Location: 6800 Zoo Drive, Kansas City, Missouri 64132 (in Swope Park)
Cost: Varies–check the Web site for current pricing
Web site: http://www.kansascityzoo.org/
The Discovery Barn is easily our favorite place to visit in the zoo. It’s enclosed and temperature controlled, which means that it’s comfortable to visit regardless of the weather outside. There are play structures inside, most geared towards trying to do what the animals do, such as “climb like a squirrel monkey,” which let Peanut use up some energy even when it’s frigid outside. Most important, the meerkats and squirrel monkeys are the first animals Peanut responded to after his eye surgeries, which was magical for us–this ensures that the Discovery Barn will always have a special place in our hearts.
The top floor features macaws (or the top of the macaw exhibit, rather), meerkats, an amphibian ark and lemurs. You’re only separated from the meerkats and lemurs by glass, so little ones can press their noses centimeters away from small critters. Some of the amphibians are brightly colored–there are electric blue tree frogs that positively pop against their habitat–so it’s possible to see them, even though they’re small. There’s a foam tree for kids to climb on, and there’s a meerkat ‘house’ abutting the meerkat exhibit. Kids can crawl into a meerkat hole for a private meerkat viewing (there’s a small inlet to the window in here that can only be seen from inside the hidey-hole), or climb up on top of the meerkat tower for a closer look at their furry friends. There are sound tubes for cawing like a macaw; a puzzle-pole, for lack of a better term, where you can spin three blocks to put together animals’ heads, torsos and feet; and a spinning marble puzzle on the wall. Even if kids don’t see so well, they can experience the animals by means of the interactive exhibits.
A dark green spiral slide takes you down to the bottom floor of the Discovery Barn; it’s strong enough for kids to ride down with their parents if need be. Do be careful on the slide, as it’s VERY popular, and sometimes it’s in better repair than others. If you’re not feeling brave, there is an elevator to take you downstairs, or you can use the stairs; the stairs are good even for beginning climbers because they have mesh grates by the sides, which makes it so kiddos can’t slip out.
The bottom floor features the bottom of the macaw exhibit, where tortoises crawl; greenish squirrel monkeys and what I believe are African squirrels. There’s a horizontal rope ladder for kids to climb and balance on, another marble toy in the wall, and a toad slide of which Peanut is particularly fond. There’s inlaid padding around and under each of the toys, so kids are safe even if they take a tumble.
If you head outside on the bottom level, there are goats to feed. There are several feeding stations where you can get a kid-sized handful of kibble for a quarter, and the goats are very hungry. No change? No problem. There’s a dollar-bill changing machine inside the barn. Peanut enjoys feeding the animals; I think part of the lure is that they come close enough that he can see them better, and he can then feel their soft mouths as they gobble up the kibble. The goats are good sports about the feeding–Peanut likes to feed them one piece of kibble at a time (seriously), and they’ve never tried to push or bite. In warmer months, you can take camel rides (I think it’s $4 a rider, but I’m not positive) next to the goats. On the other side of the barn is a Peek-a-Boo tree, which I’ve visited with Peanut once. I remember it as being kind of scary (I think it has a spiral staircase inside, of all things), and definitely designed for older kids; I can’t give you a review of it because I’m really not that familiar with it.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of the Discovery Barn. If you go in the colder months when most families are avoiding the zoo, it’s a warm, open space with cute critters to watch and nice play equipment to experience and learn on. The spaces are open enough for kids with vision impairments to navigate fairly easily and safely, and they seem to be constantly making additions and improvements to the exhibit (the wheels on the walls, for instance, are definitely new this year). You will need to be hands-on with your kids on the equipment, but, as long as you’re involved and you’re both careful, there’s no reason why your blind or vision-impaired kid can’t enjoy this exhibit every bit as much as their sighted counterparts.