Nature Play Begins Past Grant Awards

2016-2017 Awards

With support from the Disney Conservation Fundgrants were awarded to 37 AZA-accredited institutions totaling $270,000 in 2016. The following list provides the institution (alphabetically), location, and project title:

  • Adventure Aquarium, “Family Fun with Nature
  • Blank Park Zoo, “Permanent Natural Playscape”
  • Brevard Zoo, “Brevard Families Out to Explore” 
  • Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, “Bronx Zoo Nature Club – Family Events”
  • Buffalo Zoo, “Nature Play Begins with Nature Play Events and ‘Drop-ins’” 
  • Buttonwood Park Zoo, “Nature Connection Education Center – Nature Play Area”
  • Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo, “Nature Play for Zero to Three” 
  • Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, “Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Family Nature Club Expansion” 
  • Cooley Zoo, “Cosley Zoo Nature Play for All!”
  • Dallas Zoo, “WildFUN”
  • Denver Zoo, “Nurturing Scientist through Nature Play” 
  • Detroit Zoological Society, “Nature Tots”  
  • Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History, “Great Plains Zoo Nature Play Club Continuation”
  • Greenville Zoo, “Greenville Zoo Nature Play Outreach to Early Head Start Classes” 
  • Houston Zoo, “Houston Zoo Family Nature Club”
  • Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, “Nature Trail Enhancements” 
  • Milwaukee County Zoo, “Nature Winderland”
  • Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, “Mommy and Me at Mote ‘Exploring the Bay’”
  • Mystic Aquarium, “Family Nature Club – Field to Sea”
  • North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, “The Lost Woods, Yr. 2 Expansion” 
  • North Carolina Zoo, “Nature Rocks! Dream Center Family Club” 
  • Oglebay’s Good Zoo, “’Nature: Get IN it’ Family Nature Play Club”
  • Phoenix Zoo, “Creating a Community of Nature Play-Get Outside and Play in Arizona!”
  • Pueblo Zoological Society, “Plant.Grow.Fly.Pueblo”
  • Queens Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, “Wild Inquiries Nature Club” 
  • Reid Park Zoo, “Nature Play Days for Families” 
  • Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, “Nurturing through Nature”
  • Roger Williams Park Zoo, “Urban Nature Explorers” 
  • Saint Louis Zoo, “Saint Louis Zoo Family Nature Club”
  • Sequia Park Zoo, “Family Nature Play at Sequoia Park Zoo”
  • Tennessee Aquarium, “Nurturing Our Next Nature Nuts” 
  • The Wilds, “Nature Center, Play Space and Family Nature Club at the Wilds” 
  • Tracy Aviary, “Nature in the City” 
  • Utah's Hogle Zoo, “Utah's Hogle Zoo's Family Nature Club” 
  • Virginia Living Museum, “Play Date with Nature!”
  • Western North Carolina Nature Center, “Play Like Animals with the WNC Nature Center”
  • Zoo Miami  - Zoological Society of Florida, “ZooNature Family Adventures at Zoo Miami” 

2015-2016 Awards

With support from the Disney Conservation Fundgrants were awarded to 44 AZA-accredited institutions totaling $270,000 in 2015. The following list provides the institution (alphabetically), location, project title, and grant amount awarded:

