California Camp Invites Kids With Special Needs to Zoo Fest

Children and nature


Kids (and adults) with special needs in Cupertino California can get up close and personal with nature this weekend, March 5-8 with a three-day Zoo Fest from Via Services. For children in speech-therapy, a chance to get out into the community is the best way to generalize and learn new skills. With Via Services, trips like this one to the zoo provide stimulation for both the mind and body in the great outdoors, away from the distractions of Playstation, Youtube and iPads.

Via Services


Via Services is a private, independent non-profit organization. Their mission is to help individuals with disabilities and special needs achieve greater self-sufficiency and lead richer lives. The organization provides a first step early intervention program, respite services, day and residential programing under the theme, “living healthy,” which advocates emotional and physical well-being for persons with disabilities. Their Via West Campus offers year-round day and residential programs for adults and children, ages 5 and older, with physical and/or developmental disabilities and special need. Week-long summer programs include specialty sessions for specific groups such as: Autism, for ages 8 – 20 that focuses on communication and skill development; Down syndrome, for participants ages 8 – 20 with a focus on skill development and recreational activities; Young Adult Leadership Development, for ages 18-30 which seeks to develop leadership and independent living skills. Weekend programs in the spring/fall offer a variety of life skills and community integration opportunities, including Zoo fest!


Past events have included themes for everyone: Its Harry Potter Halloween, Jingle Bell Rock and Be My Valentine.


Zoo Fest

During zoo-fest, participants will enjoy a day-long field trip to Happy Hollow Park and Zoo. Topics include visiting the animals (of course) and lessons about ranching, farming, and our environment. Zoo Fest is a new event for persons with mild-moderate disabilities who benefit from respite. According to the website, this session is designed for 3:1 mainstreamed participants. Registration forms for respite can be downloaded online.

Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

Happy Hallow Park and Zoo, a sustainable, conservation-centered outdoor adventure for families with children, is located  in San Jose, California. The park and zoo offers a variety of activities including puppet shows, rides, classes and, of course, the zoo. Visitors can enjoy mammals, reptiles, and birds.

Language Learning at the Zoo

Though it might sound exhausting or a bit overwhelming, taking children with special needs to the zoo can be a great experience for language learning. Here are a few language-based tips for making the trip successful and stimulating:

–       Create a social story or Google a Youtube video of the facility before the trip. Share and discuss this with your child beforehand.

–       If your child uses assistive technology to communicate, prepare for the trip ahead of time by putting animal vocabulary into their communication tool(s).

–       If your child struggles with naming all of the animals, review the colors they might be or are and have them label using those (“Pink” is much easier to say than “flamingo!”)

–       Create and play a game of, “guess this animal” using sounds or gestures. This is a great way to practice “WH-“ type questions (Where does it live? What does it look like?)

–       Read zoo books to carryover and reinforce concepts at home. Vocabulary might include: rides, tickets, cage, food, shelter, zookeeper etc. Try Goodnight Gorilla for younger kiddos.

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