Natural Play and Learning Area Guidelines Project

The National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative are developing national guidelines for play and learning areas, due out in 2014. As outlined in the NWF’s policy action plan, Connecting Kids with Nature, children are faced with many options for staying indoors and few options for getting outside, connecting with nature, and acquiring the life skills only available through interacting with nature. The project is supported by The U.S. Forest Service, with matching efforts from sites developing nature play areas.

The resulting publication will offer policy and practice guidelines for natural play areas in childhood and family institutions: childcare centers, municipal parks, public schools, and federal lands. Research based design concepts that bring children and families together with their natural environments, in a variety of settings.  The project will promote guideline adoption by stakeholder professional associations, governments, and regulatory bodies.

The Nature Play and Learning Area Registry is currently soliciting and compiling a registry of Nature Play and Learning Areas to support and potentially illustrate the best practice criteria specified in the Guidelines.

With the NWF/NLI partnership taking the lead and administering the project, fourteen leading national organizations were called to serve on the project steering committee, by aiding in the development and promotion of the guidelines and providing review going forward. Organizations include the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Centers for Disease Control, the Chicago Park District, the Children & Nature Network, the City Park Alliance, Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Keep America Beautiful, the National Arbor Day Foundation/Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, the National Association of State Park Directors, the National Recreation and Parks Association, the North American Association for Environmental Education, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.

In connection with the national guidelines, in June of 2011, NWF and NLI partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to pilot the use of a designed natural play and learning area within a refuge in the Nature Play Corps project

Natural Play & Learning Areas
Design Guidelines Project Steering Committee

  • Bill BecknerSenior Research Manager, National Recreation and Park Association SL
  • Cecile CarsonSenior Director of Affiliate Development, Keep America Beautiful
  • Todd CatchpolePark Manager, Five Rivers MetroParks E
  • Cheryl CharlesCo-Founder, President, and CEO Emerita, Children & Nature Network CHD
  • Allen CooperDirector State Education Policy, National Wildlife Federation SL
  • Luci CorreaCouncil Liaison, Houston Parks and Recreation Department
  • Nilda CoscoDirector of Programs, Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, North Carolina Sate University
  • Rich DoleshVice President for Conservation and Parks, National Recreation and Park Association GS
  • Cindy DunlapChief, Planning Projects Section, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural, Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation GS
  • Blain EckbergTraining Specialist, US Fish and Wildlife Service CHD
  • Mary EysenbachDirector of Conservatories, Chicago Park District
  • Ken FinchPresident, Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood E
  • Teri HendyPresident, Sitemasters, Inc. SL
  • Bill Hopple Executive Director, Cincinnati Nature Center
  • Fran Mainella Visiting Scholar Clemson University, Chair of Children & Nature Network, Co-chair of US Play Coalition, 16th Director of National Park Service, US Play Coalition
  • Michelle MathisPrincipal Designer, Learning Landscapes Design and Oregon Natural Play Initiative GS
  • Dee MerriamCommunity Planner, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention GS
  • Robin MooreProfessor of Landscape Architecture, Director Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, North Carolina State University
  • Sandi OlekRepresentative, Maryland Department of Nature Resources GS
  • Stephanie OlmoreDirector of Program Assessment
    National Association for the Education of Young Children
  • Carrie ScarffDeputy Director
    Five Rivers MetroParks
  • Bora SimmonsDirector, National Project for
    Excellence in Environmental Education
     North American
    Association for Environmental Education E
  • Nancy StrempleNatural Resource Specialist,
    Executive Staff, National Urban and Community
    Forestry Advisory Council 
    US Forest Service
  • Joe TurnerDirector
    Houston Parks and Recreation Department
  • Susie WirthOutreach Director
    Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational
    Research Foundation CHD

Additional Thanks to

  • Anita AsperdtPrincipal Landscape Architect, Adjunct Faculty, LandCurrent, University of Oregon, University of British Columbia SL
  • Dennis CaseyDirector of Education and Public Programs, Virginia Museum of Natural History GS
  • Kim CatchpoleExtension Educator, Program Director, Adventure Central (A partnership of Five Rivers MetroParks and Ohio State University) GS
  • Erik DahlstromOutdoor Recreation Coordinator, Five Rivers MetroParks SL
  • Victor EldertonPrincipal co-Administrator, North Vancouver Outdoor School, SD 44 E
  • Heather FoxEducation Specialist, Nature Explore Program MM
  • Elaine GibsonNature Education Specialist, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History SL
  • Nancy HerronOutreach & Education Director, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department E
  • Heather JohnsonProject Director, Initiatives, Association of Children’s Museums CHD
  • Ruth LoetterleLandscape Architect, CRJA Landscape Architects GS
  • Jill McKainNature Explore Classroom Designer, Nature Explore, Dimensions Educational Research Foundation GS
  • Erica QuigleyTeacher naturalist, Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center MM
  • Amy RampyAssociate Landscape Designer, TBG Partners SL
  • Tina ReebleCouncil Liaison, Dimensions Educational Research Foundation CHDSL
  • Julie RosePrograms Liason Manager, Nature Explore Program CHD
  • Caroline SmithPlayground Safety Manager, National Recreation and Park Association GS
  • David SpeasePresident, Safeplay by Design, Inc. SL
  • Dave SpitlerPark Manager, Five Rivers MetroParks MM
  • Jim WikeNature Explore Classroom Design Director, Nature Explore Program MM

Subcommittees Key

  • Urban Greenspaces GS
  • Child Health & Development CHD
  • Environmental Understanding & Stewardship E
  • Management & Maintenance MM
  • Safety & Liability SL