  • Audubon Nature Institute, Audubon Celebrates the Wonder of Nature Play - $5,000 
  • Blank Park Zoo, Zoo Nature Club - $10,000 
  • Brevard Zoo, Zoo Sprouts- Family Nature Play - $5,000 
  • Bronx Zoo - WCS, Bronx Zoo Nature Club - Let Your Imagination Run WILD! - $5,000 
  • Buffalo Zoo, Nature Play at Urban Community Places and Waterfront Spaces - $5,000 
  • Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo, Chicago Family Play Partnership - $10,000 
  • Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Family Nature Club Expansion  - $10,000 
  • Denver Zoo, Growing Scientists through Nature Play - $5,000 
  • Detroit Zoological Society, Nature Tots - $5,000 
  • Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, Families for Nature - $10,000 
  • Greenville Zoo, Greenville Zoo Nature Play - $10,000 
  • Henson Robinson Zoo, Springfield Nature Buddies - $5,000 
  • Indianapolis Zoo, Family Nature Center - $5,000 
  • Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Play the Natural Way - $5,000 
  • John Ball Zoo, John Ball Zoo Family Nature Club - $5,000 
  • Lee Richardson Zoo, Lee Richardson Zoo's Family Nature Club - $5,000 
  • Lehigh Valley Zoological Society, Preston's Pad and Playground - A Nature Play Area for Little Toads, Fairies and Gnomes - $5,000 
  • Minnesota Zoo, Hanifl Family Wild Woods Nature Play Program Suite Kick-off - $5,000 
  • Mystic Aquarium, Family Nature Club - $5,000 
  • North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, The Lost Woods - $5,000 
  • North Carolina Zoo, Nature Rocks! Family Club Camp Outs - $10,000 
  • Peoria Zoo, Peoria Zoo Natural Play Area/Glen Oak Park Nature Club - $5,000 
  • Phoenix Zoo, It's a Dry Heat - Get Outside and Play in Arizona! - $10,000 
  • Potter Park Zoo, Nature in Your Backyard - $5,000 
  • Prospect Park Zoo, Pre-K Nature Play - $5,000 
  • Queens Zoo (Wildlife Conservation Society), Wild Inquiries Nature Club - $5,000 
  • Reid Park Zoo, Nature Play Days for Families - $5,000 
  • Roger Williams Park Zoo, Family Nature Play Dates and Dads In the Park - $5,000 
  • Sacramento Zoo, Exploring the Zoo's Backyard Nature Station and Workshops - $5,000 
  • San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio Zoo Nature Play and You - $10,000 
  • Santa Ana Zoo, Let's Play! with the Santa Ana Zoo - $5,000 
  • Santa Barbara Zoo, Family Explore Trips - $5,000 
  • Tennessee Aquarium, Nature Nuts - $5,000 
  • The Florida Aquarium, Explorers Club: An Adventure for Young Children and Their Families - $5,000 
  • Toledo Zoo, Play Naturally Toledo - $10,000 
  • Tracy Aviary, Nature in the City - $5,000 
  • Tulsa Zoo, Nature Experience - $5,000 
  • Utah's Hogle Zoo, Utah's Hogle Zoo's Family Nature Club - $5,000 
  • Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Nature Play in the Preschools - $5,000 
  • Western North Carolina Nature Center, Growing Nature Play at the WNC Nature Center  - $5,000 
  • Woodland Park Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo Family Nature Clubs - $5,000 
  • Zoo Miami  - Zoological Society of Florida, Zoo Nature Family Adventures at Zoo Miami - $10,000 
  • Zoo New England, ZNE Early Childhood Initiative - $5,000  
  • Zoological Society of Milwaukee, Nature Wonderland - $5,000

2014-2015 Awards

Thirty AZA-accredited institutions received awards of $5,000 or $10,000 in 2014 to implement nature play programming in their communities. Use the alphabet bar below to navigate to a zoo or aquarium and read a brief project/program overview. Embedded links are provided for learning more. An asterisk (*) denotes a Children & Nature Network Family Nature Club affiliation.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Adventure Aquarium (Camden, NJ)
Family Fun at the River *
Project features construction of two large, traveling stream tables to be used inside or out for hands-on play introduction. A family nature club is established to facilitate exploration of adjacent river system for water-based play opportunities. All ages.
Visit the Educational Programs webpage or email a project contact to learn more.

Audubon Zoo (New Orleans, LA)
Audubon Celebrates the Wonder of Nature Play *
A portable nature play space is used at Audubon facilities, area schools, festivals, and city-wide events to promote play opportunities and recruit for a newly-established Family Nature Club. Education staff support the club and assist with hikes, wetland visits, and informal gatherings. Targets ages 4 to 8.
Visit the Audubon Education Programs webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Brevard Zoo (Melbourne, FL)
Family Nature Stations
A mobile set of nature stations are used to model four different play settings and themed activities using natural materials and loose parts found in those areas. Facilitators guide children and parents to focus on observation and exploration rather than teaching facts. Subsequent opportunities to provide facilitated nature play takes place on and off grounds. Ages 3 to 4.
Visit the Education webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Bronx Zoo (Wildlife Conservation Society) (Bronx, NY)
Bronx Zoo Nature Club *
This zoo-based family nature club meets monthly and leads families through a series of inquiry-based programs. Meetings are supplemented by challenges in between sessions at the zoo, as well as nature kits and mentorship from project partners. Ages 3 to 17.
Visit the Bronx Zoo Nature Club webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Brookgreen Gardens (Pawleys Island, SC)
Children's Nature & Sensory Trail Expansion
The Children’s Nature & Sensory Trail provides an outdoor educational enrichment for children ages 6 and above. Located near the Enchanted Storybook Forest, the Trail features 13 interactive stations to explore nature by using sensory perception and engaging in physical and imaginative activity. Participants can use the Brookgreen Detectives booklet for an educational adventure investigating, exploring, and enjoying art while following clues, making observations, sketching drawings, and even playing word games. When completed, they turn in the booklet and receive a Brookgreen Detectives sticker and prize.
Visit the webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Buffalo Zoo (Buffalo, NY)
Nature Play Begins in the Niagara Frontier *
Buffalo Zoo and neighboring Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve offer workshops in rotating locations to help families connect with, and feel comfortable in, nature. Three family nature clubs will meet regularly, with at least four outdoor nature experiences per club (up to 12 total experiences) per year. Participating families will receive nature kits to foster non-club-driven experiences. Ages 0 to 5.
Visit the Wild Workshops webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens (Lake Monroe, FL)
Sprouts and Seedlings Children's Garden *
Programming and creation of a children's garden that is family-centered, nature-oriented, and acts as a play environment that supports and encourages children’s growth and development. Related programs include a plan to foster empathy, a plan for understanding connections through dramatic play, sensory play, movement, and inquiry/discovery, and a plan for taking actions. Children and families are provided with examples of what they can do together to have experiences caring for, and about, the environment. Ages 2 to 8.
Visit the webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (Cleveland, OH)
Zoo Nature Club *
The Zoo Nature Club provides monthly outdoor nature play experiences for the community surrounding the zoo. There are 12 meetings annually with a mix of ongrounds and offgrounds locations and experiences. Activities are modeled and families practice these methods in a variety of outdoor settings across a spectrum of different seasons. Grades PreK to 8th.
Visit the Education Opportunities webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

