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Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and National Head Start Association Partner to Reach Children Nationwide About Animals and Conservation

Virtual Zoo Field Trip Series Kicks Off April 7 With Giant Pandas
  • Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji hanging upside down from his outdoor play structure.
    In celebration of the 50th anniversary of SNZCBI’s giant panda conservation program in April, Head Start classrooms across the nation and the general public are invited to tune in to see and learn about giant pandas April 7 at 1 p.m. ET.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (SNZCBI) and National Head Start Association (NHSA) have announced today, March 31, a yearlong partnership to provide free nature- and conservation-based learning opportunities about SNZCBI animals to young children in Head Start programs across the country. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of SNZCBI’s giant panda conservation program in April, Head Start classrooms across the nation and the general public are invited to tune in to see and learn about giant pandas April 7 at 1 p.m. ET.

“The Smithsonian is excited to collaborate on high-quality education programming with National Head Start audiences across the U.S.,” said Monique M. Chism, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Education. “Together, we’re working toward eliminating barriers to access for our nation’s youngest learners, their families and their dedicated teams of educators. We’re committed to supporting these learners as they grow and develop skills in curiosity, creativity and care for themselves, one another and our planet.”

As part of this collaboration, the first for NHSA with a zoo, SNZCBI’s Center for Learning Innovation will co-host four 30-minute virtual field trips connecting young children to a variety of animals. SNZCBI and NHSA will also develop and distribute educational activities and materials for Head Start students, teachers and families to help inspire young children’s curiosity about animals and cultivate a lifelong desire to protect the natural world. In addition to April 7, virtual field trips will be held in October 2022 and January and March 2023 and will be available to view as a recording following each broadcast on the SNZCBI and NHSA websites. Head Start classrooms can join the NHSA in the Classroom mailing list for more details.

“In a time of so much disruption in early childhood education, we are thrilled to partner with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute to ensure Head Start children are still able to engage in rich cultural experiences and unique educational opportunities,” said Yasmina Vinci, NHSA executive director. “Much like how our ‘NHSA in the Classroom’ partnerships with the Kennedy Center and Big Heart World introduce Head Start children to the arts, we believe this partnership will spark a curiosity about our natural world and love of science in our youngest learners.”

The April 7 virtual “Panda-versary at the Zoo” field trip will inspire the next generation of conservationists with music, movement and a mix of live and recorded content. During the live portion, viewers will see the Zoo’s giant pandas and zookeepers will answer questions received in advance from young fans in Head Start classrooms nationwide. In March, more than 100 Head Start classrooms voted to design a panda-friendly fruitsicle ice cake made by the Zoo’s Department of Nutrition Sciences for adult male giant panda Tian Tian. The winning choices will be revealed during the April 7 broadcast. Giant pandas at the Zoo eat a carefully managed diet of bamboo supplemented by high-protein biscuits and frozen treats, like ice cakes that are made from frozen-diluted juice and fruits and vegetables such as sweet potato, apple, carrot and sugar cane.

In addition to the virtual field trip series, SNZCBI educators are collaborating with DC Head Start to visit classrooms across the nation’s capital for giant panda-themed “Bring the Zoo to You” story time from April through June.

“Education is an essential component of the work we do,” said Brandie Smith, John and Adrienne Mars Director of SNZCBI. “We’re committed to eliminating barriers to access so all children and families can learn from our animals and experts. This partnership opens that door for young children in our local community and across the country.”

Co-hosted by puppeteer Rachel Hutchison, associate of Special Projects at NHSA, as puppet “Pinky Jackalope,” and Emily Porter, manager for Early Childhood and Family Learning Experiences at SNZCBI’s Center for Learning Innovation, the virtual field trip series will feature playful conversations with Smithsonian animal care and conservation science experts and will be infused with music and movement by Nick “The Music Man” Young (PlayMotion Music).     

SNZCBI leads the Smithsonian’s global effort to save species, better understand ecosystems and train future generations of conservationists. Its two campuses are home to more than 2,000 animals, including some of the world’s most critically endangered species. Always free of charge, the Zoo’s 163-acre park in the heart of Washington, D.C., features animals representing 360 species and is a popular destination for children and families. At the Conservation Biology Institute’s 3,200-acre campus in Virginia, breeding and veterinary research on species provides critical data for the management of animals in human care and valuable insights for conservation of wild populations. SNZCBI’s staff and scientists work in Washington, Virginia and with partners at field sites across the United States and in more than 30 countries to save species and conserve native habitat. SNZCBI is a long-standing accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. 

NHSA is committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in school and in life. The opportunities offered by Head Start lead to healthier, empowered children and families, and stronger, more vibrant communities. NHSA is the voice for more than 1 million children, 270,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start grant recipients in the United States.