A children’s program at Denver Zoo is receiving some national recognition.
Denver Zoo’s “Nurturing Scientists through Nature Play” program earned the Significant Achievement Award in Education at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums annual conference on September 12. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in educational program design, judging programs on their ability to promote conservation knowledge, attitudes and behavior, show innovation, and measure success.
The “Nurturing Scientists through Nature Play” program “brings science learning to life” for three target audiences — underserved preschool children, ages 3 to 5, their caregivers and their teachers. While at the Zoo’s 70-acre “classroom,” kids are able to use their exploration and discovery skills in largely unstructured play, using things they can find in nature like sticks, rocks and grass. Students can dig, sort, make temporary art and even meet some of the Zoo’s animal ambassadors. Zoo staff are also at hand to explain basic scientific principles to the program participants.
“To see the greatest impact, we want to utilize the most effective approaches to student engagement and learning,” said Vice President of Learning Experiences Stephanie Stowell. “We want to use approaches that best match their developmental needs, abilities and learning styles. For this age group, more than any other, that approach is play!”
“Nurturing Scientists” was also intended to address the needs of Denver’s underserved preschool students, teachers and caregivers in areas that may struggle with science education.
“We’ve seen teachers become enthusiastic role models with increased comfort and confidence in their abilities to interact in nature as an opportunity to teach science,” said Stowell. “But the most inspiring and heart-warming impacts see are from the children themselves who exclaim, ‘I’m a scientist’ and boast their newly acquired skills.”
Denver Zoo currently partners with Clayton Early Learning and Mile High Early Learning programs, reaching 126 students, their families and caregivers, and 28 school staff in the Five Points and Cole/Whittier neighborhoods. The Zoo hopes to expand the program through new partnerships.