12th Annual Design Institute

Thursday, 2 October 2014 - Friday, 3 October 2014

Design for Nature Play and Learning Places

The 12th Annual Design Institute focused on how to promote physical health and well being for children and families by providing opportunities to connect with nature through play. Evidence based design and management approaches to bring nature into children’s lives and increase their time outside was explored at this event.  Read More

12th annual design institute thumbnailThe 12th Annual Design Institute coincided with the release of the Nature Play and Learning Places published by the Natural Learning Initiative in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation and with support from the National Forest Service and a Project Steering Committee. 

Whether you are taking the first steps or already support a nature play and learning environment, the 12th Annual Design Institute provided participants with tools to develop spaces that encourage today's "indoor children" to go outside and stay outside. Managers of arboreta, botanical gardens, zoos, nature centers, parks, public lands, childcare centers, schools, and museums experienced first hand how to make nature a part of children’s environments through plenary presentations and interactive workshops. 

This event has passed.

Click here to view the 12th Annual Design Institute flyer.


Click on the images below to view the presentations.

Thursday October 2
9:00am - 4:30pm


Nilda Cosco, PhD, Director of Programs, Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University
Nancy Easterling, Education Director, NC Botanical Garden
Gene Bressler, FASLA, MLA, Head of the Department of Landscape Architecture, NC State University


Nature Matters: Why Messing Around Outside is Good for Kids
Nancy M. Wells
, PhD, Associate Professor of Design and Environmental Anaylsis, Cornell University

Nature Play & Learning Places: Design, Implementation, and Management
Robin Moore
, MCP, Hon ASLA, Director, Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University



Nature Play & Learning Places: Risk Management
Allen Cooper,
MPP, JD. Director, State and Local Education Advocacy, National Wildlife Federation




The National Perspective for Nature Play & Learning in Parks and Public Lands
Rich Dolesh,
V.P. for Conservation and Parks, National Recreation and Park Association


The Culture and Mythology of Children’s Nature Play and Learning Places: Exploring Children’s Narratives
Phil Waters
, Play Project Coordinator, Eden Project; PhD Candidate, European Centre for Environment and Human Health


Friday October 3
9:00am - 4:30pm


All Play Is Important, But Not All Play Is Equal: Developing the Brain Outdoors
Marcy Guddem
i, PhD, MBA, President and CEO, Gesell Institute of Child Development, Yale University Nature Play –


Education or Enchantment?
Ruth Wilson, PhD, Consultant and Author, Early Childhood Environmental Education and Curriculum




Watch this Space – Design for the Wonder Garden, NC Botanical Garden
Jesse Turner,
MLA, PLA, Design Coordinator, Natural Learning Initiative




Creating a Regional Nature Play Strategy: The Nature PlayScape at the Cincinnati Nature Center
Bill Hopple,
MS, Executive Director, Cincinnati Nature Center




Play Spaces as an Introduction to the Natural World
Charles Yelton, Director of Prairie Ridge Ecostation, NC Museum of Natural Sciences




kidZone: Nature Play, Programming, and Playful Pedagogy at the NC Zoo
Linda Kinney
, MA, Education Specialist/Manager, Playful Pedagogy, NC Zoo Education



This event has passed.


Outdoor Session Registration Opened: September 10, 2014
Registration Deadline:
 September 24, 2014

Registration Fee: $250 
Students, Early Childhood Professionals*, and Parks and Recreation Professionals: $175

Group rates for groups of 5 or more available - contact Eli Valsing, 919-515-8345 for rates.
Registration fee includes: two day Institute with presentations, discussions, interactive outdoor activities, continental breakfast, lunch, and coffee breaks.

Early Childhood and Landscape Architecture CEU's are available to eligible participants.

The event location:
NC Botanical Garden, ‎in the Reeves Auditorium, Building A.
100 Old Mason Farm Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27517
(919) 962-0522 


1001 South Hamilton Road. Chapel Hill, NC 27517
Phone: (919) 932-7772

Reserve a room using the Design Institute conference rate.

Deadline to reserve rooms is September 11.
The A Loft Hotel is within walking distance of the Botanical Garden. View local map here.

*Early Childhood Professionals include childcare, preschools, NC Pre-K, and Headstart Programs

Click here to see information about previous Natural Learning Design Institutes

Special Thanks to our sponsors for their generous support of the Design Institute.

 2014 Design Institute Sponsors 


NC Botanical Garden, ‎in the Reeves Auditorium, Building A.
100 Old Mason Farm Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27517
(919) 962-0522 

MapAloftToBotGarden.pdf1.89 MB
2014 Design Institute-flyer-Final.pdf836.33 KB
12th Annual Design Institute Outdoor Sessions.pdf90.71 KB
Design Institute 2014-final-web.pdf1.53 MB
4_Richard DoleshNatural Design Institute pres Oct 2 14 FINAL.pdf1.43 MB