NLI Publications

Nature Play and Learning Places: Creating and managing Places where children engage with nature


National Guidelines created through a partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative to bring nature play and learning to every community. For those who create, manage, or promote the development of nature in the everyday environments of children, youth, and families, especially in urban/suburban communities.  

“Decoding the human genome was impressive. The internet has been transformative. Big data are amazing. But a child playing in the woods? That simple, time-honored image is at once magical, and powerful, and inspiring.”

from the Forward to Nature Play and Learning Places by Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr.P.H., Dean, University of Washington School of Public Health

Print version available to purchase here.

LOCAL FOODS: Childcare Center Production Gardens

This series of eight resource publications released by the NC Cooperative Extension is available on the Local Foods Webportal. NLI worked in collaboration with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and NC Cooperative Extension to produce the Childcare Center Production Garden Series which covers creating a childcare garden, growing and preparing fruits and vegetables in both warm and cool seasons, and composting techniques.

More details and downloadable PDFs are available here.

Pathways for Play: Best Practice Guidelines

The Pathways for Play: Best Practice Guidelines, Infusing play into pathway networks to encourage active lifestyles for children, families, and communities publication sponsored by PlayCore brought together many staff and board members from American Trails, as well as other trail and pathway experts, in an advisory capacity." This tool for conceptualizing and planning pathway environments focused on connecting play and physical health includes an exploration of the many benfits of "playful pathways", details of pathway features that encourage play, best practice design principals, implementation planning strategies, and case studies. The goal of Pathways for Play is to provide a research based starting place for developing versitile and engaging pathways for children and families.

Childcare Outdoor Renovation as a Built Environment Health Promotion Strategy: Evaluating the Preventing Obesity by Design Intervention

This article demonstrates that site layout attributes are associated with higher levels of physical activity in the childcare setting, while teacher interaction is associated with a decreased level of physical activity in children. The full article is available here.

In American Journal of Health Promotion (Vol. 28, No. 3), 2014

Growing Up Green: Naturalization as a Health Promotion Strategy in Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Environments

Using a socio-bio-ecological, “one health” conceptual framework, Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) is presented as a system-wide health promotion strategy for North Carolina childcare centers, applying a cost-effective naturalization approach to improve the quality of the outdoor learning environment (OLE). A pre-post, action-research orientation generates sufficient data to guide program development, create an evidence base, and support scientific publication. Results demonstrate an association between OLE quality, increased time outdoors, and improved levels of physical activity, which together with hands-on gardening represent a primary health promotion strategy.

Access full article here.

Increasing Physical Activity in Childcare Outdoor Learning Environments: The Effect of Setting Adjacency Relative to Other Built Environment and Social Factors

The problem of childhood obesity can be addressed through study of how built environment characteristics can foster physical activity (PA) among preschool children. A sample of 355 behavior settings in 30 childcare center outdoor learning environments (OLEs) was studied using behavioral mapping techniques. Observers coded activity levels of preschool children across behavior settings. The level of PA observed in 6,083 behavioral displays of children aged 3 to 5 was modeled using multi-level statistical techniques. Both adjacency and centrality of play settings were found to be important factors in increasing the degree of PA, net the effect of numerous other variables.

Nature Play at Home

Nature Play At Home: A Guide for Boosting Children's Healthy Development and Creativity

Developed by the National Wildlife Federation and NLI, this guide shows easy, affordable ways you can turn your backyard or other types of domestic outdoor spaces into vibrant Nature Play Spaces™ for children so they can reap the physical and mental benefits of playing outside. Creating natural play opportunities can be part of the solution to increasing the amount of time kids spend in the great outdoors for the health of their minds, bodies, and spirits.

Child-Friendly, Active, Healthy Neighborhoods: Physical Characteristics and Children's Time Outdoors

Relationships between neighborhood built environment characteristics and children’s average time outdoors on weekdays were investigated in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A total of 22 built environment variables, 8 socio-demographic variables, and 1 perceptual variable were tested for their relationship to children’s (N = 109) self-reported average time outdoors on weekdays , measured in minutes. Built environment variables were measured using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-based urban form variables and systematic, direct observation. Analysis was conducted using multiple linear regression. Results (p < .01) suggest that additional minutes of children’s average time outdoors on weekdays are associated with availability of adjacent space (23 min), male child (23 min), dead-end instead of through street in front of residence (15 min), perception of neighborhood safety by parents (10 min), one story lower in level of residence floor (3 min), and 1,000 m2  less of total building footprint area within the neighborhood (1 min).

[access PDF here]

Using behaviour mapping to investigate healthy outdoor environments for children and families: conceptual framework, procedures and applications

This chapter, written by Nilda Cosco and Robin Moore, focuses on a methodological approach to assess the health impacts of the places where children spend most of their time when not at home: childcare centres, schools, parks, residential neighbourhoods, and community institutions such as zoos, museums and botanical gardens – where families spend quality time away from the pressures of everyday life. These commonplace environments and mission-driven institutions are potential supporters of preventive health and disease prevention objectives to get children outdoors in contact with nature and engaged in physical activity. They fall within the scope of healthy community design, where this chapter is situated at the intersection with the built environment.

In Innovative Approaches to Research Excellence in Landscape and Health by C Ward Thompson, Peter Aspinall, and Simon Bel, Routledge, 2010

Environmental Interventions for Healthy Development of Young Children in the Outdoors

Early childhood environmental interventions are needed to counteract the health crisis caused by sedentary lifestyles. In the UK, 16% of children aged 2 to 15 are obese (Health Survey for England, 2002). In the US more than 10% 2-5 year olds are overweight (Ogden, et al., 2002). The widespread perception that young children are innately active and interventions are not needed is a barrier for creating appropriate modifications to children’s routines and environments. The fact is that young children are only active for short periods each day (Reilly, 2004). Provision of recreational facilities that allow children and families to enjoy prolonged and engaging stays outdoors are critical because the outdoors is a strong correlate of physical activity (Baranowski, et al., 2000; Sallis, et al., 1993). Also, diverse natural environments support attention functioning, gross motor development, health, and richer play behaviors (Faber Taylor, et al., 2001; Grahn, et al., 1997).