The Houston Zoo's Naturally Wild Swap Shop is a hidden little gem in the Children's Zoo area of the Houston Zoo. The Swap Shop is a place where children can bring items they have found on the ground, learn about them, tell about them, and trade them in for other cool nature items such as rocks, fossils, seashells, etc. Also, the naturalists will listen to your children present nature projects that they have done in school or your homeschool, ask them questions, and award them points to spend. Besides the zoo membership or zoo entry fee, this program is free, and it is a wonderful way for your child to practice public speaking, to reinforce and review what he or she has learned, and to be rewarded. You just can't lose.
My youngest has taken in projects on chipmunks, backyard birds, the Antarctic, and strange sea creatures. My oldest took in his Zoology notebook from the class he took at the REACH co-op, lapbooks on invertebrates and deep sea creatures, and reports he wrote on the chocolate chip sea star and the African wolf snail. My boys have also taken in lichen on a stick (and received extra points for knowing that hummingbirds make their nests out of lichen), cicada shells, etc. (For a list of what you canNOT bring, see the website).
As you enter the children's area of the zoo, the Swap Shop is located on your right, across from the splash area. The Swap Shop's hours are 9:00-11:45 and 1:00-3:45, and it is closed on major holidays. It used to be closed on certain days of the week, but those days are no longer listed on the website. If you want to call and check to be sure it is open, the zoo's number is 713-533-6500.
You are allowed to present 3 projects or objects during a visit. Some naturalists praise the children until they are glowing and give out points generously, and others are more conservative. However, I cannot complain. My children love to present, they love the prizes, and I love the educational benefits. Besides, it gives you a place to
get rid of all that yucky stuff take those precious collections of snake skins, cicada shells, dead insects, rocks, pine cones, sea shells, and leaves -- and they get rewarded for it!
From the website:
How It Works:
- Find a natural item you are interested in or would like to know more about.
- Learn all you can about your item.
- Bring your item to the Swap Shop and discuss what you learned with our Naturalist.
- Earn points for your item and for your knowledge about the item.
- Trade your points for something in our collection or save them for later.
You Can Earn Points For:
- Knowledge - What do you know about your item? Have you learned something interesting about your item?
- Quality - Is your item clean? Is it in good condition?
- Effort - What did you do to find your item? How much time did you spend researching and learning about it?