WHO ARE WE?
FOR 25 YEARS the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI, co-founded by Robin Moore, Dipl. Arch, MCP, and Nilda Cosco, PhD, based on Moore and Wong’s book, Natural Learning, 1997), has applied community-based, equity-driven design thinking to creating healthy natural play and learning environments, where all children and their families can thrive, learn healthy life habits, and set in motion a life course of peace and love for nature.
INNOVATIVE BIOPHILIC DESIGN THINKING
is focused on the under-researched area of early and middle childhood outdoor environments serving children 0-12 years of age. Framed by the mission, NLI is devoted to closing the biodiversity equity gap, leading to a globally inclusive society, living in harmony with nature and each other – beginning in the first year of life.
NLI’S ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR DEI MODEL
integrates design assistance, research, pre-post evaluation, professional development, policy initiatives, resource dissemination, and communication across multiple sectors. Constructs include “activity settings” (subspaces supporting predictable behaviors), read by children as “affordances” or potentials for action. “Territorial range” describes how children continuously push against the boundaries of experience as they grow and develop, curious to discover, test and retest new settings and affordances. Nature adds enormous experiential power.
NURTURING PLACES FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
are created wherever there’s a chance to be in contact with nature. Childcare centers and schools are a primary target. As children are obligated to be there, society has an obligation to ensure high-quality environmental exposure is present. Nature engagement design opportunities also include nature centers, museums, botanical gardens, and zoos – and residential neighborhoods, where biodiversity often matches socio-economic status. Green is associated with affluence. Grey indicates material poverty and denies residents the many health benefits of a living landscape. NLI works to redress this inequity in disadvantaged communities.
HEALTHY, INCLUSIVE, EQUITABLE COMMUNITIES
result from engaging children with nature from birth, joyfully playing and learning, and becoming citizens who protect, conserve, and regenerate the biodiversity on Planet Earth. NLI promotes Nature-Based Solutions (NbS) by linking local action to global thinking framed by global treaties, policies, and action plans dedicated to the human right to a sustainable, ecologically viable global environment.
DIVERSITY DRIVES NLI DESIGN THINKING
aimed at integrating local biodiversity with diverse groups of children and families. Research in communities touched by NLI demonstrates how positive social relations between children are motived in settings that afford nature-based play and learning – an antidote to boredom and social disharmony. Life course research by others documents the impacts of the childhood experience of nature on life trajectories, including an increase in conservation behaviors.
PHYSICAL DIVERSITY IS THE GREAT EQUALIZER
engaging diverse children and families in environments that support culturally sensitive healthy eating and play. Naturalization helps educators and children feel comfortable learning from each other and the natural world.
is embedded in ENVIRONMENTAL EQUITY policy initiatives and resources aimed at adding regulatory language to support the restoration of nature in childhood environments; SOCIAL EQUITY engages community stakeholders in interactive design thinking to achieve environmental quality; KNOWLEDGE EQUITY, fundamental to a university-based unit, identifies relevant problems and Nature-Based Solutions (NbS)
ensures that all current and potential users and stakeholders are “at the table” participating in design decision-making, including children with special needs and culturally diverse backgrounds. NLI research demonstrates how diverse ground-level play is a highly interactive, social strategy for integrating children. Inclusion and equity are both supported by diverse play and learning opportunities, reinforced by the participation of facility directors, owners, children, and accompanying adults.
WHAT WE DO
NLI WORKS IN FOUR AREAS: Design Assistance, Research and Evaluation, Professional Development, and Information Dissemination / Communications. Comprehensive projects combine all four areas in multiyear programs.
ACKNOWLEDGING ANCESTRAL LANDS STEWARDS: The Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) recognizes and honors with great gratitude the Catawba, Tuscarora, and Lumbee ancestral stewards of the land now occupied by North Carolina State University and NLI, in a region where descendants of indigenous peoples continue to live. NLI aspires to learn and communicate the ancestral sense of oneness with nature to future generations responsible for caring, conserving, and regenerating global biodiversity upon which all life depends.