The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has awarded the Greenville Zoo a 2017-2018 Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium grant for the zoo’s Nature Play Head Start Extension program. Supported by the Disney Conservation Fund, these competitive grants, selected through a rigorous review by a panel of industry experts, are presented annually to accredited zoos and aquariums to encourage family nature play and conservation education. Preference is given to those organizations that extend programs to settings off zoo and aquarium grounds and form partnerships with community organizations to reach new audiences and provide diverse nature experiences. Applicants are also evaluated on how they address and reduce common barriers to nature play for children and families, including providing easy and affordable access to nature, building caregivers’ confidence to support children in free play and demonstrating that “all weather is good weather” for nature play with the right gear. The Greenville Zoo is one of 30 grant recipients that received a combined total of $230,000 in awards.
“AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums play an important role in connecting children and families to nature,” said Amy Rutherford, Director of Professional Development & Public Engagement at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “These grants support programs that engage community partners to reach new audiences, help families develop comfort and confidence spending time in nature and inspire the next generation of conservationists.”
In 2014, the Greenville Zoo developed its Family Nature Club and established a dedicated nature play space within the zoo. The following year, the zoo invited students from four Head Start facilities to experience free play in the nature play space on zoo grounds. Educators from these facilities also participated in a professional development workshop on incorporating nature play techniques into the classroom to inspire learning through process-based curricula. As the program enters its fourth year, the Greenville Zoo is engaging educators who have successfully completed the training to assist in the recruitment, training and assessment of four new facilities within the SHARE SC Head Start program.
“Research has shown that free play immersed in an outdoor setting is fundamental to connecting children with the natural world around them and I am pleased that the Greenville Zoo is able to help facilitate this interaction with nature,” said Jeff Bullock, Greenville Zoo Director. “Additionally, through our Head Start Extension program and its model of mentorship, we hope that the nature play process in the classroom will grow through peer-to-peer accountability, sustainability and encouragement.”
To learn more about the variety of educational programs offered by the Greenville Zoo, including the Family Nature Club, visit https://www.greenvillezoo.com/35/Education.