Supporting Naturalized Outdoor Play and Learning Environments in North Carolina Child Care Facilities

During the Fall of 2023, NLI collaborated with Horticultural Science, NC State, to implement nature-based design interventions in two North Carolina child-care facilities: First Environments Early Learning Center in the Research Triangle Park, Du, NC, and Bright Beginnings Child Development Center in Cary, NC. The design-build studio, HS 272, was led by Professor Julie Sherk.

In 2011 the DCDEE conducted a collaborative project with Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) titled Creating a Supportive Network. Over a decade later we are excited to relaunch the project with the hopes of increasing the awareness of health and social-emotional benefits of nature-based learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted child care facilities as a critical economic resource and a place where young children feel safe and secure while families work. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) promoted the idea and early educators discovered that time outdoors reduced disease transmission and increased physical activity. Children were happier and freer to be themselves, which improved social-emotional learning. Time outdoors became more widely acknowledged as a critical support for mental and physical health.

The partnership between DCDEE and NLI will bring the many benefits of healthy outdoor environments to the whole child, increase the time outdoors for children playing and learning in NC child care facilities, and allow NC to explore nature-based child care. Time outdoors is a critical tool for supporting mental and physical health in young children. Adoption of best practices for outdoor play and learning spaces is a critical component of increasing daily time spent outside.

NLI Short from Bright Beginnings Site Visit:

Project Resources:

Visit Childcare Center Websites:

First Environments Early Learning Center

Bright Beginnings Child Development Center