Skip to main content

Zoomazium to You: Play like an otter

Posted by Janel Kempf, Early Childhood

Editors note: Staff and educators want to share a few ways you can connect young learners to nature and nature play... and what better way than to bring Zoomazium to you! Each week, we'll add an activity to this blog to help your family create innovative and educational play time at home. Keep calm and otter on!

Play like an otter! Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
Hello to all our Zoomazium friends—we miss you!

For any new friends out there, Zoomazium is our early childhood hub at Woodland Park Zoo. Even though we're all practicing social distancing to keep our community healthy, we can’t stop thinking about fun ways to play, grow, and learn about animals and their habitats.

Each week, we'll share an animal-inspired, educational activity for young children and their families to try at home. Have fun and let us know how it goes!

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
Play Like an Otter

What you need: A place with a variety of objects that can be safely moved and touched by children
Time: However much you have!
Age range: Adaptable for ages 1 to 8 years

If you’ve visited either our North American river otters or Asian small-clawed otters, you probably know at least one thing about them—very few animals are as devoted to play as otters!

Even adult otters, like small-clawed otters Javin and Frei, spend a lot of time playing. For young otters, play is a big part of their education. If you saw Valkyrie with her litter of river otter pups, you saw just how important play is to these little ones. For a baby otter, just like a young child, play is their work. It’s how they discover the world around them. That’s the key: discovering what already exists around you, and what you can do with it. Anything is a toy to an otter!

To play like an otter, you can be anywhere—in any part of your home, or outdoors in your backyard. Start by asking your child, “How would you move if you were an otter?” Any way they move is perfect. They’re the otter, after all! Feel free to join in once they’ve started, but give them the first chance to express themselves.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
Once the child is in the mindset of an otter, you might ask “What do you think an otter would find to play with in the kitchen?,” (or the tub, or wherever you are). Guide your child only enough to make sure the objects and how they play with them are safe. Depending on where you are, your otter might play with pine cones, cans of food from the pantry, weeds you pulled from the garden, pillows, old MyZoo magazines—anything they can move, stack, or sort. In early childhood education, we call play materials like these loose parts. Loose parts play is vital to building a child’s brain power by letting them figure out all the different ways they can use and combine materials and ideas.

The creativity kids unleash during play is as important to people as it is to otters!

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
For older kids, continue the theme with creative storytelling. Ask them to tell a story or draw a picture based on the play session—or prompt them to tell a story that an otter might like to tell!

Just in case your early learner needs some inspiration, here's a reminder of what otters at play look like in our Northern Trail otter habitat.


Have fun!

-Your friends and educators at Zoomazium (who miss you.)