John Ball Zoo

Preschool Programs

Preschool Programs are for our youngest zoo enthusiasts. These classes are designed for the child only and offer a fun, enriching learning environment where 3 and 4 year olds can explore the animal world. Class sizes are strictly limited to provide a safe and fun learning environment. Student to teacher ratios are 5:1. **All children must be completely self-sufficient in the bathroom. Diapers and pull-ups are not permitted. 

$20/Member/Class   $22/Non-Member/Class  9:00am-11:30am

    Winter in the Woods 2021/2022

    This winter, register your 3 and 4 year olds for Winter in the Woods through John Ball Zoo’s education department. If you bring the warm, dry clothing, we will supply the hours of outdoor exploration, fun, and hands-on learning in John Ball Park’s wooded hillside and natural spaces!  

    For young children, play is the natural and primary method of learning about themselves, other people, and the world around them. Snow can be the best toy a child will ever know. And we believe there is no such thing as an, “indoor kid.” When kids are dressed appropriately for the weather, their natural learning style emerges and we see active, happy, creative kids who, when allowed the opportunity, will have an awesome time outdoors for an hour or more! Even when the wind blows and snow piles up, children who are wearing warm, dry layers can play and play! Each week has a theme but each day is a new exploration so you are welcome to sign your explorer up for more than one session in a week!

    Themes we may be exploring may vary from the schedule below. These experiences will be largely based on the unpredicatable, teachable moments that occur in nature with young children. With this in mind, please know that if you sign your child up for a specific date based on the theme that week, it is entirely possible that the actual content may change based on the real-life experiences the kids are having outside! Stories, activities, and animal encounters may be more centered on the theme. 

    December 2 & 3 - Habitat Hike: During week one we will just explore our outdoor space and get the hang of having an outdoor classroom. We will go over safety and boundaries in nature. We will begin figuring out a variety of ways to move around out there on a steep-steep hillside. We will dig in our toes going up and our heels going down. We may crawl, climb, and balance. Your little scientist will be building strong muscles and bones out there in the woods!

    December 9 & 10 - Hibernation Exploration: Young explorers will be learning about where wild animals go for the winter, searching possible places animals may be hibernating. Explorers will go on the hunt for places to curl up and pretend to hibernate. Explorers will compare how animals stay warm in winter vs. how people stay warm in winter.

    December 16 & 17 - Finding Food: Animals who do not hibernate have to keep themselves fed. We'll explore to see if we can locate anything that might serve as food for these animals. We will bring some extra treats into the woods as a special holiday gift for the animals. Feel free (not required) to bring in dry, sugarless, cereal or fruits, seeds, and nuts for us to spread the love to our wild animal friends!

    January 6 & 7 - Animal Tracks:  Explorers will learn how and where to look for various animal tracks in nature. They may be searching in mud, snow, or even frozen in ice. In the winter woods we will make and look for our own tracks as well. 

    January 13 & 14 - What is Water?:  Investigate snowflakes under magnifiers, inspect ice, and learn about  all things water as it relates to winter!

    January 20 & 21 - Totally Trees:  Explorers will observe a variety of different trees and begin to learn how to tell them apart by noticing the bark. We'll learn how to tell the difference between a living branch or tree and one that has died. Using our observation skills we will notice the different ways that trees might grow, whether tall or short, branchy, twisted, or crooked, set apart or in groups of trees. 

    January 27 & 28 - Scientific Senses: Touch: For the next 5 weeks we will focus on using one of our senses at a time. This week, your little scientists will be encouraged to touch many different textures out in nature, (as long as we can cope with having mittens off to do so.) In the classroom we will meet animals with super senses.

    February 3 & 4 – Scientific Senses: Smell and Taste: This week we will encourage your sensory learners to really notice what they can smell with their noses and taste with their tongues! We will sniff trees, earth (if available), rocks, and (hopefully) taste the snow! We will learn about animals and their often powerful senses of smell. We will sniff our snacks but be glad we don’t have to sneak up and pounce on them! We will examine our own tongues in the mirror and learn about our taste-buds, then compare tasting our snack with our noses plugged vs unplugged!

