NLI Publications

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

Current Status: We apologize that Nature Play and Learning Places is currently unavailable. The initial print run rapidly sold out. Publication as a print book is currently under review. We hope to have an updated publication date soon. Please send an email to, so we can update you on the progress. Thanks again for your interest.

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.  

LOCAL FOODS: Childcare Center Production Gardens

Childcare, Guidelines, Other Publications, 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.

Post date: Mar 8 2016 - 1:59pm

Pathways for Play: Best Practice Guidelines

Best Practices, Book, Case Studies, Design, Guidelines, Implementation, Other Publications

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.

Post date: Feb 13 2016 - 5:02pm

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

Childcare, Design, Journal Article, Obesity Prevention, Physical Activity, Research Article

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

Post date: Nov 18 2014 - 11:20am

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

Best Practices, Case Studies, Design, Guidelines, Health, Implementation, Journal Article, Research Article

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.

Post date: Nov 11 2014 - 12:27pm

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

Childcare, Design, Journal Article, Obesity Prevention, Physical Activity, Research Article

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.

Post date: Jan 4 2014 - 11:54am

Nature Play at Home

Book, Design, Nature Play

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

Developed by the Natural Learning Initiative and the National Wildlife Federation, 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.

Post date: Feb 26 2013 - 11:20am

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

Behavior Mapping, Health, Journal Article, Planning, Research Article, Urban

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]

Post date: Feb 4 2013 - 12:24pm

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

Behavior Mapping, Book Chapter

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

Post date: Jan 15 2013 - 2:29pm

Environmental Interventions for Healthy Development of Young Children in the Outdoors

Childhood Development, Design, Journal Article, Obesity Prevention, Research Article

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).

Post date: Jan 15 2013 - 2:27pm

Sensory Integration and Contact with Nature: Designing Outdoor Inclusive Environments

Case Studies, Design, Guidelines, Inclusive, Journal Article, Montessori, Research Article, Schoolyards

This article brings to the layperson the language of designing outdoor environments for a wide variety of special needs. Montessorians will notice correlations between the designers' professional vocabulary and Montessori concepts. Territorial development, for example, is akin to the prepared environment's providing layers of learning for "expanding the 'known' world by pressing against the 'unknown.'" Drawing on a solid research base, Cosco and Moore suggest both guiding principles and specific applications (including illustrative photos) to create environments that promote physical and mental health, attention, cognitive functioning, and motor development for an inclusive community of learners.

In The NAMTA Journal Vol. 34, No. 2, 2009

Post date: Jan 15 2013 - 2:25pm

Kids Dig Dirt! Green Paper

Design, Journal Article, Nature Play, Other Publications

The Kids Dig Dirt! Green Paper provides a collection of facts, guidelines and forward-thinking language that museums can draw on while developing their own outdoor spaces, proposals for funding or other materials.

Association of Children's Museums, 2008

Post date: Dec 11 2012 - 4:34pm

Designing Green Urban Carolina Childhoods: Theory and Practice

Case Studies, Design, Journal Article, Planning, Research Article, Urban

With distant roots in work conducted when the author was an urban planning student, scientific research and design assistance in children’s environments continues through the Natural Learning Initiative, N.C. State University, in specific contexts, many of them educational. They include schools, children’s museums, zoos, botanical gardens, childcare centers, and neighborhood parks, playgrounds and pathways. Results are aimed at creating cost-effective demonstration sites that people can see and believe possible. The overall aim is to assemble the research evidence to influence built environment policy in favor of healthy child development – and thus the long-term health of all city inhabitants. An evidence-based, participatory community design approach utilizes the socio-ecological model and the concepts of territoriality, behavior setting, and affordance to create design programs that drive physical design. When successful, the process constitutes a dialectic that balances community change and continuity in a way that both builds culture and adapts to it.

Post date: Jan 5 2012 - 5:43pm

NatureGrounds: Greening Play Environments

Best Practices, Book, Case Studies, Design, Guidelines, Implementation, Other Publications

New Initiative for Greening Play Environments. The main interest of the Natural Learning Initiative is to bring nature to the lives of children. We are pleased to announce the program NatureGrounds developed in partnership with PlayCore which provides best practice guidelines for creating and retrofitting play environments that integrate manufactured play equipment and the living landscape.

