Early Childhood Expo

Join us for our Early Childhood Expo, taking place March 14th and 15th, 2015 in the lower level of the Living World (located at the North Entrance). Each day 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Admission is free.

You and your little ones will have the opportunity to meet instructors and staff from each of our programs: Pre-School, Early Childhood Classes, the Wild Wonder Outpost, and Birthday Parties. Information about summer opportunities like Camp Joey will also be available.

Tickets for the Wild Wonder Outpost will be free while available, so you and your child can play and explore (limit of 6 per family). Sessions are on the hour from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. We will also be offering games, crafts, and other activities related to our various programs.

Spaces Still Available for 2014-2015 School Year

The Zoo's half-day preschool program began in September 2014 and will operate on Tuesday and Thursday mornings during the 2014-2015 school year in the new Monsanto Education Gallery in the Zoo's The Living World building. The school will integrate science and animal themes across the curriculum for ages 3-5, with a maximum of 18 students per class. Spaces are still available.

Applications for 2015-2016 school year will start February 1, 2015. See details below.


  • To nurture children and their families in a learning environment grounded in a healthy connection to the natural world.
  • To foster creativity and collaboration through child directed learning.
  • To address the needs of the whole child and help each individual reach their full potential.

Guiding Principles

Nature as Classroom

Like the forest and nature-based preschool movements, we believe that nature is the best possible classroom for children. The preschool will take full advantage of the Zoo's 90-acre campus, and the beautiful park surrounding it. Research tells us that children show improvements in social, emotional, and cognitive well-being when they spend time exploring the outdoors. We will spend time outside each and every day, and not just for “recess.” All areas of the curriculum will benefit from fresh air — from practicing our observation skills with the prairie dogs, to writing poetry inspired by the paddlefish. Our indoor classroom space was designed using biophilic principles and sustainably sourced materials to reflect the natural world all around us.

Zoo Connection

A unique aspect of a preschool at the Zoo, is that it will be integrated into a community that cares deeply about animals and their futures. Students will learn to think of themselves as scientists and as part of a scientific community. They will develop relationships with Zoo staff and use them as resources in their projects. Likewise, the children will have an amazing diversity of animals to study and observe. These unique relationships and experiences will lay the foundation for becoming scientifically and environmentally literate citizens in the future.

Constructing Knowledge

Our teacher teams are there to support the children as they learn and discover. Teachers create and prepare the learning environment intentionally, to inspire exploration — then the children direct the exploration. This allows children to construct their own knowledge, with the guidance from their teachers, creating a more meaningful learning experience. In the classroom, children may be exploring various centers, such as literacy, science, or art. Teachers may be observing, documenting students’ work, spending one-on-one time with students, or leading small group activities.

Project Construct, described above, is one of only four early childhood curriculums approved by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE.

A Community of Learners

Children will be members of a community of fellow students and teachers that work and learn together. They will learn the value of collaboration and how to support their fellow members in a positive way. They will also learn to view mistakes as learning opportunities, and to communicate honestly with one another. Each member will be treated with respect and given time to reflect on his or her own learning journey.

Project Based Learning

The children will also select topics as a group — researching and working as a team to create a project based on their learning. These are long-term projects that take an in-depth look at the subject at hand. Projects like this encourage collaboration, allow children to highlight their own unique talents and abilities, and incorporate all of the state Early Learning Standards.

Project based learning and the Reggio Emilia approach, as described above, are considered best practices in early childhood education today.

School Schedule

The preschool will operate on a traditional school year schedule, September to May, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. each school day. See school calendar.

  • (2014 and 2015) Children ages 3-4 will attend on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
  • (2015) Children ages 4-5 will attend on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. (Not offered in 2014.)

During the school year, the Wild Wonder Outpost discovery room will be open to public on weekends and when the preschool is closed. See Outpost schedule. Camp Joey will operate in the Education Gallery from June to August.


The Zoo's early childhood team has a combined 64 years of experience in early childhood and environmental education. Each team member also has a minimum of a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or a related science degree. The Zoo's program exceeds the required staff to child ratios of 1:6, allowing for more individualized time with each child.

Fee Structure

Ages 3-4 years

Two-day program (Tuesday and Thursday)
$400 per month

Students must turn 3 AND be able to use the restroom independently by September 1 of the school year you are applying for.

Ages 4-5 years

Three-day program (Monday, Wednesday and Friday)
$600 per month

Financial Aid

To make this program available to families with a range of incomes, the Zoo offers sliding scale tuition rates. Financial aid applications are processed by an independent agency, and need is assessed based on that information. Tuition discounts will range from 30 to 80 percent of full tuition based on need; however, full tuition assistance is not available. The financial aid application process is now open through February 28 for the 2015-2016 school year. See more information about the financial aid application process.

Application Process

  1. Applications for 2015-2016 school year will be accepted beginning February 1, 2015 ($25 non-refundable application fee). Spaces are still open for the rest of the 2015 school year. Please call (314) 646-4544 for information. 
  2. Interviews of parents or primary caregivers are required for admission and will be set by appointment for qualified applicants.
  3. Acceptance notifications are mailed.
  4. Placement is confirmed and $250 non-refundable deposit is due.

Based on the applications and interviews, 36 students will be selected — 18 in each age group.

Lab School

The Zoo's preschool will be working closely with Adrian Cerezo, Ph.D., Associate Director of Conservation Education Research at the Saint Louis Zoo. Dr. Cerezo will be collaborating with local universities to research a variety of topics, which may include the impact of environmental education and other related issues, on young children. As a lab school, the Zoo will provide access for his research team to observe the preschool program from time to time. These observations will create minimal distraction and disruption of classroom activities. The Zoo assures that it will be providing a high quality program that includes the most up-to-date theory and practices in early childhood education.

Contact Information

For more information, call (314) 646-4544.