 2:00 p.m. pickup line.

And lastly, calling upon a stereotype that exists for a reason: we often come in multi-passenger vehicles: SUVs, vans, and renovated church buses. While I personally am a homeschooling mama of a small family, there is no denying that there are many very large homeschool families out there. And the fact is that you can sometimes spot them by their unusually large, multi-passenger vehicles.

If you catch sight of homeschoolers at the zoo during the ritual known as a co-op field trip, you may even witness the great minivan migration!

Field trips in general look different to the homeschooling kind. Firstly, we do a lot of learning “in the wild” on a typical homeschool day: the grocery store, the plant section of Lowe’s, the car—all of these, and more, are regular places of learning. This is quite different from public or private school learners for whom “school,” when brought outside the classroom walls, is a novelty that can be exciting to the point of distraction.

This matters because it impacts how a homeschooler uniquely looks at field trips. Are they fun? Absolutely! Are they school? Absolutely! Are they outings in which to be “free” because we are “breaking out of school.” Errrr…beg pardon? This mentality would be foreign to many homeschoolers, and yet it is one that I recall vividly from my stints in public and private schools.

In short, homeschoolers are accustomed to switching on “learning mode” during field trips. It simply comes with the lifestyle. (Note: I think the real exception to this might be during a big, homeschool co-op event, in which the novelty is being on a field trip with lots of peers.)

Learning-driven Actions on Field Trips to the Zoo

  • (Kid-initiated) stopping to read every single sign.
  • Stopping to talk to zoo workers and ask questions.
  • Stopping frequently to ask (and possibly Google answers to) questions.
  • Asking about volunteer opportunities at the zoo, because the only thing better to field trips to the zoo would be more hands-on field trips to the zoo and opportunities to help out.

As you may have noticed, there’s a lot of stopping, but it’s generally all good for learning. Are homeschoolers perfectly behaved on field trips? Goodness no! However, I’d argue that they’re generally adept at “learning in the wild,” and this shines particularly well at the zoo. The one thing you might want to watch out for is homeschoolers correcting zoo workers on animal facts, as my (formerly homeschooled) husband used to get in trouble for doing

Continuing on the theme of “not all classrooms have four walls,” the zoo can also act as a homeschool base camp on days when the sight of our own four walls becomes too familiar (especially if an annual zoo pass is involved!). As discussed, homeschool “migrations” to the zoo often come with a large stock of supplies.

Sometimes that even includes more traditional schoolwork or special, zoo-based schoolwork, like a nature journal, a scavenger hunt, or an animal fact book. If a particular homeschooling pack is especially creative, it may even include animal-inspired math problems, a nature scavenger hunt, or notebooks and art supplies for drawing animals, naturalist-style.

In the event that a flock of homeschoolers has chosen to bring the entire range of academic subjects to the zoo with them, making a base camp for the day, here’s how to spot a homeschooler at the zoo by the unmistakable, physical evidence.

Physical Evidence of a Homeschooler at the Zoo

  • Pens, pencils, and sketchbooks
  • A backpack (possibly full of contraband snacks)
  • A polaroid camera (for the art project or scrapbook)
  • Art supplies
  • A student walking around with a phone, narrating his or her zoo observations in the style of David Attenborough. (Because homeschoolers know who that is.)
  • Barefeet and the possible sighting of a child doing bookwork up in a tree or at the zoo playground (because that’s how homeschoolers read sometimes)!

Concluding our foray into the study of how to spot a homeschooler at the zoo, one final observation must be made. Homeschoolers embark on a day at the zoo with the attitude of explorers, where learning through experience is its own adventure.

Most children are born with a love of animals and nature. Homeschoolers are pretty lucky that these interests have so much to teach, and that many homeschool parents fully recognize that value! Next time you go to the zoo, add these signs for “How to Spot a Homeschooler” to your scavenger hunt list…then look at yourself and see if any of these rang true for you! What are some other tips on how to spot a homeschooler at the zoo?

About the How to Spot a Homeschooler series:

This series offers a light-hearted glimpse into the recognizable quirks of homeschoolers, acknowledging the truth behind some common stereotypes, while poking fun at them, too! Don’t worry; I know that you can’t ever truly peg a one-size-fits-all definition of “a homeschooler.” (I wouldn’t dare!)

Homeschooling looks different to every family, and that’s one of my favorite things about it! That said, I hope you’ll have a laugh as you see yourself—or someone that you know—in these tongue-in-cheek observations. 

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Katie Gustafson has been a member of the world of “weird, unsocialized homeschoolers” for a long time–first as an alumnus and now as a homeschooling mom to a fiercely fun little girl! She’s very into anything creative, especially writing, dancing, and painting. She’s also particularly passionate about literature and owns more books than she will probably ever be able to read. However, she reassures herself with the belief that, in the event of a digital apocalypse, she’s cultivating a much-needed physical library for future generations. Katie is happy to contribute articles to Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers, Hip Homeschool Moms and Sparketh. She also has a personal blog on writewhereuare.com.

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