Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium

Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium is a ground-breaking AZA initiative supported by The Walt Disney Company that provides financial, logistical, and creative support for accredited zoos and aquariums to create innovative ways to establish or enhance family-centered nature play experiences in their communities. 

 A variety of tools and resources are available or are in development for AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums. Explore the resources below and go to "Visit & Play" on the AZA Animals website for inspiration and to share nature play experiences in your community.     

Grant Awards

For the past three years, Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium grants have been awarded to AZA members to create and expand opportunities to connect families to nature. Results of the 2016-2017 grant opportunity will be announced in September.

2014 & 2015 Grant Awards

With support from the Disney Conservation Fund, 74 grants were awarded to in 2014 & 2015 AZA-accredited institutions totaling $490,000. Congratulations to our recipients!  Click here for the list of funded projects. 

Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium Resources

 In addition to the unique funding opportunity, AZA and its Nature Clubs Advisory Group (NCAG) comprised of AZA and Disney staff, AZA members, and partners fromChildren & Nature Network and the North American Association of Environmental Education has developed a variety of resources to facilitate program implementation. Click on the links below to be redirected to the resource description and download materials.   


AZA Toolkit: Family Nature Clubs & You

The purpose of this toolkit, Family Nature Clubs & You: Zoos and Aquariums Connecting Families to Nature, is to provide information, resources and best practices - and even inspiration - to zoos and aquariums that are interested in creating or supporting a Family Nature Club. This toolkit was developed by drawing on the ideas and experiences of numerous experts in the field, including many AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums that implement family-based nature programming. The toolkit provides examples of ways to organize and host events both on and off zoo and aquarium grounds, as well as ideas for collaborating with and supporting existing Family Nature Clubs.

Family Nature Clubs & You is a publication of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and is based on the Children & Nature Network's Nature Clubs for Families Toolkit. Visit the C&NN Natural Families Network to learn more and find a local Family Nature Club near you.

Pathways to Play: Overcoming Nature Play Barriers

This infographic highlights the benefits of playing in nature and proposes ways to think differently about the challenges, with a focus on using AZA-accredited zoos & aquariums as places where nature play begins. It is available for promoting nature play in publications, websites, exhibits, and training.

Click the thumbnail to enlarge and save the jpg version or download Pathways to Play PDF

AZA's Nature Clubs Advisory Group used input from the participants of the September 2014 workshop on Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium to address barriers to nature play from two perspectives: that of families who find it difficult in today's world to incorporate nature play into their schedules, and that of educators struggling to implement nature play programming at their zoos and aquariums. Graphic design by Lab42.

E-Guide for Families

For more in-depth support of families needing guidance on how to engage in nature play, AZA worked with the Children & Nature Network to design this E-Guide for Families, which addresses 5 reasons, 5 ways, 5 places, and 5 times to connect and play in nature.  The e-guide is designed to be used in a digital format with multiple hyperlinks embedded that point the user to research, additional materials and websites for more information.

Children in Nature

AZA recognizes the role that zoos and aquariums can play in the Children in Nature Movement. The Conservation Education Committee's "Experiencing Nature" initiative hopes to increase recognition by visitors that our institutions provide programs and experiences that connect children to nature. Visit the Children and Nature Network to explore ways your zoo or aquarium can help support this effort.

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