Nilda Cosco, PhD

Director of Programs, The Natural Learning Initiative

Nilda Cosco, PhD, is Director of Programs, The Natural Learning Initiative; Research Associate Professor, College of Design; and former Director of the Center for Universal Design. Her responsibilities include: design programming and research of outdoor environments for children with and without disabilities; development of professional development certificates and activities for designers, educators, and community members interested in creating high quality outdoor environments for children and families; development of printed and online dissemination materials; and coordination of state-wide comprehensive projects (design, environmental intervention, training, and evaluation) including Preventing Obesity by Design (POD).

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.

Her primary research interest is the impact of outdoor environments on child and family health outcomes such as healthy nutrition, active lifestyles, attention functioning, and overall wellbeing, particularly as they relate to natural components of the built environment. She is principal investigator (PI) for the USDA-NIFA randomized controlled trial Childcare Outdoor Learning Environments as Active Food Systems: Effectiveness of the Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) Gardening Component.

Nilda spent her early childhood, living with grandparents in Mercedes, a typical provincial city, in the “big sky” Pampa region of Argentina, where she learned to fish with her Italian heritage grandfather in a boat created in her name. At age seven, she moved with her parents to a different lifestyle of the big city of Buenos Aires (17M population), where contact with nature was provided by the vegetated patios and balconies of high-rise apartments and the great parks and urban plazas of the city.

Prior to NLI, Nilda was director of the National Lekotek Center, Buenos Aries, serving children with special needs, and consultant to a similar facility in Säo Paulo, Brazil. She was a member of the eight-country Growing Up in Cities (GUIC) action research project sponsored by UNESCO, and co-director of the Buenos Aires project with Professor Moore. She was former Vice President for Latin America, International Association for the Child’s Right to Play (now International Play Association, IPA).

In January 2000, Dr. Cosco co-founded with Professor Robin Moore the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) at the College of Design, NC State University. At NLI, she developed the POD (Preventing Obesity by Design) Program for improving the quality of childcare center Outdoor Learning Environments (as they are called in the North Carolina), now implemented across the state. Dr. Cosco is involved in developing online certificate programs, design programming resources, dissemination materials, and coordination of state-wide comprehensive projects (design, environmental intervention, training, and evaluation) including POD, which has been adopted at the state level in Colorado, South Carolina, and Texas.

Prior to launching NLI, Dr. Cosco started working with Professor Moore with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, and has been fortunate to contribute to innovative urban park design projects with a firm who value the NLI philosophy and knowledge base related to children and families, in projects including Teardrop Park, Battery Park City, NYC; Union Square, NYC; Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NYC; A Gathering Place for Tulsa, OK (opening Fall 2018); Smith Family Waterfront, Boston Children’s Museum
and the adjacent Martin’s Park (under construction, 2018), Boston;

Dr. Cosco’s passion is creating high quality, natural outdoor environments for all children and families and educating the next generation of trans-disciplinary professionals dedicated to the same end. Her primary research interest is the impact of outdoor environments on child and family health outcomes such as healthy nutrition, active lifestyles, social and emotional health, executive functioning, and overall wellbeing, particularly in relation to natural settings and components of the built environment. She is the principal investigator (PI) for the USDA-NIFA randomized controlled trial Childcare Outdoor Learning Environments as Active Food Systems: Effectiveness of the POD Gardening Component.

Selected Publications

Cosco, N. and Moore, R. (in press). Creating Inclusive Naturalized Outdoor Play Environments. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. Canadian Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development.

Moore, Rand Cosco, N.  (in press). Early Childhood Outdoor Play and Learning Spaces (ECOPALS): Achieving Design Quality. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. Canadian Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development.

Cosco, N. and Moore, R. (2019). Impact of Naturalized Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Environments: Research Brief. The Natural Learning Initiative. NC State University. 

Cosco, N. and Moore, R. (2018). Improving the Quality of Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Environments: Implementation Manual. Natural Learning Initiative, NC State University. 

