Jamestown, N.Y. – When Audubon Community Nature Center (ACNC) applied to the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo (CFGB) for a grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Funds, they asked, “Remember free play? We made up games with elaborate rules, which we followed or argued over, enforced or changed. We set boundaries for the group and for ourselves. We succeeded; we failed. We got dirty, bruised and scraped. We led; we followed. We competed; we collaborated.” 
CFGB agreed with Audubon’s contention that such free play “resulted in kids who developed valued skills: leadership, problem-solving, negotiation, risk-taking, resilience”: ACNC is one of 55 Western New York organizations receiving grant awards from endowment funds created to carry on the legacy of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.
These awards were determined through an open, competitive application process in the four focus areas of Caregivers, Community Assets, Design and Access, and Youth Sports. ACNC’s application was in the area of Youth Sports.
Audubon’s proposal directly addressed one of the objectives under the Youth Sports goal – “reintroduce free play.” The award will be used to provide staff with professional development to facilitate play effectively, to continue to include play as a component of ACNC programming where children have opportunities to play while staff have opportunities to practice facilitating play, and to share what they are learning with parents, teachers, and other adults who work with children.
“We are so excited to receive this award and the possibilities it opens up,” said Audubon Program Director Jennifer Schlick. “Children today are missing out. Their time is planned for them by well-meaning adults who run them from one structured activity to the next. Important lessons are learned through sports, the arts and academics, but it is our observation, backed by many scientific studies, that kids still need to go outside and participate in unstructured play.”
Audubon’s regular Nature Play Days, now free, will resume September 15. Children ages 2-8 and their favorite adult(s) can drop in Audubon’s Nature Play Area anytime from 10 a.m. to noon on the third Saturday of the month. Materials change with the weather and season. A naturalist is available for questions and information. While walk-ins are welcome, reservations are appreciated and can be made through the Programs page at auduboncnc.org.
Audubon Community Nature Center is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, N.Y., and Warren, Pa. The three-story Nature Center building contains interactive displays, a collection of live animals, and the Blue Heron Gift Shop. Building hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Sundays 1-4 p.m. The 600-acre wetland preserve with more than five miles of hiking trails, a native tree arboretum, gardens, picnic area, natural play space, and exhibit of Liberty, the non-releasable Bald Eagle, can be visited from dawn until dusk daily.
To learn more about Audubon and its many programscall (716) 569-2345 during business hours or visit auduboncnc.org.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature by providing positive outdoor experiences, opportunities to learn about and understand the natural world, and knowledge to act in environmentally responsible ways.