    February 10 & 11 – Scientific Senses: Hearing: Ears like a rabbit? Whoooo else has amazing ears? We will do our best while wearing winter gear to listen to the sounds around us this week in the woods. What makes sound, can move things around, and can be felt, but never seen? (Shhh, don’t tell the answer yet!) How can we move our heads or use our hands to help us hear better? What happens when we close our eyes and listen?

    February 17 & 18 – Scientific Senses: Seeing: We already use our eyes more than most of our other senses, but this week we will draw special attention to what we can see with our amazing eyes! How many different colors do we see in nature in the winter? We will make predictions and then go collecting sights in the woods.

    February 24 & 25 – Patterns in Nature: We will see if we can find some fractals! Yes, even 3 and 4 year olds can do this! There are repetitive patterns that can be seen in nature, such as sunburst, spiral, helix, meandering, and close-packing. Where will we find patterns? Can we draw these patterns ourselves? Let’s find out!

    March 3 & 4 – Nests and Burrows: Let’s make our own cozy homes! Using snow, leaves, rocks, and the hillside we will attempt to make our own little nests and burrows.

    March 10 & 11 – Nature Treasures: Treasures in nature are abundant! Some of us collect cool rocks. Others notice interesting seeds or pods. Certain sticks or branches have interesting patterns! Many treasures are too large to take with us (like a big sassafras tree!) but others will fit nicely in a pocket or carried in our hands. This week we will look for treasures!

    March 17 & 18 – Seasonal Signs: Little scientists will be comparing different seasons based on their own memories of spring, summer, and fall, as well as their immediate observations of winter. Scientists will go in search of signs such as buds waiting for spring and dead leaves from fall.

    March 24 & 25 - Change Happens: This week we will pay special attention to ways nature has changed in our outdoor "classroom." What looks, sounds, or even smells different than before? Did we cause any changes?



    Winter in the Woods Information Packet

    Sprouts Spring 2022

    Each week the Sprouts will explore outdoors in the Zoo as they learn about animal classification through live animal observation, exposure to quality fiction and nonfiction texts, and an up-close, hands-on animal encounter!  We will focus on the 4 Bs of vertebrates and also get close to some invertebrates as well. Please join us for 1 class, a few classes, or the whole series. Please note that Monday and Tuesday’s class of the same week will be identical. We recommend choosing the day of the week that works best for you but do not recommend doing both days. 


    April 11 & 12 - Beautiful Birds: Sprouts will visit our variety of birds and learn about what makes a bird a bird!

    April 18 & 19 - Marvelous Mammals: Your small scientists will get to see many types of mammals, from otters to tigers, followed by an opportunity to visit a mammal or two up close.

    April 25 & 26 - Reptiles Rock: Learners will take a stroll through our Natural Treasures building as we notice what type of body covering reptiles have and compare it to what we learn in our books as well as what we feel when we get a chance to touch some real reptiles!

    May 2 & 3 - Awesome Amphibians and Fabulous Fish: 

    This week your Sprout gets to jump around and view some fabulous frogs, slimy salamanders, and terrific toads.  Though we can’t touch our ambassador amphibians without possibly harming their sensitive skin, we will get to look as closely as possible as we talk about what we are noticing. 

    Our Michigan freshwater stream and aquarium are homes to some really cool fish and invertebrates.  We will be learning about how these different animals can live underwater all of their lives.  How do they breathe?  How do they stay safe?  Kids will ask and discover!



    Sprouts Information Packet




    Meet the Teacher

    Tahlia Hoogerland 

         Tahlia is a certified teacher with two degrees in Early Childhood Development and 20 years' teaching experience. She has been an instructor here at John Ball Zoo since 2017, primarily teaching Sprouts classes and facilitating Travel Zoos and Wild Encounters for school groups. Additionally, Tahlia has designed and facilitated outdoor education experiences with elementary school age children since 2009. 


    Please direct questions to or 616-336-4302