Post date: Mar 10 2011 - 4:54pm

Childhood Outdoors: Toward a Social Ecology of the Landscape

Book Chapter, Design, Planning, Research Article, Urban

In the urban environment, the creation of childhood places cannot be left to chance or the vagaries of pressure groups; they must be deliberately fostered by planning, design, and management to satisfy basic human needs. Our purpose therefore is to present existing empirical findings, within a behavior-environment ecological framework, to support more rational decision-making.

In Children and the Environment, Plenum Publishing Corporation, 1978.

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:59am

Exploring Childhood Territories

Book, Book Chapter, Childhood Development, Environment

Chapter three from Robin Moore's book Childhood's Domain: Play and Place in Child Development explores two aspects of children's continutity of behaviour in the field. First is what one pair of children called "gymnast." This apt description described the way in which they hopped, climbed, balanced, skipped, rolled, swivelled, and squeezed through, on, over, around, and inside their surroundings — using ledges, posts, walls, curbs, banks, bollards, doorways, steps and paving stones — their movement choreographed by the landscape, as their bodies responded to its every opportunity. And the second aspect of continutity is a less visible reflection of the merging of pathway and place and it applied to a number of children who made so many digressions from their original goal that it became lost in a wealth of substituted activity. Some of the trips were rather like starting out driving down a motorway and then allowing oneself to be progressively diverted by narrower and narrower country lanes, stopping at every point of interest along the way, until the original purpose and destination of the trip becomes completely forgotten.

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:57am

Playgrounds at the Crossroads: Policy and Action Research Needed to Ensure a Viable Future for Public Playgrounds

Book Chapter, Other Publications, Parks, Policy, Right to Play

This book chapter, written by Robin Moore, provides a perspecitve on the state of public playgrounds at the time of publication (1989) in the United States and proposes research and policy directions to support their improvement as viable places for child development. A frame of reference drawn around children's use of the outdoors and children's right to play is briefly sketched. The main issues current in the field of practice and arising from a review of the empirical literature are discussed in depth. They include playground use, safety, the play value of different types of setting, adventure play, site planning, and the characteristics of settings that support social integration. 

In Public Places and Spaces, Human Behavior and the Environment, Vol 10, 1989.

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:56am

Streets as Playgrounds

Book Chapter, Design, Planning, Research Article, Urban

Great differences exist between adults and children in their perception and use of the outdoor environment. One of the greatest relates to residential streets. To adults, streets are functional resources: the quickest way from A to B or a good plae to park the car. Sometimes, if lined with trees, they are valued as an aesthetic enhancement. Children see streets differently, as play opportunitites dicovered in lampposts, curbstones, gutters, inspection chamber covers, overhead wires, parked cars, trees, piles of leaves, flights of steps, gates, bollards, hedges, retaining walls, driveways, building entrances, bus stops, mailboxes, street signs, and benches. Children measure the environmental quality of streets by the presence or absence of these mundane objects, not by the ease of traffic flow and parking. Nonetheless, traffic has a critcal effect on street palyability.

In Public Streets for Public Use, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:45am


Book, Book Chapter, Design, Environment, Physical Activity, Schoolyards

This chapter in Robin Moore and Herb Wong's 1997 book Natural Learning, examines children's decline in physical activity being seen in the industrialized world and how that decline negatively impacts their healthy development. Examples from the Environmental Schoolyard help illustrate how a well designed outdoor environment will support children's engagement in the natural world, giving them reason to go outside and be active.

In Natural Learning, The Life History of an Environmental Schoolyard, MIG Communications, December 1997

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:43am

Outdoor Settings for Playing and Learning: Designing School Grounds to Meet the Needs of the Whole Child and Whole Curriculum

Design, Journal Article, Nature Play, Research Article, Schoolyards

This journal article by Robin Moore advocates for the comprehensive development of school landscapes for the sake of active learning and free play. "The more hours that children spend at school, the more choices the environment must offer them," he writes. He presents a selective list of imaginative design options for optimal outdoor learning as well as intimate contact with nature leading to the understanding of earth stewardship from a very young age.

In The NAMTA Journal Vol. 21, No. 3, 1996

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:41am

The Need for Nature: A Childhood Right

Design, Journal Article, Nature Play, Policy, Research Article, Right to Play

This article by Robin Moore presents the case that the decline in access to outdoor spaces well suited to play and learning is a social justice issue, impinging on the child's right to play. Pulling together the leading research and thinking on the subject Moore argues that the need for action includes giving voice to children and youth, creating landscapes for learning and development, and establishing priorities in urban development policy.

