The Virginia Zoo staff, volunteers, donors and members christened the new “Run Wild! Nature Discovery Zone” during the Zoo’s annual Member Night. This one-acre nature play space was made possible through several grants from organizations, including a $25,000 grant from Rotary District 7600, Norfolk Rotary Charities, Inc., Norfolk Sunrise Rotary and the Virginia Beach Rotary Club Foundation. Other donations for the project have come from Wells Fargo and Target.

“This is a space where children and their families can let their imaginations run wild!” said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo. “Using natural elements, we encourage free play in this space - there is no ‘right’ way to play,” Bockheim added. This space is built to stimulate the imagination and allow children to take calculated risks, which help them to build critical decision-making skills.

The new Nature Discovery Zone features a bamboo maze, stump jump, willow tunnel, giant boulders, dig boxes, balance beams and a Conservation Cabin for educational programs. Research shows that play is an important part of childhood development. Play helps children to develop cognitively, physically, emotionally and socially. Plus, taking risks is how children learn to make decisions for themselves.

Later this year visitors can expect informal programming from the Zoo’s Education Department. These programs will focus on providing materials and allowing children to guide activities and meet and greet animal pop-ups with the Zoo’s ambassadors at the Conservation Cabin.

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