9th Annual Natural Learning Design Institute: Design for Early Childhood: Health, Play and Learning

Thursday, 6 October 2011 - Friday, 7 October 2011

The 9th Annual Design Institute combined presentations by leading professionals in the fields of early childhood and design, and outdoor hands-on activities. The program offered innovative ideas and concepts for participants to implement in their own child care settings.

This event has passed.  Click here to see information about the current Design Institute.


Outdoor, hands-on activities were organized on the grounds of the NC Botanical Garden on Thursday and Friday afternoons. Participants learned innovative ways to entice preschool physical activity, to see examples of how the designed environment engages children in outdoor play, and to see the many ways outdoor activity supports healthy development.

Agenda for October 6 & 7, 2012


Day One Presentations

Welcome (Robin Moore & Peter White)

from College of Design @ NCSU.Peter White, PdD, Director, NC Botantical Garden and
Robin Moore, Dipl.Arch, MCP, Director, Natural Learning Initiative


 Purposeful Play - Early Childhood Movement Activities on a Budget (Diane Craft) 

from College of Design @ NCSUDiane Craft, PhD, Professor of Physical Education, SUNY Cortland Purposeful Play: Early Childhood Movement Activities on a Budget

This Green Desk resource is based on Diane Craft's presentation.

Watch Me Grow (Rebecca Brouwer)

Rebecca Brouwer, MS, Project Manager, “Watch Me Grow”, Dept. of Community and Family Medicine, Duke University Medical Center from College of Design @ NCSU 

Muddy Shorts - Supporting Disabled Children in Adventurous Play (Philip Waters) 

Muddy Shorts: Supporting Disabled Children in Adventurous Play
Philip Waters, MS, Play Program Coordinator, Eden Project, Cornwall, UK

Comments and Discussion on Morning Presentations

from College of Design @ NCSU. 

Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) Project Showcase.

Smart Start of Buncombe County 
Children and Youth Partnership for Dare County
Randolph County Partnership for Children

 Left. Preventing Obesity by Design poster session; 3 of 10 participating Partnerships for Children





Preventing Obesity by Design (POD), Lessons Learned
Nilda Cosco, PhD, Education Specialist, The Natural Learning Initiative




Nature Play Corps Internship: Insights and Applications
Robin Moore
, Dipl.Arch; MCP, Director, Natural Learning Initiative




Day Two Presentations

Safety Versus Play Value?

Teri Hendy,
President, Site Masters, Inc





Please Design My Garden with Flowers but No Bees
Debbie Roos, MS, Agricultural Extension Agent, NC Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center, Pittsboro, NC

This Green Desk resource is based on Debbie Roos presentation.



Play Around the World, Panel Presentation
Nilda Cosco, Linda Kinney, Elizabeth Lake, Dona McNeill, Robin Moore, Richard Rairigh





North Carolina Children and Nature Network (NCCAN)
Kathy Bull, Consultant




The Importance of Statewide Initiatives
Dave Gardner,
D.A., Executive Director, N.C. Center for Health & Wellness, UNC Asheville




The Natural Learning Initiative promotes the importance of the natural environment in the daily experience of all children and families through environmental design, action, research, education, and dissemination of information. The aim of the Design Institute is to assist you and your organization in designing environments that will bring children in closer contact with nature.

Participants included architects, landscape architects, designers, public health professionals, childcare providers, educators, children museum professionals, botanical garden and zoo educators, extension agents, master gardeners, parks and recreation professionals, horticultural therapists, and other individuals interested in creating natural environments for children.

Confirmed Speakers

Rebecca Brouwer, MS, Project Director, Dept. of Community and Family Medicine, Duke University Medical Center.  Ms. Brouwer directs Watch Me Grow, a preschool gardening intervention targeting increased fruit and vegetable intake in young children in child care, at the Duke University Department of Community and Family Medicine. She is co-founder of Mebane on the Move, a grassroots campaign designed to encourage healthy living through city-wide programs and built environment changes.  She also founded the Mebane Community Garden so local citizens, schools, and organizations can grow their own produce.

Nilda Cosco, PhD, Education Specialist, The Natural Learning Initiative. Dr. Cosco is the Education Specialist for The Natural Learning Initiative and a Research Associate Professor, College of Design, NC State Universtiy. Dr. Cosco holds a degree in Educational Psychology, Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina and a Ph.D. in Landscape Architecture, School of Landscape Architecture, Heriot-Watt University / Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland.

