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A "Mouse Dream" at the Nature Zoo in the German city of Rheine

By Achim Johann (Director of NaturZoo Rheine)

© NaturZoo Rheine

Mice. Small animals with big button eyes. Usually they trigger different feelings in people. Some love the little fuzzy animals and others prefer to run away screaming. For some, they are cherished pets, others try everything to chase them away from their homes. Children, however, are usually fascinated by mice and enjoy watching them how they run, play, sleep and eat. But the real excitement comes when the children themselves are able to move, play and climb like the small rodents. How does it feel to be such a small creature between huge blades of grass or boxes? This is exactly what the children are now able to experience in the new "mouse barn" of the NaturZoo in Rheine. 

The new attraction should be created from a 100-year-old farmhouse in the midst of the zoo grounds. After having discussed the possible use and benefits, it was decided to create an indoor play area with attached service facilities such as toilets and above all a snack kiosk in the adjacent winter garden. The topic of the play area should be focused on mice by taking into account the double meaning because also small children are called mice. The project was therefore given the name "mouse barn" and the kiosk should be called "nibbling box".

Keeping children physically active is a major task in our industrialised society. Physically inactive distractions in the form of televisions, computers or mobile phones have become constant companions of everyday life. Diseases due to too little exercise in children are on the rise. Unfortunately, it is not always easy for families to find motivations to become physically active outside. Especially in urban areas with a high residential density, many parents are not able to send their children outside to play on their own. The dangers of road traffic and other obstacles are constant threats. But all the more important it is to create oases where children can frolic around, climb and play without hesitation. It thus becomes increasingly important that both the excursions and their destinations become all-day experiences. So what could be more suitable than spending a day at the zoo? Here, too, the holistic approach becomes increasingly important. The combination of observation, experience and physically active games is becoming a magnet for the public in more and more zoos. People want to stay there longer. And let's just admit it, you can't let children spend five hours just watching animals. Most of them will simply get bored of it after a while, because the little heads are simply overburdened. It needs a balance, which is given by physical activity.

The NaturZoo Rheine also provides various play facilities. However, with the transformed "mouse barn", another attraction factor is added, namely its independence from the current weather conditions. The probability that families will visit the zoo even when the weather is bad increases to the extent that play and exercise opportunities are available for their children. And that is exactly the case here.

However, the play area provides various elements which can be used by children of all age groups. The mouse theme runs through the entire facility and is also taken up repeatedly in many small details. The children themselves should feel like little mice while they are playing in the mouse barn. For this purpose, both the natural habitat of the mice has been taken up while at the same time the habitat of humans is being represented. These two areas merge fluently into one another. Thus the path of the mice from the fields into the houses of the people is traced. An obstacle course for the youngest, as well as the climbing cave for climbing and hiding, should represent the natural habitat of mice moving between grain and grasses. Isolated grass and corn posts make this performance look real. Here, especially the smallest ones can have fun balancing, crawling, climbing and hiding. From the balancing path it goes directly into the box climbing landscape. It is here where the little "rodents" have to search and explore their way up to the "hayloft". Skilful climbers and explorers can reach the upper part of the barn via the stacked crates, which are connected to each other via passages of net tunnels and nets. In the "attic" the children have the opportunity to enjoy the view of the real world through the roof window. But even here, the path leads further and the small visitors get into the "slide box" via the net tunnel. From here, an approximately 4 m high tube slide leads back into "nature" and the game cycle will start all over again. However, the children will train both their muscles and their brain in the "mouse barn". Inside the play area smaller motor games are offered which allow the small visitors to train their sensitivity. For example, the mice have to be put back together again by playing a sliding game or they must "feel" their way back by climbing through the so-called "Feel the Cheese"-tubes.


Furthermore, learning games designed by NaturZoo round off the interactive offer.

However, also "real mice" have been included into the game concept. In a large chamber, the interior of which has been modelled according to the design of the box play landscape, colourful mice are climbing around and can be observed by the children from the crawling tunnels. And the dwarf mice are living in a "field" of blades of grass and herbs. In addition, dwarf hamsters are wandering through a labyrinth of tubes, by thus replacing their usual underground routes. Here the children can observe them in order to playfully implement their experience afterwards, when they get back to the play area. This reflects the natural behaviour and way of life of these cute animals. Thus everyone, big or small, can learn something new during a stay in the "mouse barn". And be it only to face one's fears and give these cute creatures a chance in one's heart. 

The concept of the "mouse barn" thus provides a holistic play content and leads to an experience which both creates knowledge, tells new stories and will be remembered for a long time, by simply playing. It is here where humans and animals are brought together and their interaction is promoted without imposing a teaching stamp. It is and will long be a special experience for the whole family. If you have become curious now, you are cordially invited to visit the NaturZoo Rheine at the next occasion.

You are welcome to inform yourself in advance about all other attractions and of course about the animal population at www.naturzoo.de


Further information:

Planning: NaturZoo Rheine

Implementing company: SIK-Holz GmbH

Play equipment: company SIK-Holz GmbH

Client: NaturZoo Rheine




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