Nature Play, the Zoo, and You

Go on a WILD adventure, right in your own backyard! Recently, the Saginaw Children’s Zoo was awarded a grant from the Children & Nature Network to begin a Family Nature Club right here in Saginaw to provide a safe space for families to spend time in and explore the outdoors. We are so thankful for this opportunity to help families get outside and reap the benefits that come with it. Let’s take some time to explore what nature play and family nature clubs are and how they can benefit your family.

What are family nature clubs? What is nature play?

Family nature clubs are popping up all over the country, and they take on many different forms, but they are generally a low cost (and often free) and accessible way for families to spend time in nature together while engaging in structured or unstructured nature play. Nature play is any form of outdoor play. It encourages children to explore, ask questions, use their imagination, and safely take risks. Examples include jumping in a pile of leaves, looking for tadpoles in a pond, stargazing, or a game your child created! There are a variety of benefits to nature play including increased physical activity, increased focus and attention, improved relationship skills, and reduced stress.

How can you incorporate nature play into your family’s lives?

One way to get started is to make a goal for your family to spend a certain number of days or minutes per month or week outside as a family. Start with a realistic goal and work up to more days or minutes as your family becomes more interested in spending more time outside. Some possible places to explore include your backyard and neighborhood, Ojibway Island, Japanese Cultural Center in Saginaw, Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Chippewa Nature Center, or even the Saginaw Children’s Zoo.

Remember that getting outside doesn’t have to involve long hikes or multi-night camping trips. It can be as simple as bird watching in your backyard and then taking a walk in your neighborhood to see if you see the same types of birds or different ones. Ask your child why they think different birds might live in different places. Plant some seeds with your child, talk to your child about what a seed needs to grow, and encourage them to help take care of the plants. Combine dirt and water to make mud to paint with or make mud pies. It’s okay if you get a little dirty outside! Create a bucket list of five to ten activities you want to try with your family and use that for inspiration when you find time to play outside. Once you’ve done all of those, add more to the list or re-visit activities your children really enjoyed and want to try again. While outside remember it is okay if your child asks a question about nature you don’t know the answer to. This is an opportunity for you all to do some research together and learn more about the world around you.

Another great option is to join the Saginaw Zoo Family Nature Club! It meets once a month and each meeting includes a structured activity, a walk, and time for unstructured nature play. This is a safe space for you to get comfortable with encouraging your children to explore the outdoors, pass on tips and tricks you’ve learned to other families, and maybe meet families to continue exploring the outdoors with! You can learn more and register to join us for a meeting by following this link:


In Richard Louv’s blogpost “Let a Thousand Wildflowers Bloom” for Children & Nature Network he writes, “This is the power each of us has. One person, one family, one school, by connecting to the natural world, can make a difference for generations to come.” You can harness that power, take action, and have an impact on your family by incorporating nature play into your lives. If you’d like to continue to read about nature play and family nature clubs, we recommend going to or reading Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life or Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Or contact the Children’s Zoo by calling (989)759-1408, messaging us on Facebook, or emailing Sierra at