Mitchell, C., Moore, R., Cosco, N. (2015). Growing and Cooking Fruits and Vegetables at Childcare Centers. LF-007-01. Raleigh: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

Moore, R., Cosco, N., Konradi, S., Archer, M. (2015). Creating Childcare Center Production Gardens. LF-007-02. Raleigh: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

Cosco, N. and Moore, R. (2014). (Eds.). The Outdoor Learning Environment Toolkit. Natural Learning Initiative, North Carolina State University.

Boldemann, C.; Sördeström, M; Mårtensson, F; Moore, R; Cosco, N; Bieber, B; Pagels, P; Raustorp, A; Wester, U. The Health-Promoting Potential of Preschool Outdoor Environments: Linking Research to Policy in Lindsay, G and Morhayim, L (Eds) Revisiting “Social Factors”: Advancing Research Into People and Place. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2015

Moore, R. and Cosco, N. Growing Up Green: Naturalization as Health Promotion Strategy in Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Environments. Children, Youth & Environments Journal. October 2014.

Smith W., Moore R., Cosco N., Jennifer Wesoloski J., Danninger T., Ward, D., Trost S., and Ries N. Increasing Physical Activity in Childcare Outdoor Learning Environments: The Effect of Setting Adjacency Relative to Other Built Environment and Social Factors. Environment and Behavior Online First, September 25, 2014. doi:10.1177/0013916514551048

Cosco, N., Moore, R., Smith, W. (2014). Childcare Outdoor Renovation as a Built Environment Health Promotion Strategy: Evaluating the Preventing Obesity by Design Intervention. AmJHealthPromotion. 28(3) Supp:27-32.

Perver K. Baran, William R. Smith, Robin C. Moore, Myron F. Floyd, Jason N. Bocarro, Nilda G. Cosco, and Thomas M. Danninger. Park Use Among Youth and Adults: Examination of Individual, Social, and Urban Form Factors Environment and Behavior. 7 January 2013.

Nature Play at Home: A guide for boosting your Children’s Healthy Development and Creativity. Contributor. Natural Learning Initiative publication. 2012.

RefshaugeA., Stigsdotter U., Cosco N. Adults’ motivation for bringing their children to park playgrounds. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. Available online 11 July 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2012.06.002

Bocarro, J. N., Floyd, M. F., Moore, R., Baran, P., Danninger, T., Smith, W. & Cosco, N. 2009. “Adaptation of the System For Observing Physical Activity and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) to Assess Age Groupings of Children.” Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 6:6, 699-707.

Boldemann, C., Dal, H., Mårtensson, F., Cosco, N., Moore, R., Bieber, B., Söderström, M. (2011). Preschool outdoor play environment may combine promotion of children’s physical activity and sun protection. Further evidence from Southern Sweden and North Carolina. Science and Sports, 26(2011), 72-82. 

Raustorp, A. Boldemann, C., Cosco, N., Söderstrom, M Mårtensson F. (2011). Accelerometer Measured Level of Physical Activity Indoors and Outdoors During Preschool time n Sweden and the United States. J. Physical Activity and Health.

Cosco, N. and Moore, R. Behaviour Mapping for Designing Healthy Outdoor Environments for Children and Families: Conceptual Framework, Procedures, and Applications. In Ward Thompson, C. and Bell, S. (Eds), Innovative Approaches to Research Excellence in Landscape and Health. London: Taylor & Francis. 2010

Cosco, N., Moore R., Islam Z. Behavior Mapping: A Method for Linking Preschool Physical Activity and Outdoor Design. Med Sci Sports Exerc.March 2010; 42(3): pp 513-519. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181cea27a.

Moore, R. with The Natural Learning Initiative Team. (2009). Creating and Retrofitting Play Environments: Designing Play Environments that Integrate Manufactured Play Equipment with the Living Landscape. Best Practice Guidelines. Chattanooga, TN: PlayCore. Contributor.

Bocarro, J. N., Floyd, M. F., Moore, R., Baran, P., Danninger,T., Smith, W. & Cosco, N. (2009). “Adaptation of the System for Observing Physical Activity and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) to Assess Age Groupings of Children.” Jnl Physical Activity & Health, 6:6, 699-707.

Cosco, N. and Moore, R. (2009). Sensory Integration and Contact with Nature: Designing Outdoor Inclusive Environments. North American Montessori Teachers Association. NAMTA Journal.