Planned learning experiences at Chester Zoo
The Learning Together project brought single parents and their children to Chester Zoo for planned educational experiences with the aim of exposing those families to environmental education that focused on zoos acting as catalysts for behaviour change. The project - which was free - brought families from economically and socially deprived communities. The project ran for almost two years and served 263 families with each family making three Zoo visits and subsequently participating in joint community-based exhibitions and displays to showcase what they had achieved.
A multi-dimensional and sequential research methodology was adopted for evaluation. This was comprised of parent focus groups held in the Zoo on the last day of the parents’ Zoo visits and individual parent interviews in the community up to seven weeks after the focus groups. At the same event which was the staging of exhibitions in Family and Community Centres, children completed Personal Meaning Maps (PMMs).
In order to gain further perspective, the project delivery team kept diaries in the style of field notes. Results from the focus group discourse indicated that parents appeared to leave primed for environmental action and this was corroborated by the findings of the interviews and the PMMs. The over-arching message from this study seems to be that past experiences of free choice learning, for this group at least, resulted in ‘just’ seeing the animals. Conversely, a managed programme of carefully constructed learning appears to have resulted in converting these same zoo visitors to willing learners.