CuriOdyssey (San Mateo, CA)
Stewards from All Settings
Free admission to the park system to low income families that grants access to a year-round program of unstructured nature exploration and play. An active collaboration with park rangers identifies welcoming play spaces for children within the park, and staff educators facilitate, rather than direct, what visitors choose to investigate with each visitor to the zoo being encouraged to explore his or her own interests. Ages 6 to 18.
Email the project contact to learn more.

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Dallas Zoo (Dallas, TX)
Wild FUN (Families United in Nature) *
Wild FUN (Families United in Nature) partners with a local school to offer: two hour workshops on-grounds for parents, eight progressive nature play dates at the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo, off-site field trips, and creation of a family nature club. Ages 3 and up.
Visit the Education webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Detroit Zoological Society (Detroit, MI)
Zoo Tots Outside
Creation of a nature play area with natural objects for free play and to offer guided sessions as part of an education program series. The on grounds session series is led by zoo educators to introduce young children and their families to nature play and allow for open periods of unstructured play. A take-home guide is distributed to help facilitate nature play and nature activities at home. Ages 2 to 4.
Visit the Zoo Tots webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History (Sioux Falls, SD)
Great Plains Zoo Nature Club for Families *
A family nature club for Sioux Falls that meets monthly and year round for a two-hour experience with opportunities to expand based on demand. The goal of each monthly club meeting is to introduce families to a new activity that can be done together, outside of the Zoo. Zoo educators provide mentorship and encouragement but try to remain primarily hands-off after the brief initial lesson. Grades K to 8th.
Visit the Education page or email the project contact to learn more.

Greenville Zoo (Greenville, SC)
Greenville Zoo Nature Play *
Greenville Zoo is constructing a nature trail ("The Nature Nook") on grounds and registering a Family Nature Club with the Children & Nature Network. Existing partnerships with local nature and conservation groups are established to lead quarterly outings. Meeting locations rotate and several take place at a local community center. Ages 2 to 14.
Visit the Nature Play webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (West Yellowstone, MT)
Programs one weekend per month from December through March create opportunities for winter and snow experiences such as scavenger hunting, geo-caching, skating, sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, and wildlife watching. Some sessions are guided by rangers to promote comfort levels, safety, and knowledge of the outdoors. All ages.
Visit the webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Lee Richardson Zoo (Garden City, KS)
Developing Children "Naturally" *
Creation of a play space on zoo grounds for family-guided play and self-exploration staffed by zoo volunteers to help guide families. The space is also utilized for existing programs and family workshops created in conjunction with this project. Parent workshops and family nature clubs are designed to provide families with the tools they need to feel comfortable discovering nature together. Ages 0 to 10.
Visit the Education Services webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Minnesota Zoo (Apple Valley, MN)
Hanifl Family Wild Woods Nature Play Program Pilot *
Construction of a new dedicated outdoor nature play space and a series of family nature play programs to be rolled out in conjunction with the debut of the space. A Family Nature Club meets regularly on-grounds, but also visits nearby natural areas. Ages 4 to 12.
Read the press release or email the project contact for more information.

Mystic Aquarium (Mystic, CT)
Family Nature Club in Connecticut *
The Family Nature Club meets throughout the year (at least 12 events) for off grounds experiences playing in nature. By hosting programs on a regular basis, the goal is to make adults more comfortable taking their children into nature, developing a habit of integrating nature based trips into the family calendar, which lays the groundwork for lasting family memories, and the development of lifelong conservation values. This is accomplished by bringing families together and immersing them in nature through unstructured exploration and play, exposing families to environmental organizations and resources in their communities, and bolstering their sense of appreciation for the natural world. Ages 2 and up.
Visit the webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Peoria Zoo (Peoria, IL)
Peoria Zoo Natural Play Area
Creation of a natural play area that is open spring through fall. The area is supervised by zoo educators who are available to facilitate nature play. All ages.
Email the project contact to learn more.

