Hosted by Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo
Chicago, IL
Spring 2017

The NatureStart Program will be hosted exclusively by the Brookfield Zoo in 2017
Complete course logistics and registration information can be found here. 


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

Participants 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.


Marilyn Brink, Manager, Professional Development & Early Childhood - CZL - Brookfield Zoo
David Becker, Sr Manager of Learning Experiences - CZL - Brookfield Zoo

Is This Course Right For You?

This course is designed for informal educators and other professionals in out of school science and nature-based settings such as zoos, aquariums, nature centers, children’s gardens, who are responsible for early childhood and family programs and/or interact with young children and families on a regular basis.  To maximize success in implementing the concepts and programming discussed in the course, CZS 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 is available to encourage attendance by co-workers.

Logistics & Registration

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.

The Clubhouse Inn & Suites is the designated course hotel and a block of rooms is on reserve for NatureStart course participants. Please contact the hotel to make your reservations. We have secured a special rate:
$74.00 King/Double Queen with Hot Breakfast Buffet
$99.00 Suites/with Hot Breakfast Buffet

Please visit the hotel’s website, for additional information and to make your reservation. Please do not book hotel reservations until you receive your registration confirmation. 

Ground Transportation
Ground transportation to and from airport should be arranged by each participant.  American Taxi Co. is the recommended transport company for Clubhouse Inn. Arrangements for pick-up and return trip to either O’Hare or Midway Airport can be made by calling 847-255-9614. 
Shuttle provided by the Clubhouse Inn will transport participants to and from the zoo daily.

Tuition & Expenses

Your registration fee covers tuition for the course, books and other resources included, transportation to and from zoo and lunch each day. Other expenses include hotel, travel, and evening meals. You may register from the course website here

Early Bird Rates
$750 for AZA Members, CZS members, NAI Members
$850 for Non-members
Early bird registration deadline: February 1, 2017 

Regular Rates
$950 for AZA Members, CZS members, NAI Members
$1050 for Non-members
Regular registration period: February 2 - March 31, 2017

For this course, a second participant from an institution pays half of the applicable rate. Discount will be applied at the time of registration.


For additional details please contact Marilyn Brink at 708.688.8210 or Cory Wilcox at 708.688.8361.

Find a Zoo or Aquarium Donate to AZA Contact Us Member Login Search the site