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Zoomazium to You: A Den Full of Cubs

Posted by Janel Kempf, Early Childhood

Note: Now that Washington schools will be closed statewide for the rest of the year, each Zoomazium to You post will include School Connections—a note on the academic skills addressed by each activity. These may be school readiness skills for very young children, or connections to Next Generation Science Standards or other statewide standards for early learners.

Out in the forests and up on the mountaintops, this is the time of year bears are waking up. Wherever it’s cold and snowy, brown and black bears (the two species native to Washington) den up for the winter, snoozing through the season. When the snow starts to melt and the tasty spring seedlings sprout, they emerge into the sunlight to feast! 

Photo courtesy of Western Wildlife Outreach.

At the zoo, you’ll notice our brown bear brothers, Keema and Denali, slow down a lot during the winter, but they don’t curl up in a den and sleep for months at a time. Down here in the Puget Sound basin, it doesn’t get cold enough for bears to den, unless they’re a mother with cubs—which our boys clearly are not! 

Your early learner cubs at home may be missing Zoomazium’s cool caves and cozy hiding spots. Staffer Karen Ofsthus knows how they feel! She misses creating scavenger hunts to help young guests find all the hidden corners of the building. And just as much, she misses winding down by reading a story with her Zoomazium friends. So, Karen suggests a home activity that includes both engineering your own bear den, and learning to love reading!

Photo by Anuja Mary Tilj on Unsplash

A Den Full of Cubs

What you need: An assortment of chairs, couch cushions, pillows, blankets, and sheets; plus a few storybooks for after you build your den
Time: 10-20 minutes to build; then however long you want to stay in your den
Age Range: 18 months-8 years for the den building portion; newborn and up for the reading portion
School Connections: Engineering and early literacy

Ask your early learner where they would build a den in your home if they were a bear. Some good options might be next to the couch, between a couple of chairs, under the kitchen table, or many other places. Collect soft items like blankets, sheets, and pillows to cover the den and make it comfortable inside. Use trial and error with your child to find ways to hold up the blankets or keep the walls of the den stable. Real bears have to work hard to engineer their dens, too! Scientists studying brown bears in Yellowstone National Park have found they dig the entrances at an angle that traps warm air inside the den. So if it gets a little stuffy inside your den, high-five your early learner for being as good an engineer as a real bear!

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
Once your cozy den is built, it’ll be the perfect spot to read stories with your early learner. Snuggle up and make it fun! Building a positive association with books and reading—early literacy specialists call it print motivation—is the first and most important step toward growing an avid reader. Instead of feeling like you have to point to and clearly pronounce each word, just enjoy the story! Try some funny voices, or make faces to show how each character is feeling. Build narrative skills (another early literacy skill) by pausing to describe a picture, or guess with your child what might happen next. And when you’ve finished reading, make like a bear and take a nap in your den!

Photo via willholmes on Flickr

Extension: 0-2 years old
Making a mini-den to read to your infant or toddler in is easy! Try draping a blanket over both of you in a comfy chair, or reading in a dark room with a flashlight. What is it like to read in a smaller space? Does it help reduce background noise?

For previous week's Zoomazium To You activities, click the links below:

Play Like An Otter: March 16

Creature Feature at Home: March 23

Relax with Springtime Bug Yoga: March 30

Caring for Neighborhood Birds: April 6

Fun with Sensory Play, April 14

Have you and your family tried any of our Zoomazium to You activities yet? If so, we'd love to hear how it went! Tag us @WoodlandParkZoo and use #ZoomaziumtoYou to share photos, stories or videos of your own Creature Feature sessions.