Six months ago, after sixteen years of leading and supporting local outdoor programming for youth and families, I began as Director of Natural Families for the Children & Nature Network.
I was pleased and honored to take on this role. But I wondered if I would still feel the joy of direct impact on real families and communities. Turned out, my inbox held the answer. Actually, lots of answers. Here are just a few:
“We’re so excited for the chance to expand our club to have a bilingual chapter! — Megan Malaska Medley, Bronx Zoo in New York City, New York
“Participating in this project will allow us to reach a greater number of families as well as empower the families we do have to engage in nature and unstructured play with greater frequency.” —Lauren Jones, Wild and Free Nature Group in Lafayette, Colorado
“Thank you for this amazing opportunity to resurrect our Leave No Family Inside program series!” — Jessica Miller, Mosquito Hill Nature Center in New London, Wisconsin
“The Virginia Living Museum’s official mission statement is: “Connecting people to nature through educational experiences that promote conservation. What a great fit for a partnership! — Dan Summers, The Virginia Living Museum in Newport, Virginia
“This is so exciting! Thank you! …we celebrated with a dance and high fives.” — Liesl Pimentel, Phoenix Zoo in Arizona
The messages highlighted the deep and broad passion that makes up the children and nature movement. Reading them filled me with pride for our cause and our work. The comments were from leaders of family-based nature programs — volunteer clubs, nonprofit organizations, government departments and at zoos and aquariums. Each of these programs received support grants from C&NN.
Overall, C&NN distributed 27 grants to awardees in 16 states nationally and in two countries outside of the United States. These family nature clubs have the potential to reach 3,000 families and 7,200 participants in rural, suburban, and urban setting, and in communities of all sizes.
Most of these organizations are focused on engaging families from low-income areas and diverse communities. Some of these groups are volunteer-led while others are being formed at small nonprofit organizations that find alignment with the C&NN mission. Still, others are based at zoos, through the Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium campaign sponsored by our partner, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
As a Family Nature Club leader myself, I know how quickly costs can add up, which is why it’s so great to hear how recipients are using the funds to purchase supplies, cover entrance fees to zoos and parks, ensure transportation is available for trips and to train staff.
In addition to financial support, awardees receive a “Nature Action Backpack” filled with curricula, tools and supplies, as well as toolkits for forming a new Family Nature Club or extending the work of an existing FNC.
As part of the grant requirements, participants engage in unstructured nature play coupled with informal environmental education and completion of a stewardship project. Programming has already begun at some of the locations. Recipients are modeling old and new ways to help families connect to nature. One Family Nature Club leader in London recently made fat-ball bird feeders and went bird-watching at a local park with the members of her club.
We encourage Family Nature Club leaders to form new partnerships with city parks, recreation departments, Boys & Girls Clubs, and school districts. One club is building a bilingual chapter at the Bronx Zoo and Sheldrake Environmental Center. Utah’s Hogle Zoo and Santee Nature Club are reaching out to children with learning disabilities, as well as families in crisis. Louisville Public Library aims to take nature programming outside of the library walls while incorporating a literacy component.
Family Nature Clubs have played a core role in C&NN’s mission to reconnect children with nature. Guided by my predecessor Janice Swaisgood, FNCs have served over 35,000 families seeking active outdoor time together. Today, I am proud to play a role in deepening the impact of these committed families. We’re hoping that you will join one of the many Family Nature Clubs, and if you can’t find one, start your own. Download a free C&NN Family Nature Club Tool Kit to learn how. And join the hundreds of other families and programs that putting Helen Keller’s words put into practice: “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
In partnership with the AZA, the following zoos have been selected: Blank Park Zoo, Bronx Zoo, Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, Houston Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Phoenix Zoo, The Living Desert, Utah’s Hogle Zoo, Virginia Living Museum, Zoo Atlanta and Zoological Society of Milwaukee.
Other awardees include: Dater Montessori Nature Center, East Harlem El Barrio Fishing Club (NY), Family Nature Club of Greater London, Louisville Free Public Library (KY), Mosquito Hill Nature Center (WI), Nature Club Kids of Arlington (VA), Nature Fun Club Solymar in Hungary, Red Oak Community School (OH), Riveredge Nature Center (WI), Santee Nature Club (CA), Sheldrake Environmental Center (NY), Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse (PA), The Nature School of Philadelphia (PA), Wild and Free Nature Explorers (CO) and Wildrock (VA).
C&NN would like to thank the Disney Conservation Fund and the Environmental Protection Agency for their support in making these initiatives possible.
Additional Reading & Resources
Family Nature Clubs
Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit
Natural Families Stipends for Family Nature Clubs
Natural Families Grants Propel Family Nature Clubs at Zoos and Aquariums
Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium
Environmental Protection Agency
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Disney Conservation Fund
Commentaries here and elsewhere on the C&NN website are offered
to inform readers and to stimulate new thinking and debate. C&NN does not officially
endorse every statement, report or product mentioned in every commentary.