AZA News Releases

Association of Zoos and Aquariums Awards 30 Nature Play Grants

AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to receive a combined total of $230,000 

SILVER SPRING, Md. – The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) has announced the recipients of 30 “Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium” grants. Supported by the Disney Conservation Fund, these competitive grants, selected through a rigorous review by a panel of industry experts, are being presented to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to encourage family nature play and conservation education. 

“AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums play an important role in connecting children and families to nature,” said Amy Rutherford, Director of Professional Development & Public Engagement at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “These grants support programs that engage community partners to reach new audiences, help families develop comfort and confidence spending time in nature, and inspire the next generation of conservationists.”

The Nature Play grants provide financial, logistical and creative support for zoos and aquariums seeking to increase or enhance family-centered nature experiences in their communities. As part of this initiative, AZA offered the grant opportunity to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums. This program is a partnership with the Children & Nature Network, building on their successful Family Nature Club initiative. 

Research has shown that free play immersed in an outdoor setting is fundamental to connecting children with the natural world around them. The value of these experiences is further reinforced when shared as a family unit. The awards of $5,000 or $10,000 were made available to extend existing family-based nature play programming or to create new, innovative, and engaging programs. Preference was given to those organizations that extended programs to settings off zoo and aquarium grounds and who formed partnerships with community organizations to reach new audiences and provide diverse nature experiences. Applicants were also evaluated on how they addressed and reduced common barriers to nature play for children and families, including providing easy and affordable access to nature, building caregivers’ confidence to support children in free play, and demonstrating that “all weather is good weather” for nature play with the right gear.

A total of 30 grant recipients were selected to receive a combined total of $230,000 in awards. They include: 

$10,000 Grants
•    Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society; “Nature Trek for All
•    California Academy of Sciences; “Nature Play at the Academy
•    Denver Zoo; “Nurturing Scientists through Nature Play
•    The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore; “BMore Natural with the Zoo!
•    Mystic Aquarium; “Barrier Breaking Family Nature Club
•    NC Museum of Life and Science; “ExploreOutdoors
•    North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher; “Nature Play by the Sea
•    Phoenix Zoo; “Building a Community of Nature Play – Get Outside and Play in Arizona!
•    Roger Williams Park Zoo; “Urban Nature Explorers
•    San Antonio Zoo; “San Antonio Zoo – Outdoor Learning Environments and Loose Parts
•    Sequoia Park Zoo; “Nature Play Begins at Sequoia Park Zoo
•    Tennessee Aquarium; “Expanding Nature Nuts” 
•    Tracy Aviary; “Nature in the City
•    Virginia Living Museum; “1: Play Date with Nature, 2: Connect & Learn in Nature
•    Utah’s Hogle Zoo; “Monroe Elementary Family Nature Experience
•    WNC Nature Center; “Making Play Make Sense(s)

$5,000 Grants
•    Assiniboine Park Conservancy; “Nature Family Club for New Canadians
•    Buffalo Zoo; “Nature Play Begins with a Sense of Belonging
•    Chicago Zoological Society – Brookfield Zoo; “Grass Roots Nature Play: Growing a Nature Play Leadership Team in an Urban Head Start Center” 
•    Cosley Zoo; “Cosley Zoo Nature Play for All” 
•    Detroit Zoological Society; “Nature Tots
•    Greenville Zoo; “Greenville Zoo Nature Play for Head Start Extension
•    Milwaukee County Zoo; “Nature Wonderland
•    New England Aquarium; “Communities Connecting to Oceans (C2O)
•    North Carolina Zoo; “Nature Rocks! Playful Pedagogy for Parents
•    Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium; “Play, Explore, & Discover with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
•    Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society; “Palm Beach Zoo Nature Play Program
•    Racine Zoo; “Racine Nature Club
•    Reid Park Zoo; “Nature Club Development and Nature Play Space Enhancements
•    Zoo Miami; “Zoo Miami Nature Play

The Nature Play Task Force, which served as the review committee for the Nature Play grants, is comprised of AZA staff and education leadership at AZA members and the Children & Nature Network.

AZA and Disney are committed to building lifelong conservation values in our nation’s youth. The Nature Play grants are an important part of a world-wide effort to connect families to nature, and AZA is developing additional resources for online and on-the-ground nature play experiences.  

For additional information, please visit

About AZA 
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

About the Children & Nature Network
Since its founding in 2006, the Children & Nature Network has been advocating for children, their families and communities to enhance their health and well-being through direct experiences in nature. C&NN’s vision is a world in which all children play, learn and grow with nature in their everyday lives. The Children & Nature Network is leading the movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature through innovative ideas, evidence-based resources and tools, broad-based collaboration and support of grassroots leadership. C&NN provides a wide range of user-friendly tools, including those to enhance positive family bonding and access to fun, friendly nature-based activities. To learn more, visit learn more, visit  

Posted by Ashley Jones at 8:00 AM

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