Zoo education as a tool for teaching children about biodiversity

Biodiversity loss, both locally and worldwide, forms one of the most urgent and accelerating sustainability challenges humanity is presently facing. It is crucial to inform citizens about these challenges and engage them in finding solutions. Education has an essential role. However, it is not just up to schools. Zoos generally consider it their educational duty to teach about conservation efforts to protect endangered species and help visitors form connections to the natural world. The emotional power of encountering (endangered) animals close-up is seen as a stimulus to persuade people to live more sustainably. A three-year research study conducted by Wageningen University and in collaboration with a group of partners, focused on zoo education as an instrument for teaching children about the importance of biodiversity. If you want to find out more about the project see Background information research project.

Lesson programme Bio-diversi-WHAT?!

Do you want your students to truly understand what biodiversity means, to realize how important it is to protect biodiversity and know what they themselves can do? Then this comprehensive lesson programme tested by Wageningen University is perfect for your class. The lesson materials were developed as part of a large scale research study regarding the learning outcomes of a biodiversity education programme and the potential role of zoos.

By engaging with eight threatened animal species, under which the giant panda, the Humboldt penguin and the axolotl, students become acquainted with the complex concept biodiversity. They will come to understand that biodiversity has to do with (1) the differences within a species, (2) the differences between species, (3) the relationships between different life-forms and (4) the diversity of habitats. In small groups the students make use of a workbook and video to learn what their group’s animal needs to live and what that has to do with biodiversity.

Students are stimulated in an interactive way over the course of five lessons to do research and think critically. Experience has demonstrated that knowledge about the importance of biodiversity is not enough to stimulate action. Therefore the students also reflect on their feelings with respect to what threatens biodiversity and explore which actions they themselves can carry out to protect biodiversity. If the class goes to the zoo, then the students also engage their own senses to experience biodiversity. The teacher selects lesson programme variation A or B. Students doing variant A will have four lessons at school and one lesson in the zoo. Students doing variant B have all five lessons at school. Want to know more? Download the flyer!

Select variation A or B of the lesson programme and download the teacher manual and the lesson materials:

Zoo lesson

The lesson in the zoo will be conducted independently by the teachers and the students. The lesson materials offered on the website have been developed as part of a research project and have been tailored to Ouwehands Zoo in Rhenen. If a class wants to go to a different zoo, it is important to inquire if that zoo offers the Bio-diversi-WHAT?! lesson programme adapted for them. Every zoo is allowed to use the lesson materials and adapt them to their own threatened animals. Zoos offering the lesson programme can employ their guides during the zoo lesson. It is therefore important that the teacher discusses such coordination when they book the zoo visit. In summary, the teacher should make clear to the zoo, prior to the start of the lessons, that they want to do the lesson programme Bio-diversi-WHAT?! and inquire concerning the possibilities.

Background information research project

A three-year research study conducted by Wageningen University & Research, and in collaboration with a group of partners, focused on zoo education as an instrument for teaching children about the importance of biodiversity. Many children have heard about biodiversity, but research shows that teachers and school children often don’t really understand what it is. With support from the Zabawas Foundation and the Ouwehands Zoo Foundation, a tailormade educational program was developed for children in the upper primary years.

The program entails both classroom-based and zoo-based environmental education lessons. It incorporates two preparatory lessons at school, an interactive lesson at the zoo, and two lessons back in the classroom to integrate what the children experienced in the zoo as well as exploring additional aspects of biodiversity. There is also the choice of five lessons at school and no educational visit to the zoo. The lesson program includes learning objectives in three domains: (1) cognitive, (2) values, feelings and attitudes and (3) skills and action competence. Amongst other things, it was constructed with the intention to stimulate critical thinking and take into account the emotional aspects of dealing with severe problems such as biodiversity loss.

Rebekah Tauritz, lead researcher for this project, is currently evaluating the learning outcomes of the education project. Some of the measurements were repeated six months after the lessons took place to assess in addition the impact the project had over a longer period of time. The study incorporated a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data.

Although the arrival of the Giant panda’s in Ouwehand’ Zoo initiated the project, in the end eight endangered species were employed to focus on important aspects of biodiversity. The program as developed can, however, be adapted for any endangered species, making it a useful instrument for any zoo or environmental & sustainability education center to support their mission to educate visitors about caring for the natural world and, in particular, the urgency of protecting biodiversity.


Rebekah Tauritz is an experienced researcher in the field of learning for sustainability as well as having been a developer of environmental education and communication projects. She holds a BSc in Nature- and Forest Conservation and a MSc in Applied Communication Science and Environmental Education from Wageningen University, and a PhD in Learning for Sustainability from the University of Edinburgh.


  • Environmental and Sustainability Education
  • Education (primary, secondary and tertiary)
  • Zoo education
  • Biodiversity
  • Nature conservation

Symposium Bio-diversi-WHAT?!

Biodiversiwat symposium en.jpg

On Friday 20 May, closely preceding the international Day of Biodiversity, Symposium Bio-diversi-WHAT?! took place in Ouwehands Zoo in Rhenen. The symposium was of interest to those who want to learn more about the potential of zoo education programs about biodiversity.

Please note that the language of communication during the symposium will be Dutch.

On this day Wageningen University shared some of the results from the research study. During the past three years Wageningen University conducted a large scale research project focused on zoo education as a tool to teach children about the importance of biodiversity. Many children have heard of biodiversity, but research indicates that teachers and children often don’t really understand what it means. With the support of the Zabawas Foundation, Ouwehand Zoo Foundation and University Fund Wageningen, a tailormade educational program was developed for children in the upper primary years. Specific attention was paid to head (what do you know?), heart (what do you feel?) and hands (what do you do?).

During the symposium, the developed lesson program was officially offered to all the Dutch zoos who are members of the Dutch Zoo Federation and the Dutch environmental & sustainability education centers. In addition, during workshop round 1, the participants got the chance to work with some of the lesson materials and experience the zoo lesson first hand. During workshop round 2 we facilitated a meet & greet between the educators from the environmental & sustainability education centers and from the zoos, to discuss potential collaboration regarding the lesson program.