Children & Nature Network’s Family Nature Clubs in a New Spotlight with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums

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Children & Nature Network’s Family Nature Clubs highlighted in AZA-accredited Nature Play offerings.

The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) is leading a worldwide movement to strengthen the bond between children, families, communities and nature through its many initiatives, including Family Nature Clubs. These popular clubs can be an effective vehicle for connecting children and families to nature, bringing back a disappearing element of free play for many of today’s children. Last winter, C&NN’s Director of the Natural Families Network, Janice Swaisgood, began working closely with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) in the development and selection process of Nature Play grants, supported through a special gift from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. These competitive grants, selected through a rigorous review by a panel of industry experts, are being presented to accredited zoos and aquariums to encourage family nature play, Family Nature Clubs, and conservation education both on and off grounds.

As part of this initiative, AZA offered the grant opportunity to all of its accredited zoos and aquariums and a total of 30 grant recipients were selected to receive more than $200,000 in awards. Preference was given to those programs that extended nature experiences to off grounds settings, and to those who formed or worked with Family Nature Clubs registered with C&NN.

"It's a great moment for the children and nature movement. Both AZA and C&NN care deeply about the relationship between families and the rest of the natural world, about strengthening the future of conservation, about increasing the possibility that future generations will grow up in a nature-rich world. We're pleased to be working with the zoo and aquarium community to find new ways to connect people to nature, and in the process improve the health and well-being of children, families, communities and the planet,” said Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, and cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network.

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 Nature Play grants provide financial, logistical and creative support for zoos and aquariums seeking to increase or enhance family-centered nature experiences and Family Nature Clubs in their communities. In turn, Family Nature Clubs help to provide logistical, creative, and moral support for their members, in addition to breaking down many of the most common barriers to getting out in nature.

The Nature Play grants also extend an opportunity for Family Nature Clubs registered with C&NN to reach out to their local accredited zoo or aquarium for collaboration and support, and are encouraged to do so. “Many opportunities for collaboration exist for Family Nature Clubs in their own communities,” said Swaisgood. “I would highly encourage Family Nature Club leaders to reach out to educators at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to see where synergies lie, and where collaborations can work to strengthen the good efforts of both institutions.”

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.
C&NN, AZA, Disney and NAAEE are all committed to building lifelong conservation values in our nation’s youth through connecting children and families to nature. The Nature Play grants are an important part of a worldwide effort to connect families to nature, and AZA is developing additional resources for online and on-the-ground nature play experiences.

In alphabetical order, the grantees are (institution, program):
Adventure Aquarium, “Family Fun at the River”
Audubon Nature Institute (Audubon Zoo), “Audubon Celebrates the Wonder of Nature Play”
Brevard Zoo, “Family Nature Stations”
Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, “Bronx Zoo Nature Club”
Brookgreen Gardens, “Children’s Nature & Sensory Trail Expansion”
Buffalo Zoo, “Nature Play Begins in the Niagara Frontier”
The Butterfly House, “Nature T.R.E.K.”
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, “Sprouts and Seedlings Children's Garden”
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, “Zoo Nature Club”
CuriOdyssey, “Stewards from All Settings”
Dallas Zoo, “Wild FUN (Families United in Nature)”
Detroit Zoological Society, “Zoo Tots Outside”
Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History, “Great Plains Zoo Nature Club for Families”
Greenville Zoo, “Get Outdoors Greenville”
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, “Kids'N'Snow”
Lee Richardson Zoo, “Developing Children ‘Naturally’”
The Living Desert, “Me and You at the Gardens”
Minnesota Zoo, “Hanifl Family Wild Woods Nature Play Program Pilot”
Mystic Aquarium, “Family Nature Club in Connecticut”
Peoria Zoo, “Peoria Zoo Natural Play Area”
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, “Families Untamed: Zoo Nature Club”
Prospect Park Zoo, “Nature Play Time!”
Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, “Backpack to Nature”
Roger Williams Park Zoo, “Nature Play in "Our Big Backyard" and Beyond”
San Antonio Zoo, “San Antonio Family Nature Club”
Sedgwick County Zoo, “Sedgwick County Zoo's Get into Nature Program”
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, “Home Learner Partnership Program”
Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, “Nurturing Naturalists: Helping Families Take a Walk on the “Wild Side””
Western North Carolina Nature Center, “Nature Play at the WNC Nature Center”
Zoo Miami / Zoological Society of Florida, “ZooNature Family Adventures”

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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 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 six 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 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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Janice Swaisgood
since: 03/2009
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