Please join our Phoenix Zoo Nature Play Facebook group to stay connected. We post articles, discussion questions, tips for getting your family outside and playing in nature, the most up-to-date Nature Play Pop-Up event information, and photos from all the free community events.
What is Nature Play?
Though an understanding of nature play is intuitive to many when seen in action, defining and describing it easily to others can be difficult. The definitions below are offered as a starting point, and we hope they might inspire further discussion about what nature play means to you!
Nature play is child-directed play in nature and with nature. Nature play can happen in the smallest natural and wild areas, all ages of children can participate, it can happen in any weather and during all seasons.
Nature play can take a variety of forms, from more structured learning activities to true unstructured (child-directed) play, and all are important to a child’s overall development. Unstructured nature play is child-directed and allows for spontaneous learning. As children grow and mature, adults become less and less involved in the actual play and move more to the periphery to simply observe and only intervene when safety is a factor. A key element is to allow time at each activity for children to be free to explore, climb, spin and jump, reflect, observe, and even be quiet in appropriate places. From the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Family Nature Clubs & You publication.
Nature play challenges and fascinates children and teaches them about the wonders and intricacies of the natural world while they explore and play within it. It is intuitive and unstructured, constructive (or deconstructive), and timeless, encouraging interaction with natural materials, features, indigenous vegetation, and creative landforms. Nature Play is often a blend of materials and experiences to create purposely complex interplays of natural and environmental objects. From Oregon Natural Play Initiative.
Building a community trough
The Phoenix Zoo’s Education Team has been facilitating nature-based programs for children and families for over four decades. Since 2012 we have added an additional focus to developing and supporting play-based nature programs and events. Research shows free-play immersed in an outdoor setting is fundamental to connecting children with the natural world, and creating that connection to nature is at the core of the Phoenix Zoo’s mission. We strongly believe that time spent outside playing, exploring, succeeding and learning through risky play, and enjoying and discovering the natural world in an unstructured way, is an essential component of child development. Additionally, we see that providing opportunities for nature play can contribute to strengthening families and community, and building safe, stable and nurturing relationships for children.
At the Phoenix Zoo, we are advocates for nature play and are proud to be a leader in promoting and creating opportunities for nature play within the Arizona community and beyond. Much of our “start up” work to create and build community through nature play, including community trainings, free community Nature Play Pop-Up Events and the creation of this Community Co-Host Program, was supported by funds from Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo and Aquarium grants.
There is a global movement to change the dramatic and negative recent trends we’ve seen in how and where children play. Individuals and organizations around the world are gaining momentum in their efforts to bring back and increase nature play as a necessary component of childhood that we know contributes significantly to a child’s development, well-being and conservation values. This movement is growing through research, education, facilitation of child and family programming, fundraising and funding for initiatives and efforts, networking, and advocacy at school, community, state and national levels.
By spending more time with your children, family and/or friends outside in nature, by learning more about the benefits of nature play and sharing what you know with others, by supporting organizations focused on this important work, by attending our events with your family and friends, YOU are part of the solution!
Building a community trough
We are aware community programs and events are most successful when driven from inside the community. The Phoenix Zoo’s Community Co-Host program seeks to encourage, empower and support the efforts of individuals and organizations who share the Zoo’s interest in expanding and strengthening community through nature play. Community Co-Hosts work in partnership with the Phoenix Zoo to create opportunities for nature play within their neighborhoods and/or with friends and groups of people whom they care about. The process of organizing a “Community Nature Play Pop-Up” event is easy, and the Zoo will provide resources and support throughout each step of the process.
For more information, to find out how YOU can get involved, and/or to learn about booking a Nature Play workshop or Growing Up Wild workshop for your team of early childhood educators or parents/caregivers team, contact Liesl at LPimentel@phoenixzoo.org