Diane H. Craft, PhD, Professor of Physical Education, State University of New York.  Dr. Craft is on the faculty of the Physical Education Department at State University of New York at Cortland. In additional to teaching courses in elementary and adapted physical education, she has been working for over a decade to improve the physical activity opportunities for preschool children with and without disabilities.

David Gardner, D.A., Executive Director, N.C. Center for Health & Wellness. Dr. Gardner, has more than 35 years of experience in the areas of public and higher education, work place wellness, community health, adult health and wellness and childhood obesity prevention. As a statewide leader, Dr. Gardner’s service includes Chair of the Eat Smart Move More N.C. Leadership Team; Board of Directors for the N.C. Public Health Foundation; member of the Health and Wellness Trust Fund Childhood Obesity Study Committee; Trustee for the N.C. Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance; and the Education Writing Team for the National Physical Activity Plan.

Teri Hendy, President, Site Masters, Inc (design and safety consultants). Ms. Hendy has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Art and Education. As a former public school teacher, she brings an understanding of child development and educational objectives to the art of creating children’s learning environments. Site Masters offers consultation in design for children’s play and learning environments, play ground safety audits and hazard analysis, and program development for Child Care Agencies and Licensing Divisions and other agencies. Teri is a member of the executive committee for the American Society for Testing and Materials International. She also serves on the executive committee for the National Playground Safety Institute (former Chair) and is the primary author of the safety inspector curriculum. In addition Teri offers executive services the non-profit organizations Play 4 Life and Community Built Association.

Elizabeth Lake, Executive Director, First Environments Early Learning Center. Ms. Lake joined the First Environments program in 1992 with the vision to create a school where children were surrounded by loving educators who celebrated them and were captivated a child’s extraordinary interpretation of the world. Her work with the Natural Learning Initiative has influenced the way First Environments embraces the outdoors with the endless possibilities for educating children.

Dona McNeill, MPA, Employee Services Manager, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Ms. McNeill, is the Manager of Employee Services at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. She has a passion for employer sponsored childcare and has been the Liaison with First Environments Early Learning Center for 19 years. In 1999 she invited the Natural Learning Initiative to help design the Outdoor Learning Environment for a new center. She plans to retire in a few years and work with First Environments as an Atilierista on community outreach and arts programming.

Robin Moore, Director, The Natural Learning Initiative. Robin Moore is an urban designer and design researcher, specializing in child and family urban environments that support healthy human development, informal play, and nonformal education. He holds degrees in architecture, London University, and city and regional planning, MIT. His teaching and research interests are focused on sustainable urban landscape design for human health.

Richard Rairigh, Director of Programs and Early Childhood Development, BeActive North Carolina, Inc. Mr. Rairigh, B.S. and M.S. in Physical Education Teacher Education, conducts research in Sport Education, PASE and assessment in physical education, and physical activity. After pursuing teaching interests at Meredith College he joined Be Active North Carolina in August 2007 and serves as the Be Active Kids Senior Program Manager. Rich serves as co-chair of the Children and Nature Coalition and is a member of the leadership committee for the Outdoor Learning Environments Alliance and Active Play Alliance.

Debbie Roos, NC Agricultural Extension Agent, Chatham County Cooperative Extension Center. Ms. Roos holds a MS in Horticultural Sciences and an MA in Applied Anthropology.  She provides support to in sustainable and organic agricultural production and alternative agricultural enterprises, including beekeeping and pollinator conservation and was named the Outstanding Sustainable Agriculture Agent of NC in 2007.  

Philip Waters, Play Program Coordinator, the Eden Project, Cornwall, UK. Mr. Waters holds a bachelors degree in education and a masters degree in professional writing. As Play Program Coordinator for the Eden Project, he manages a project about connecting children to nature through play. Phil has worked with children for most of his professional life, including pre, primary and secondary education, care homes, play schemes, youth work, adventure playgrounds, and project development with organizations like Save the Children. He was a senior lecturer in Playwork for Plymouth University and is the author of two books, two films, and numerous articles about children’s play and children’s rights.

See more infomation about previous Design Institutes

Without our generous supporters the Design Institute would not have been possible:

Be Active North Carolina 

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation

First Environments Early Learning Center

Hoffman Nursery

NC Botanical Garden 

NC Partnership for Children

NC State University Foundation

NC Zoo

Naked Fruit

Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care (NAP SACC)


Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI)


The event location:

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


North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Road
Chapel Hill, NC
(919) 962-0522