AZA News Releases

Association of Zoos and Aquariums Awards 44 Nature Play Grants

Silver Spring, MD  – The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) today announced the recipients of 44 “Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium” grants. Supported through a special gift from 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 are centers of conservation, dedicated to connecting communities to nature. These grants help to continue building those initiatives,” said Jim Maddy, President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “By providing opportunities for families to spend time with one another and to explore nature in new and fun ways, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums play a key role in educating visitors about protecting our Earth and inspiring 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 programs that extended nature experiences to off grounds settings, and to those who formed or worked with existing Family Nature Clubs.

A total of 44 grant recipients were selected to receive a combined total of $270,000 in awards. They include:

Audubon Nature Institute, “Audubon Celebrates the Wonder of Nature Play”

Blank Park Zoo, “Zoo Nature Club”

Brevard Zoo, “Zoo Sprouts- Family Nature Play” 

Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, “

Bronx Zoo Nature Club - Let Your Imagination Run WILD!”

Buffalo Zoo, “Nature Play at Urban Community Places and Waterfront Spaces” 

Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo, “Chicago Family Play Partnership” 

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, “Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Family Nature Club Expansion” 

Denver Zoo, “Growing Scientists through Nature Play” 

Detroit Zoological Society, “Nature Tots”  

Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, “Families for Nature” 

Greenville Zoo, “Greenville Zoo Nature Play” 

Henson Robinson Zoo, “Springfield Nature Buddies”

Indianapolis Zoo, “Family Nature Center” 

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, “Play the Natural Way” 

John Ball Zoo, “John Ball Zoo Family Nature Club” 

Lee Richardson Zoo, “Lee Richardson Zoo's Family Nature Club” 

Lehigh Valley Zoological Society, “Preston's Pad and Playground - A Nature Play Area for Little Toads, Fairies and Gnomes” 

Minnesota Zoo, “Hanifl Family Wild Woods Nature Play Program Suite Kick-off”

Mystic Aquarium, “Family Nature Club” 

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, “The Lost Woods” 

North Carolina Zoo, “Nature Rocks! Family Club Camp Outs” 

Peoria Zoo, “Peoria Zoo Natural Play Area/Glen Oak Park Nature Club” 

Phoenix Zoo, “It's a Dry Heat - Get Outside and Play in Arizona!”  

Potter Park Zoo, “Nature in Your Backyard” 

Prospect Park Zoo, “Pre-K Nature Play”

Queens Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, “Wild Inquiries Nature Club” 

Reid Park Zoo, “Nature Play Days for Families” 

Roger Williams Park Zoo, “Family Nature Play Dates and Dads In the Park” 

Sacramento Zoo, “Exploring the Zoo's Backyard Nature Station and Workshops” 

San Antonio Zoo, “San Antonio Zoo Nature Play and You” 

Santa Ana Zoo, “Let's Play! with the Santa Ana Zoo”

Santa Barbara Zoo, “Family Explore Trips” 

Tennessee Aquarium, “Nature Nuts” 

The Florida Aquarium, “Explorers Club: An Adventure for Young Children and Their Families” 

Toledo Zoo, “Play Naturally Toledo” 

Tracy Aviary, “Nature in the City” 

Tulsa Zoo, “Nature Experience” 

Utah's Hogle Zoo, “Utah's Hogle Zoo's Family Nature Club”

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, “Nature Play in the Preschools” 

Western North Carolina Nature Center, “Growing Nature Play at the WNC Nature Center” 

Woodland Park Zoo, “Woodland Park Zoo Family Nature Clubs”

Zoo Miami  - Zoological Society of Florida, “Zoo Nature Family Adventures at Zoo Miami” 

Zoo New England, “ZNE Early Childhood Initiative” 

Zoological Society of Milwaukee, “Nature Wonderland”

The Nature Clubs Advisory Group, which served as the review committee for the Nature Play grants, is comprised of AZA members, AZA staff and Disney cast members, as well as partners from the Children & Nature Network and the North American Association for Environmental Education.

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 seven 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

About the North American Association for Environmental Education

For more than four decades, the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has been a leader in promoting excellence in environmental education throughout North America. It is the only national membership organization dedicated to strengthening the field of environmental education. With members in more than 30 countries and Affiliate organizations in 54 states, provinces, and regions, NAAEE represents more than 16,000 members and supporters. NAAEE also operates the Natural Start Alliance—a network of parents, teachers, and organizations that are working to ensure that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers regularly play and learn in nature.   

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