Tots Stop For Story Stop
AZAD Grant Awarded 2006
Rita McCall and Jackie Price, Kansas City Zoo
The Kansas City Zoo was looking for an interactive and lively program that would allow our docents to utilize their stage talents while delivering memorable conservation messages to young audiences. Story Stop has become this program and so much more. Over the last calendar year, we have been able to engage docents to deliver Story Stop, in settings where docents can be comfortable. Story Stop has allowed docents to engage the audience they most enjoy, young children. This paper will give the reader a chance to mimic this program in their Zoo setting. It will show the steps necessary to create, fund and market this popular program, share the tools necessary to gather appropriate activities and bio-facts that compliment animals near the exhibits. The criteria for story evaluation will be revealed and methods for implementing the program will be explained.
Training strategies will also be shared and statistics that measure success will be interpreted. Finally, the lessons learned will reveal important improvements that will ensure this program remain in operation for many years.
Development of the program, started with identifying the target audience. For the past two summers, Service Management Group (SMG) helped the Kansas City Zoo collect visitor satisfaction measurements. SMG is a Kansas City based company that conducts market research and customer satisfaction surveys for businesses.
The results of this survey prompted the education department to better educate our target audience, parents with stroller-aged children. The survey showed that 83% of the people who came to the Zoo visited with a child under the age of three. But, of those who visited with a child, only 28% rated the Zoo in the “Zone of Satisfaction”. In other words, most visitors are coming with a child, but are less satisfied. And, this same stroller crowd is less likely to recommend the Zoo to others, but more likely to return next year than the visitor without a child. Finally, the survey revealed that interaction opportunities ranked third on the list of drivers for satisfaction. Our philosophy became, “Give the targeted audience more of what they want.” That resulted in the development of a program for the stroller crowd that is interactive. Therefore we tried to reach our audience in the locations that they visit. This translated into eight kid friendly locations with stories being repeated during a two hour window from 10 am until noon. Two locations of the total eight are featured on a rotating basis Wednesday and Saturdays, May through September.
Next, the program was designed to fit those who would deliver it. A few of our docents have mobility and standing related health issues. It was necessary to invest in their needs because they still deliver an excellent program. Golf carts were summoned to deliver docents and materials to program sites. Story Stop locations were also placed in shady, more climate controlled areas with open seating and spaces to park strollers.
On-site interpretation has long been synonymous with fact vomiting. We are all guilty of boring visitors to death with trivia. Our mission, to education and entertain, planted the seeds for the development of a program that would encourage feelings of fondness towards animals. Research shows that young children will become empowered to help in conservation activities when they develop respect for animals. In a fanciful way, young children helped us develop this program because of their love for a good story. Our program was designed to introduce and promote a fascination and appreciation for animals. It is our hope that children will form a bond with nature and mature into caring and conservation conscious young adults. Three former teachers and a librarian were asked to find books that told stories about our popular animals. The search was on. These docents scoured our library, the public library, and book stores. They found hundreds of books. Stories were evaluated on kid friendliness, quality, length, pictures, accuracy, and appropriateness of the message. Stories were also selected based upon the animals identified in targeted exhibit areas. Stories with a simple theme or message worked better. At this point, it became apparent that funding for materials was needed. Early spring of 2006 an AZAD grant was awarded in the amount of $500. The Kansas City Zoo education department gave an additional $432 for the program.
The next step was to find bio-facts, artifacts, and puppets/stuffed animals that would help the stories pop to life. The Kansas City Zoo is fortunate to have a resource facilitator who is adept at knowing our collection. She gathered items that allowed us to put together tubs with books, touchable bio-facts, and puppets/stuffed animals that provided interactive activities highlighting the animals located in the exhibit area and featured in the selected stories. A tub inventory is attached.
Story Stop is free for all Zoo visitors. Publicity was needed to capture a visitor’s attention while planning the daily choices for their zoo visit. A large four-foot wide sign was designed that would allow us to notify the public of Story Stop dates and times. Richie Paulsen, a graphic designer, designed a logo for our sign. We also had our sign company make small hand held signs that are placed on grounds at the site locations. The design is shown below.
This sign allows us to slide out locations as the rotation changes. When Story Stop is not in session, the locations simply read Wednesdays and Saturdays. Story Stop locations are identified on our Zoo map. A yellow stop sign serves as the symbol. Once materials were gathered and tubs assembled, docents were enlisted for training as Story Stop presenters.
A mass email announced the program. Winning the AZAD grant bolstered the significance of the program because Story Stop became appealing as a quality program. The three docent researchers agreed to be trainers for the Story Stop program. Two trainings were held in the spring. Twenty-two docents were trained on the program in 2006 and an additional eighteen were trained spring of 2007. Training consisted of an explanation of logistics, introduction to the materials and practice delivery sessions. Trainers were experts with materials.
They shared effective ways to show bio-facts. These ladies also helped trainees with strategies to hold books, share stories without reading the book word for word, and puppet/stuffed animal use. In the spring of 2007, Joyce Slater, a professional story teller, was hired to teach story telling techniques. She gave the docents pointers on working with crowds. Her tips included ways to gather a crowd by using noisemakers including round bells and drums. She worked with docents to animate puppets. By manipulating puppet body parts, Joyce shared how puppets can engage visitors. She taught that eye-level eye contact, even though it is with a puppet, can muster a child’s attention. Story telling came to life when she coached docents on voice inflection and demonstrated how to tell a story without reading a book. The take home message was practice, practice, practice!
So far, the logistics for Story Stop have been fairly straight forward. The paid education staff must update and keep track of the schedule. Consistency allows a routine that helps the program flow. A rotation location was placed on the calendar for every Wednesday and Saturday from May 2 through September 29. Each day two locations are available. These dates and locations are placed on our Extranet, a computerized scheduling system.
Once docents are trained on the program they are allowed to volunteer by clicking on the program. Docents are met at 9:30 am by education staff. Staff updates them on daily Zoo events and other customer service issues.
Education staff helps gather the tub, changes the sign and drives the docent to the selected sight. Two hours later, education staff picks the docent up who returns the sign and materials to the library.
We ask docents to tally the number of visitors encountered and add weather comments. Since the Kansas City Zoo has few indoor spaces, it was thought that Story Stop would attract visitors to indoor spaces, but that has not been shown by the numbers. Our most popular exhibit area, Tiger Trails, had the majority of visitors and this is an outdoor location.
In 2006, 4,464 children listened to Story Stop stories. The Tiger Trails location accounted for 1,325 of those children served. While those numbers are not high, our system for counting participants has not been consistent. Lessons were learned in the first year that allowed us to enhance the program. Story Stop is enjoying a healthy second season. Early spring and summer dates are full. The professional story teller worked to help docents find a comfort level. The program was improved by implementing tips for crowd control in an informal environment. Mostly, docents had been drawing upon their years of informal teaching and management skills to gather an interactive crowd. The education staff is dedicated to help make this program work. And as an added benefit, Story Stop materials have been integrated into the first grade curriculum at a local school.
In short, the AZAD grant allowed us to develop a program that fits the major demographic of our Zoo visitor and docent population. By finding a fit for our volunteers and the Zoo, we have been able to create an exciting and simple way to deliver a conservation message to our visitors.