Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo supervisor, Melody Wood, guest blogs on ZooHoo.
Splashing in a puddle. Building a snowman. Making a wish on a dandelion cast to the wind. Building a fort in the woods.
Most of us remember such moments from childhood. Unfortunately, memories like these are increasingly scarce for today’s children, who are trading authentic experiences for ones seen on a screen. But zoos and aquariums are stepping up to help reverse the trend of lost nature experiences.
Research has shown that zoological park visits promote an increased connection with nature, acting as a gateway to the wild world for millions of visitors every year.
With the help of a $10,000 grant, the Dallas Zoo is combatting couch-potato syndrome.
We recently were awarded a “Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium” grant from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and The Walt Disney Co., one of just 30 zoos and aquariums chosen to receive this special funding, designed to get families outside, playing in nature.
We’ve used the grant to create a new program, WildFUN (Families United in Nature), to introduce urban, under-served families to unstructured nature play, both on Zoo grounds and in community parks.
Facilitators from the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo recently flew south to lead staff from the Dallas Zoo’s Children’s Zoo, Education Department, and teachers from our program partner, Momentous Institute, in a three-day nature play training workshop called NatureStart.
NatureStart was designed as a training program for informal education professionals working with young children and their families at museums, zoos, aquariums, and nature centers. Participants rediscovered environmentally friendly ways to encourage children to care about the natural world and their role in it.
The Zoo has made a five-year commitment to work with pre-K children and their families at the Momentous Institute, a private school where 80 percent of students come from low-income families. At the end of the first year, the WildFUN participating families will create their own Family Nature Club. The program will include trips to local parks, neighborhood green spaces and, of course, the Zoo.
Equipped with techniques and activities designed to encourage exploration and discovery, Dallas Zoo staff are now ready to encourage kids to jump, run, dance, and build their way to a play-based nature adventure.