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Come and play!

Next Offered: Spring 2016

Brookfield Zoo
Chicago, IL

Please note, payment is now due at the time of registration. Please do not submit a registration form without payment, as it will not be processed.

To pay by check or purchase order:
Download the NATURE START COURSE REGISTRATION FORM and return by mail with check or purchase order.

To pay by credit card:
You can now register and pay online with a credit card! Just log in to our new website. Non-members can log in too after creating an account. After logging in, choose "Upcoming Events" from the menu on the left. Next, click on the title of the event for which you would like to register. Finally, choose "Event Registration" from the options at the top and complete the registration process. When registering online, there is no need to submit the registration form.

Early bird registration deadline: 12 weeks prior to start date 
Final Registration deadline: 4 weeks prior to start date

Course Description

NatureStart provides zoo and aquarium professionals with a foundation in competency-based practices for developing and implementing learning experiences and environments for young children and their families which lead to increased ecological identity and conservation involvement. Course content is rooted in conservation psychology, early childhood education, and playwork practices, as well as other current research and practices in the emerging field of early childhood conservation education. NatureStart emphasizes experiential learning with regular small-group practice of skill-building activities, as well as development of on-going action plans. This course takes full advantage of the resources available through the Hamill Family Play Zoo and other features of NatureStart: The CZS Early Childhood Initiative.

Tuition & Expenses**

Early Bird Rates:
$850 for AZA Individual Members
$950 for Non-members
Regular Rates:
$950 for AZA Individual Members
$1050 for Non-members

**For this course, a second participant from an institution pays half of the applicable rate. You will receive a discount code in the first registrant's confirmation e-mail. Enter this code when registering the second participant to receive this discount.

Target audience

This course is designed for any zoo and aquarium professional with responsibilities for early childhood and family programs or who intact with young children and their families on a regular basis. To maximize success in implementing the concepts and programming discussed in the course, AZA encourages two individuals from each institution to attend the course together if possible. Please note the half-price discount for a second participant from the same institution to help make this a possibility for as many course participants as possible.


None. Priority will be given to individuals associated with AZA accredited institutions. If you are not employed by a zoo or aquarium, please submit a letter describing your interest in taking the course; instructors will then determine whether the class would suit your needs.

Course Registration

Checks sent for course payment will be cashed immediately upon receipt as per standard business practices. Cashing your check does not indicate that you have been accepted into a course. You will receive an acceptance email or waitlist email once acceptance decisions are made.

Travel & Accommodations

This course takes place at the Chicago Zoological Society / Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, IL. Chicago's Midway Airport (MDY) is the closest airport. O'Hare Airport (ORD) is closer to downtown Chicago.

Course participants stay at the designated hotel and a shuttle will transport participants to and from the Brookfield Zoo daily.

Please wait until you are admitted into the course before making your reservations. You will receive an email containing detailed information regarding your accommodations and transportation once you are admitted.

Course Topics

  • Emotional, physical, social, and cognitive needs of young children
  • The role of play and nature play in child development
  • Core competencies for early childhood professionals in zoos and aquariums
  • Developing nature play spaces and experiences
  • Communication skills for effective interactions with young children
  • Principles for effective family interactions and programs
  • Integrating art, math, science, and art with nature play programs
  • Coaching staff and volunteers in working with young children and families
  • Creating a professional development plan


David Becker, Senior Manager of Learning Experiences, Chicago Zoological Society
Marilyn Brink, Early Childhood Specialist, Chicago Zoological Society
Family Play Program Facilitators from Hamill Family Play Zoo, Chicago Zoological Society


For additional details please contact the AZA Professional Development Program Manager or call (301) 562-0777 ext 251