6 Wonder-Inspiring Enrichment Reasons to Visit John Ball Zoo & BRICKLIVE this Fall


BRICKLIVE at John Ball Zoo Amazed This Lansing Crew

If you’re within driving distance of John Ball Zoo & BRICKLIVE, you need to add this to your fall learning experience.

BRICKLIVE at John Ball Zoo is a fascinating, educational field trip for all ages, and it’s here until October 25. As families are facing a myriad of school types this fall (virtual school, homeschool, in-person or hybrid), finding extra learning ops like this can really make the school year stand out for kids. 

My friend Carla and I took our families to John Ball Zoo together recently. After several weeks of staying near home in Lansing, traveling to the zoo was a big treat. 

“I was awe-struck how John Ball Zoo gave my kids a sense of normalcy I did NOT expect!” Carla told me. 


I was blown away by the BRICKLIVE Animal Paradise exhibit and the inspiration that stayed with us well after!

My kids came home and continued to build (for weeks!) the things we had seen at the zoo. 


What we thought would be just a fun trip to the zoo turned out to be a pleasant surprise for a much deeper experience.


6 Bonuses to Taking a Trip to the John Ball Zoo this Fall

This year school is going to look a bit different. Whether your kids are in-person or learning at home, the opportunities for school field trips and off-campus enrichment may not be the same.

But this doesn’t mean our kids can’t benefit from educational trips this year – we saw this visit as the perfect field trip as a family! 

1) It Gives the Kids a Field Trip

A field trip has so many benefits to learning!

They provide real-world experiences that help connect what students have read or heard about, to what they actually can see and apply.

In an article I recently read on Explorable Places, it explains how field trips are rich learning laboratories, like when you get to see an underwater ecosystem at an aquarium.

This is exactly how we felt when we experienced the aquarium at JBZ. (The penguins were a fave!) Not only that, but field trips have been shown to help kids become more empathetic and tolerant, and a study has even shown they can increase their test scores.


2) You can Experience BRICKLIVE

BRICKLIVE Animal Paradise was awe-inspiring, cultivating creativity and learning through the inspiration of play.

You must make a trip out to see these unbelievably intricate pieces before the exhibit closes for the year. 


Can you believe it took one million 800 thousand pieces of ‘bricks’ to make the 40 animal replicas?!

Our kids (and full disclosure, us adults)  were amazed at the creations like the elephant, panda bear and cubs, the cobra, and the penguin they thought for sure was from the movie, Happy Feet. 


The many pieces it took to create this exhibit is a great reason to drive to John Ball Zoo, but it’s not the most amazing thing about BRICKLIVE.

BRICKLIVE inspired our kids to run home and make their own creations!

The problem solving it took to create something similar and the creativity to think of something amazing on their own goes beyond the “Wow, those are sweet!” moments inside the park.


Seeing BRICKLIVE added a portion of learning to our trip we didn’t expect and it’s been really cool to see that play out into the day to day start of the school year.

I’m homeschooling my children this year, and Carla’s kids are learning virtually. Because of homeschool, I look at every outing we take through an educational lens. The JBZ trip was exploding with learning experiences for both families.

“We’ve already had to use more creative and problem-solving skills to date,” Carla told me after our visit. 


3) JBZ Provides Interesting Learning Resources 

Of course, any zoo offers the chance to learn about animals, but we were extra impressed by the educational resources provided by the zoo to add to the visit. Their Resources for Learning page had so many options for enriching the learning experience.

We chose the Who Am I Scavenger Hunt, and the kids had fun searching out the different animals and learning more about each one. Next time we’ll do one of the Classification Tours for a whole new learning experience


4) John Ball Zoo is Divided Into World Regions

We love that the zoo is divided by world regions. This is especially helpful for kids (and adults!) in connecting the animals they are seeing to a certain area of the world.

My kids are currently studying Africa, so entering the Africa region of the zoo and seeing animals solely from that part of the world made it easy for the kids to build on what they have been learning.

JBZ tiger

5) Kids can get Social Interaction in a Safe Way

Social interaction has been a hot topic this year. As each school is taking great precautions to keep kids safe it has been on many parent’s minds – how can we continue to give our kids the social skills they need for life and emotional growth?!

“What I didn’t expect from the trip to the John Ball Zoo trip was how much my kids didn’t shy away from talking, interacting, and asking all sorts of questions of their friends, zoo workers, and us parents – all while wearing masks,” said Carla.

The Zoo gave them the opportunity to be socially distanced protected by masks and yet have a completely ‘normal’ day out with friends.

