It’s going to be a week of fun and games at Crossroads. If we have adequate snow in which to play, Ski-for-Free will be open on Saturday and Sunday, but whatever the weather, this week our Science Saturday program will provide an assortment of environmental games for families that drop in at the Collins Learning Center between 1:00-4:00 p.m. on January 28.
On Thursday January 26, from 5:00-8:00 p.m., Crossroads will host a Board Game Night. Whether you’re new to board games or an experienced tabletop player, you’re invited to the table!
For pre-school-aged kids, what could be more fun than a Puppet Show? Puppeteer Nancy Hawkins will offer a show during Junior Nature Club on Wednesday, February 1 at 10:00 a.m.
Back when I was in college and taking child development classes, I was taught that play is an essential component of early childhood education. Since that time, extensive research has supported the concept that play offers countless developmental, physical, emotional, and social benefits for young children.
So I just assumed that when young animals and birds engaged in play, it helped prepare them for adulthood and survival. Many, but not all, animals play. Think fox kits practicing pouncing, otters juggling stones, crows toying with shiny objects. A couple months ago, a report in the journal Animal Behavior revealed that even bumblebees like to play.
Often, though, what looks like play actually is purposeful. When cats and other predators play with their prey, the hapless victims become too tired to fight back, so injury is avoided. Some of the playful wrestling matches of fox and coyote pups may be to develop a dominance hierarchy. The pup which is most aggressive will get the most food and the best sleeping spot.
According to cognitive scientist Laura Schultz from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “One hypothesis, for instance, is that play helps animals learn important skills. But experiments haven’t borne this out. A 2020 study of Asian small-clawed otters living in zoos and wildlife centers found that the most dedicated rock jugglers weren’t any better than their non-juggling friends at solving food puzzles that tested their dexterity….
“Researchers were surprised, but the otters were following a long-standing tradition of animals that don’t seem to learn much through play. Previous studies had found that kittens that grow up surrounded by cat toys aren’t especially successful hunters as adults, and playful juvenile meerkats aren’t any better as adults at managing territorial disputes.”
Arguably, play helps young creatures relieve stress and pent-up energy and develop coordination, but it seems that intelligent mammals and birds “just wanna have fun.” They play for the joy of playing. If you have a dog or cat, this is self-evident.
And if Crossroads visitors can find joy in play and in learning, we can provide the fun and games. IF weather and snow conditions allow, Friends of Crossroads and members of the Door County Silent Sports will offer Ski-for-Free on Saturdays from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 12:30- 3:00 p.m.
Crossroads at Big Creek Learning Center and Nature Preserve is located at 2041 Michigan. Crossroads is a 501(c)3 organization committed to offering education, conducting research and restoration, and providing outdoor experiences to inspire environmental stewardship in learners of all ages and from all backgrounds. We welcome your support! Become a member of Crossroads by mailing a contribution to P.O. Box 608, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235, or donate online at crossroadsatbigcreek.org.