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Researchers from the Ohio State University in the US found that 4- to 9-year-old kids knew more about how animals are classified after a four-day camp at a zoo.
It was not that children who attended just knew more facts about animals, the researchers noted.
The camp actually improved how they organised what they knew -- a key component of learning.
"This suggests organisation of knowledge doesn't require years to happen. It can occur with a short, naturalistic learning experience," said Layla Unger, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
"It highlights the enriching potential of real-world programmes like summer camps. They aren't just recreation," Unger said.
This study is one of the first to show how quickly knowledge organisation changes can occur in children.
"We didn't know if it would take months or years for children to accomplish this. Now we have evidence that it can happen in days," Unger said.
The study involved 28 children who took part in a four-day summer zoo camp in Pittsburgh, US.
They were compared to 32 children who participated in a different summer camp in a nearby neighbourhood of Pittsburgh, which was not at the zoo and didn't involve animals.
At the beginning and end of each camp, all children completed two different tests that measured how well they understood the differences between mammals, birds and reptiles.
The zoo camp consisted of lessons, interactions with preserved and live animals, tours of the zoo, games and craft sessions.
"Most of the themes at the zoo camp were not oriented towards explicitly teaching children biological taxonomic groups," Unger said.
"So the children were not spending every day talking about the differences between mammals, birds and reptiles," he said.
At the beginning of the camps, children in both groups had equivalent knowledge about the relationships between the three types of animals.
However, the children in the zoo camp knew significantly more by the end of their four-day camp, while the others did not.
Kids who had been at the zoo had a 64 per cent increase in test scores on one assessment from the beginning to the end of camp, and a 35 per cent increase in the other.
Not surprisingly, there was no change in test scores for children in the other camp.
This study was not designed to test whether a four-day classroom lesson about animals could produce the same results as the four-day zoo experience, Unger said.
However, other research suggests a class may not have the same positive effect, partly because it might not engage students as much as the real-world experience.
Unger said it was significant that the zoo camp improved knowledge organisation, and not just facts about animals.
"Children didn't just learn piecemeal facts like 'ostriches are birds.' They learned how different birds such as ostriches and ducks are related to each other even when they may look very different or live in different habitats, and how birds are different from mammals and reptiles," she said.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)