“Driving home and hearing from our kids what they liked, how they enjoyed the zoo and time with their friends was semi emotional for me,” she continued.

“I could see in their eyes and behavior that the social aspect of the trip was as significant as the learning and fun portions.” – Carla



6) JBZ Safety Precautions Help Everyone Stay Safe

You can trust that your trip to John Ball Zoo will include consistent safety precautions.

This was very important for Carla, as she hadn’t taken her kids anywhere other than the park or on hikes since March.

“Our family is considered high-risk and we have been very cautious the past six months ” she said.  Knowing that John Ball Zoo takes safety very seriously gave her the assurance to let this be her family’s first big trip since Spring. 

We were impressed with the Zoo’s safety precautions, and here’s why: 

  1. When you plan your trip you’ll have a specific visit time.
  2. Spots are marked as you check-in for 6 feet distances.
  3. Most visitors were wearing masks.
  4. There are hand-washing stations set up throughout the zoo.
  5. For the most part, other families were very respectful and gave each other time to check out the animals.
  6. Indoor exhibits require a mask and have staff limiting the number of people inside.
  7. The walking areas on the grounds are wide giving lots of room to stay socially distanced within your own group.



Both of our families love visiting zoos and we know that if you’ve seen one, you have NOT seen them all.

There are some pretty unique things about visiting John Ball Zoo, from views of downtown to the zip line. It’s a destination spot, to say the least!

Here are Some Things You’ll love about Visiting JBZ 

01) Aquarium with up-close penguins and simulated wave.

We just so happened to arrive when the penguins were being fed. It was so cool! But regardless of when you see them, they are active, adorable, and you can view them both on top of the water and under.

Their full tank is in view. As you venture through the rest of the exhibit, you’ll see the Pacific Northwest fish and aqua-life along with the awesome simulated wave.


02) Walk Under a Waterfall

Not only can you walk behind their large waterfall, but you can also climb the stairs to several other lookout points to the top.

This is so much fun and for sure an entire family highlight. 


03) Hillside View of Downtown Grand Rapids

When you make your way to see the Red Pandas you’ll be walking uphill toward the zip line and a lovely happenstance is that you’re so high up you can view downtown Grand Rapids!

They’ve created a lookout spot you can stop and rest for a while to take in the beauty of the elevation and cityscape. 


04) The Architecture of the Bissell Tree House

Nestled in the trees and hillside sits this stunning structure. This award-winning indoor/outdoor event space with floor to ceiling windows has unique and beautiful architecture that extends into decks and views that immerse you in nature.

The Bissell Tree House is available for weddings or other events – if we both weren’t already married, we would be reserving this immediately for our receptions!


05) Multiple Food Options

You can’t plan for a day walking around without kids without having a solid snack plan. We brought in our own snacks, but it was great knowing that there was lunch available and plenty of food options.

We were especially excited to see Gluten-Free Pulled Pork Nachos, Garden Salads and even a vegan Herbivore Bowl on the list for our GF and vegetarian family members!

I was also happy to find a Dole Whip Sundae served in a pineapple on the premises. I haven’t seen these anywhere since Disney!

06) Help Name the New Red Panda Cubs

For just $1 you can join the fun of helping to name the new cubs! Our kids voted for Masala, Sage, and Sparty. (We are from Lansing after all! Go Green!)

07) Of Course, the Real Live Animals!

The main reason we go to the zoo right? But some unique parts of the John Ball zoo though, are the tiger exhibit, the meerkats, and the grizzly bears.

The grizzly bears were a super huge highlight for our kids on this trip.

* A couple other really fun attractions you can do here include the zip line, rope course (and mini-course) wood walkway/boardwalk, camel rides, and bird feeding.

You can find all of the John Ball Zoo experiences here.



To Catch BRICKLIVE, Plan Your JBZ Trip Before October 25!

Plan a trip to JBZ before BRICKLIVE Animal Paradise hibernates for the winter like the rest of us. You’ll most likely end up with a pleasant surprise added to your trip, too! 

Penguin-BRICKLIVE-friends-talking John Ball Zoo

We’re in the midst of interesting times and doing something that’s both safe and experientially valuable is such a rare gem right now. 

Have fun fellow zoo lovers, we bet you’ll enjoy it thoroughly!

~ From the Brooks and Kranzo families

John Ball Zoo Visitor Information

Varied open hours of operation

BRICKLIVE Animal Paradise ends October 25th when the zoo closes for the season.


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