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Bernheim’s Children at Play Network Receives 2019 Program of Excellence Award

By Claude Stephens

International award recognizes innovative program bringing outdoor free play to more children

Bernheim’s Children at Play Network (CAPN) received the American Public Gardens Association’s 2019 Award for Program Excellence. This annual award recognizes exemplary public garden programming that displays an innovative spirit by pioneering a program with a discipline related to public horticultural institutions.

Launched in 2017, CAPN helps organizations, schools and communities create amazing places to play outdoors in order to better connect children to the natural world. Additionally, the network offers free play days and training seminars to grow a broader community of nature-based free play advocates.

“Bernheim has displayed innovation, originality and the establishment of vital plant connections with the Children at Play Network,” said Casey Sclar, Ph.D.,Executive Director of the American Public Gardens Association. “The Association is proud to celebrate the Children at Play Network’s remarkable leadership and achievement in nature-based play for children.”

According to the Association, CAPN is exemplary of great public garden programming. CAPN was honored for its notable work to reach beyond institutional boundaries, raising awareness of the importance of outdoor play, providing play opportunities and assisting in the design of play environments.

“We are honored to receive the prestigious 2019 Award for Program Excellence,” said Claude Stephens, Bernheim’s CAPN Director. “This award is a testament to our vision of reimagining the landscapes of childhood so that all children can benefit from playing outdoors. The quality of a child’s play environment sets the stage for a lifetime of passion, interest and wonder since it is through play that children build their first connections to the natural world.”

Stephens said CAPN favors collaboration and networking to model best practices and increase collective capacity. More than 90 organizations and schools are now networked to support a common vision around healthy child development through play. “Much of our current work is focused in urban areas to bring nature play to children with the least access.”

Additionally, Stephens mentioned that CAPN would not be possible without funding from generous organizations. “Thanks to PNC Bank’s Grow Up Great initiative, Brown-Forman Corporation, Lift a Life Foundation and Norton Foundation. With their support, we enhance the quality of a child’s play environment, and pave the way for a lifelong interest and wonder in nature.”

Dr. Mark Wourms, Bernheim’s Executive Director, noted that CAPN allows Bernheim to reach communities that may not have the opportunity to visit the 16,000+ acre forest and arboretum. “When Isaac W. Bernheim established Bernheim Forest ninety years ago, he recognized the importance of connecting all people with nature, regardless of their age, geographic location or socio-economic background. Today, with that same spirit and through play, we can go beyond our borders to create the next generation of environmental stewards.”

The American Public Gardens Association is the leading professional organization for the field of public horticulture. It encourages best practices, professional development, program resources, and champions public gardens worldwide. Established in 1940, the Association is committed to increasing cooperation and awareness among gardens. Its members include more than 600 institutions and 9000+ individual members in the USA, Canada, Mexico, and over 20 other countries.

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