A child peers through a magnifying glass A child peers through a magnifying glass

Learning Philosophy

Lincoln Park Zoo’s Learning department fosters an early and sustained love of nature and ignites the passion to save it. We serve as a catalyst to inspire our audiences—whether at the zoo, in Chicago neighborhoods, or around the globe—to create environments where wildlife will thrive in our urbanizing world.

Our programs instill curiosity and empathy for the natural world, connecting people to animals and nature to empower and motivate them to act as stewards of local environments and the global community. They constitute a comprehensive science- and nature-literacy agenda, where our institutional resources and proven practices in informal learning are combined to engage learners of all ages.

We work to develop caring, compassionate global citizens who can champion nature’s cause no matter their age or profession. For small children, this may mean simply playing in nature. For teens, this might mean developing leadership skills to motivate peers to get involved in conservation. For adults, this might mean gaining a deeper understanding of environmental issues and taking action to benefit wildlife. Whoever you are, we invite you to learn with us.

Learning Framework

Our Framework for Success

We accomplish our work through an outcome-based approach to learning, focusing on how our programs change what learners know, feel, and do. Taken as a whole, our suite of learning experiences is developed to encourage our audiences and program participants to:

  • demonstrate curiosity about animals, nature, conservation, and science
  • develop empathy for animals and nature
  • understand Lincoln Park Zoo’s role in animal care, welfare, conservation, and science
  • cultivate skills and abilities to positively impact the environment
  • act on behalf of local ecosystems and the global community

These elements are not experienced in every program, nor will participants experience them sequentially. Some programs focus exclusively on empathy-building while others may focus more on science skills. By incorporating these outcomes with culturally and developmentally appropriate programming, Lincoln Park Zoo offers a comprehensive suite of programs that allows for lifelong, life-wide learning. Ultimately, our hope is that participants in Lincoln Park Zoo learning programs will gain awareness, inspiration, self-efficacy, and empowerment to engage with nature and conserve it—no matter their age or past experiences.

We accomplish these outcomes through a variety of programs designed for key audiences:

  • Zoo Guests: We develop and deliver the signage and daily programs you encounter on a typical zoo visit, including animal training demonstrations, penguin encounters, and exhibit chats.
  • Children and Families: Through registration-based programs—like camps, toddler-caregiver classes, and campouts—and free programs, like community nature-play events and on-grounds sing alongs, we have something for the whole family to enjoy.
  • Students and Teachers: We know that learning is enhanced by exploring that takes place outside school grounds. We see ourselves as partners with our local school districts and teachers, providing programs that are relevant and accessible to their students in grades preK–12. And, of course, our incredibly popular camps run year-round to give students a great place to explore when school is not in session.
  • Teens: Our programming empowers teens to take an active role in conservation through development of life and career skills, connection with peers and professionals, and thoughtful exploration of environmental challenges and solutions.
  • Chicago Communities: We build deep, lasting relationships and co-create programs with community partners that connect people with nature in their neighborhood in ways that are meaningful for their community and culture. These collaborative programs are co-facilitated by staff from the zoo together with community partners in Chicago neighborhoods.

To support these efforts, our team includes professionals dedicated to inclusion, evaluation, and innovation.

  • We are committed to programming that is accessible and inclusive for all learners. Our Hart-Prins Accessibility and Inclusion manager works with zoo staff and members of the public to help ensure that we live by our motto: For Wildlife. For All.
  • An ethos of learning from ourselves and other professionals is core to our work. Through our Evaluation and Learning Research team, we ensure programs and initiatives align to their intended outcomes and remain attentive to the experiences of participants and partners.
  • Our Learning Exploration team is unique in the zoo and aquarium space. They function as research and development to explore promising practices in teaching and learning both at the zoo and in the community.