By Charlotte Bassin, Design & Interactive Manager
I have two young children and I often get asked the question "Since you work at the zoo, do you still visit as a guest during your free time?" My response inevitably is "Not often enough." But spring break is right around the corner and I can't wait to bring my kids to the zoo! Of course, I'm excited to introduce to them our new Amur leopard cub, Sochi, to catch a glimpse of the adorable tawny frogmouth chick, Kermit, to see the baby okapi Jabari nestling with his mom and to visit their favorites, the giraffes and the red pandas. There's no doubt we all get excited about baby animals... but call me crazy, what I'm MOST excited about is showing them the Zoo's new penny machines!
Penny machines? You ask. You know, those machines where you put in a penny (and two quarters), and the machine squishes your penny and imprints the design of your choosing onto it and you end up with a great little keepsake. Kids LOVE them! And apparently so do I!
Four new machines were installed last week and I've already gone around to each one and collected all 16 pennies, each featuring an adorable animal representing important Denver Zoo themes: Sustainability at the Zoo, Global Conservation, animals in our newest exhibit, Toyota Elephant Passage and new arrivals. Not only that, but I've spent hours on Pinterest gathering ideas for what to do with these pressed pennies: make them into jewelry (earrings, necklaces, bracelets), frame them, glue them onto thumb tacks, collect all 16 in a little passport you can pick up at the gift shop. I spent an afternoon making a necklace and matching earrings (see photo) and then wore them to a party that evening, receiving countless compliments. I'm thinking these are going to make great gifts!
So yeah, I'm excited to bring my girls to the zoo next week but mostly I'm looking forward to introducing them to our new penny machines. Before we leave home, I'll have them reach into our jar of sad, forgotten, unused pennies, in search of the shiniest ones. On the drive, they'll fiddle with their pennies in their pockets and I'll tell them to say their last good-byes to Abe Lincoln (maybe I'll even use the opportunity for a little history lesson - surely the 6 year old will get something out of it). I know the hardest part for them will be deciding which animal they want on their penny. I'll encourage them to take their time and show them all options, which are conveniently positioned if you walk to the left when you arrive at the zoo (there's a machine at the front entrance, one near the polar bear exhibit, another over by the McGrath Family Amphitheater at Toyota Elephant Passage and the fourth is by Conservation Carousel).
I can't wait for them to experience the joy of popping in their penny, choosing the design they want, turning the crank around and around, feeling the moment it gets just a little bit harder when you know good ol' Abe is being transformed and eventually spit out of the machine - a boring penny transformed into a little keepsake, a memory of a great day at the Zoo with their mommy.