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium (Pittsburgh, PA)
Families Untamed: Zoo Nature Club *
A zoo nature club meets on campus and at five county parks. Each club gathering includes a classroom style introduction, hands-on discovery, free play, findings discussion, and take home activities/"idea menus". Programming initially focuses on monarch butterflies and their habitat. Ages 2 to 13.
Visit the On-site Programs & Classes webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Prospect Park Zoo (Wildlife Conservation Society) (Brooklyn, NY)
Nature Play Time!
A suite of nature play opportunities through 25 free family drop-in sessions of Nature Play Time!, two Pop-up Audubon nature play sessions at the zoo utlizing the native plant garden, and connections to play opportunities in the adjacent Prospect Park. Ages 1 to 8.
Visit the Nature Play webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Riverbanks Zoo & Garden (Columbia, SC)
Back to Nature
Includes two elements: Nature Swap and Nature Adventures. Nature Swap inspires youth to find natural items and learn about them. They then bring the natural items to the zoo for points. With their points, they can “shop” at the Nature Swap, and take a natural artifact home to expand their understanding of nature. Nature Adventures includes bi-monthly field trips to a designated nature site. Ages 3 and up.
Visit the Family Programs webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Roger Williams Park Zoo (Providence, RI)
Nature Play in "Our Big Backyard" and Beyond *
Creates mirrored play opportunities for children to enjoy while experiencing the zoo’s animal exhibits in 'Our Big Backyard' section of the zoo. Extends the partnership with RI Families in Nature to off-ground play opportunities and incentives. Ages 2 to 10.
Visit the Nature Swap at Roger Williams Park Zoo webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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San Antonio Zoo (San Antonio, TX)
San Antonio Family Nature Club
Nature club for families with children aged 4-14 years. The club offers two overnight campouts and nine Exploration Days led by staff facilitators. An online forum is also incorporated.
Follow on Facebook, visit the Education webpage, or email the project contact to learn more.

Sedgwick County Zoo (Wichita, KS)
Sedgwick County Zoo's Get Into Nature Program *
Family Nature Club with experiences on grounds and off-site. The club offers monthly outings to parks and weekly nature-based activity times for families with special needs children. Families participate at least two hours, twice per month mentoring new families. Infant to middle school-aged.
Visit the Family Learning Adventures webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House (St. Louis, MO)
Nature T.R.E.K.
Construction of the Sensory Nature T.R.E.K. trail where families use their five senses to explore, play, and learn. Interactive signs are used to prompt participants to explore a specific topic in nature with three consistent elements: Connections to Nature, On-the-Spot, and Nature on My Block. Ages 2 to 10.
Email the project contact to learn more.

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The Living Desert (Palm Desert, CA)
Me and You at the Gardens
Thirty minutes of outdoor experience in a designed garden area offered in conjunction with "Me and You at the Zoo" programming. Toddlers and accompanying adults will have various hands-on activities working with plants, experiencing a sensory garden, and working on a personal planting site, with volunteers available for assistance. Ages 18 months to 4 years.
Visit the Family and Kids Program webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre (Vancouver, BC, Canada)
Home Learner Partnership Program
The Home Learner Partnership Program features innovative, educational, fun, and inquiry-based projects for home learners and their families. Monthly meetings feature a different aspect of local conservation and citizen science initiatives at the Vancouver Aquarium, Stanley Park, and beyond. In-person meetings are supplemented with an online component where families can discuss conservation issues, pose questions, and share events that are happening in the local community. Ages 6 to 14.
Visit the Home Learners Partnership Program webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center (Virginia Beach, VA)
Nurturing Naturalists: Helping Families Take a Walk on the "Wild Side" *
Educators facilitate one-hour nature play sessions designed to promote open-ended exploration and social learning among family members. Each month has a different focus such as water play, nature art, and "under the leaf litter". Total of 20 sessions covering 10 different topics. Ages 4 to12.
Visit the Nature Play webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Western North Carolina Nature Center (Asheville, NC)
Nature Play at the WNC Nature Center *
Creation of natural play spaces on grounds along with four, free staff-facilitated events throughout the year: a river play day, a nature art celebration, a family hiking trip, and a guided excursion in a national park. Ages 3 to 10.
Email the project contact to learn more.

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Zoo Miami (Miami, FL)
ZooNature Family Adventures *
A total of six events that provide families with unstructured access to natural areas within a structured (kayaking, hiking, snorkling, camping) framework. The first and final events occur on zoo grounds and there are four off-site at state and national parks. Ages 5 to 18.
Visit the webpage or email the project contact to learn more.

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Funding for these projects was made possible through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund as part of the Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium collaboration with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

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