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Come and play!

Hosted by Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo
Chicago, IL

April 11-16, 2016


NatureStart is a professional development program focusing on skill development for informal educators in zoos, aquariums, and nature centers as they provide play-based nature education for children from birth to age 8 and their families in those institutions.  NatureStart is based on principles and practices in use by the Chicago Zoological Society which are designed to develop competencies in eight core areas needed to develop a child-centered understanding of learning, play, and nature.  These competencies form the foundation for developing nature-based and play-based learning environments and settings for young children and families in AZA institutions.

Course Objectives

Participant will develop an understanding of and have the ability to demonstrate the eight competencies identified in NatureStart Professional Development program. 

  1. To plan and implement nature play activities that are sensitive to and reflective of the individual and cultural characteristics of young children and their families.
  2. To plan and implement nature play activities that help young children develop empathy for living things.
  3. To invite active engagement with the natural world through enhancing, enriching, and facilitating sensory-rich indoor play spaces. 
  4. To invite active engagement with the natural world through enhancing, enriching, and facilitating sensory-rich outdoor play spaces.
  5. To interact with young children (verbally and nonverbally) in a positive social environment while supporting their play, creativity, and learning.
  6. To engage parents and other family members in connecting children to nature.
  7. To engage in reflection, open inquiry, and skill building activities for their work with young children and their families and caregivers in nature play programs.
  8. To develop a plan for establishing or strengthening a family nature play program in their institution that is relevant to its geographical, ecological, physical and social circumstances and has built-in supports for sustainability.
  9. To actively participate, as a learner and contributor, in a professional learning community focusing on developing and strengthening nature play opportunities for children and families. 

Is This Course Right For You?

This course is designed for any zoo and aquarium professional with responsibilities for early childhood and family programs or who interact 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.


Marilyn Brink, Manager, Professional Development & Early Childhood - CZL - Brookfield Zoo
David Becker, Sr Manager of Learning Experiences - CZL - Brookfield Zoo
Family Play Program Facilitators from Hamill Family Play Zoo, Chicago Zoological Society


None.  Priority will be given to individuals associated with AZA accredited institutions.  International applicants and those not affiliated with an AZA accredited institution will be considered on a case-by-case basis;  please submit a letter describing your intended benefit from taking this course to for consideration.

Course Schedule

5:30-9:00 PM - Icebreaker, Dinner, & Opening Course Session
Tuesday through Friday
Classes meet all day
8:30-3:00 PM - Class meets 

Registration & Logistics 

Tuition & Expenses 

 The AZA registration fee above covers tuition for the course, lunch each day, and dinner on the first and last evening. Other expenses include hotel, travel, and additional meals. Scholarship funding is available through a competitive process.  

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

Regular Rates:
$1050 for AZA Individual Members 
$1150 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. 

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

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.      

To pay by check or purchase order: 
Download the NatureStart COURSE REGISTRATION FORM and return by mail with check or purchase orderChecks 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 wait list email once acceptance decisions are made. 

Travel & Accommodations

Chicago's Midway Airport (MDW) and O'Hare Airport (ORD) are both about 30 minutes from the hotel and Zoo. This course takes place at the Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, IL. 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.


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