Zoos and aquariums can be an instrumental avenue for connecting children to nature, thereby contributing to the development of conservation values and environmental stewardship. Survey data from 210 participants from nature play programs at 21 zoo and aquarium sites suggest visitors were more likely to spend time in nature in the future and felt better able to overcome barriers to spending time in nature as a result of their participation. Results suggest perceptions of effectiveness, strength of barriers, and effective strategies varied based on prior participation in nature, with participants not yet engaged in nature-based recreation perceiving the barriers as stronger and participants already nature-engaged perceiving the programs as more effective. For families who are not yet spending time in nature, results suggest the importance of helping families overcome barriers, as well as the importance of programs taking place in natural, less-maintained outdoor settings. Strengthening beliefs regarding the importance of time in nature seems to be an important strategy when working with families who already are spending some time in nature.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) received funding through the Disney Conservation Fund, as a part of Disney’s Connecting Kids and Nature initiative, for a Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium program (see Figure 1). There were two overarching aims for the Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium program: increasing the likelihood that families would engage in nature-based activities afterwards and helping families overcome barriers to spending time in nature. Through this program, more than $750,000 was awarded in 2014–1016 to 75 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to establish or enhance nature play programing that connects families to nature. The funded site-level programs had a broad spectrum of objectives and formats, yet shared a common set of requirements: a focus on nature play; incorporation of the outdoors; community partnerships; and an off-site component to extend the nature play experience beyond the zoo or aquarium setting. Thus, what participants experienced from program to program was quite different, but all within the context of encouraging family participation in nature-based recreation.
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