Play Like an Animal!

Here at LEAP, we believe that play is how little ones make sense of the world. Play is how children and babies learn, how they work out who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into it. According to Mr. Rogers, play is “work of childhood!” Seems important, right?

Did you know animals need to play, too? It’s true! You may have visited the zoo and seen otters sliding or lions chasing, monkeys hopping from branch to branch or penguins dipping and diving. For many animal groups, play is essential to life. Animals experience many of the same benefits that we see at LEAP. Just like with your little one, play helps young animals…


Build confidence

If you’ve ever seen a lion cub pounce on its sibling or bite its parent, you’ve seen confidence building in action. While it may seem like fun and games, these young lions are practicing skills that will help them be successful adults. A grown lion will need stalking and pouncing skills for feeding itself and its pride. Nice work, little lions! Do you ever catch your toddler mimicking actions while he or she plays? Play is the perfect time to build confidence and practice making decisions.


Feel safe, happy, and loved

Visit the zoo early in the morning and you may hear the White Cheeked Gibbon family singing their famous song! Gibbons live in small family groups made up of a mated pair and their young offspring.  Every morning, the family will perform a unique vocalization to show their territory and reaffirm their bond as a family unit. How sweet is that? Do you notice your toddler building relationships during play? It may be as simple as making space for a fellow toddler at the sensory bin!

Develop social skills, language, and communication

We are so lucky to be in RCAA during this winter LEAP session! The chimpanzees and gorillas play alongside as we run, dig, paint, and make music. Patty, Nayembi, and Bella – the toddler gorillas seen in the north gorilla habitat – are especially playful! They climb, toss, tumble, and chase, all while learning about the social structure of their family. Enjoy this short clip of Patty and Nayembi when they were even smaller! You’ll hear about their “play faces” – an important piece of gorilla communication. Next time you’re at LEAP, pay special attention to the words and facial expressions that LEAPers use!

Learn about caring for others and the environment

The Francois’ Langur troop in the Primate House had a beautiful, bright orange baby born this past February. Mom, Pumpkin, is an experienced and attentive mother, who often hops from branch to branch while the little one clings. Langurs participate in “alloparenting” or “aunting” behavior, meaning the other females will help care for the baby. It was especially wonderful to see the youngest Langurs “babysitting.” Sharing and working together are two difficult concepts for little ones to learn. Play is the perfect opportunity to practice! Look for these moments during your next class and check out this video to see little Langurs learning how to care for each other!

Develop physical skills

Let’s think about those otters again! At LPZoo, you’ll find Asian Small Clawed Otters in the Small Mammal Reptile House and North American River Otters in the Children’s Zoo. Watching these aquatic masters slide, wiggle, and spin is always enjoyable – especially when little LEAPers are looking! These movements are strengthening many of the muscles that otters use to move gracefully through the water. While your LEAPer builds tiny hand muscles, the otters are exercising just the same!

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Play is an important part of life. Play is the work of childhood and we are so honored to share this work with your toddlers. We hope you are noticing growth in your little one as he or she plays!

Written by Nicole Filippone