In Social Justice, Vol. 24, No. 3, 1997

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:40am

Healing Gardens for Children

Book Chapter, Environment, Health, Inclusive, Research Chapter, Right to Play

This chapter by Robin Moore illustrates how gardens are a vehicle for healing children, and have a special significane because of the way in which children relate to the world through play and their attraction to nature. Play is the child's way of establishing authentic relationships with the social and physical world. Play is also a right as guaranteed in Artile 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, Untied Naitons, 1989)

In Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations, John Wiley and Sons, 1989

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:38am

Developing an Earth-bound Culture Through Design of Childhood Habitats

Book Chapter, Design, Environment, Health, Research Article, Right to Play

The biological health of the planet and the health of the world’s children are interdependent. Together they form a single ecosystem under the potential influence and protection of the social construct of sustainable development. Childhood is the most critical stage in the human life cycle. A small but growing body of research indicates that daily experience of nature, spending time outdoors in the fresh air and sunlight, in touch with plants and animals, has a measurable impact on healthy child development. Children have a right to develop in an environment that stimulates their healthy development as mandated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. To fulfill this mandate, nature must be seen as an essential component of the experiential world of childhood, designed into every childhood habitat, providing daily immersion in nature, putting children in close touch with the biosphere. In the urban world we live in, implementation of this right cannot be left to chance. It is a design imperative.

Presented at the international conference on People. Land and Sustainability. University of Nottingham, Faculty of Social Sciences. September 13-16, 2000

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:36am

Our Neighbourhood is Like That! Cultural Richness and Childhood Identity in Boca-Baraccas, Buenos Aires

Book Chapter, Policy, Research Article, Right to Play, Urban

Young people in Boca-Barracas, the historic port district of Buenos Aires, described their lives and neighbourhoods through a variety of Growing Up in Cities methods. They revealed the 'paradoxical poverty' of an area of low material resources that is nevertheless rich in sttings where its young people can play a vital role in the social and clutural life of their community. A community action programme was created based on the children's insights and priorities, which has inspired reflection on issues of governance related to the rights of children in the urban environment, as well as a discussion of the importance of a 'holding environment' where children are free to assimilate and transform their culture through play and exploration.

In Growing Up in an Urbanising World, EarthScan, Unesco, 2002

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:35am

How Cities Use Parks to Help Children Learn

Journal Article, Other Publications, Parks, Planning, Urban

Childhood is a holistic process, different for each individual child. Many children do not learn effectively exclusively within a classrom. They need alternative, hands-on learning environments to match their varied learning styles. Test-driven education mandates often do not emphasize children's emotional and social needs and opportunities for creativity. This limits the development of unique talents and the fulfillment of individual lives, and deprives society of practical, problem-solving intelligence.

In City Parks Forum Briefing Papers, American Planning Association, 2003

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:34am

Well-being by Nature: Therapeutic Gardens for Children

Design, Guidelines, Health, Journal Article, Research Article

A discussion and design guidelines that consider wellbeing to be a delicate balance between healthy human processes (psychological, physical, spiritual) and healthy environments (landscapes, weather, build envirionments, and the social circumstances of daily life).

In LATIS Forum on Therapeutic Gardens, 2005

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:31am

Playgrounds: A 150-Year-Old Model

Book Chapter, Design, Parks, Research Article

This chapter examines how current playground design reflects changin recreational philosophies and institutional commitments over the last 150 years. A definition of what makes an effective playground, a look at playground risk factors, and how collaboratively designed andscape settings provide a viable strategy for safe, health-promoting playgrounds are also explored. 

In Safe and Healthy School Environments, 2006

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:30am

Reasons to Smile at Teardrop

Design, Journal Article, Post Occupancy Evaluation, Research Article

A discussion of the value of Post Occupancy Evaluations and the a look at the reasons why so view are done. What can landscape architects learn from them and how could they be used to further the profession?

Landscape Architecture Magazine, 2007

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:29am

Greening Montessori School Grounds by Design

Design, Health, Journal Article, Montessori, Research Article, Schoolyards

Article authors Moore and Cosco see the Montessori approach to the prepared environment as overlapping their understanding of the naturalization of school grounds. As they present the possibilities for a naturalized setting to overcome sedentary lifestyles and maximize learning in the outdoors, they establish necessary components for success: professional design, careful attention to surface drainage, thoughtful use of a hieracrchy of pathways, variety in elevation, transitional shelters and terraces, moveable parts, restoration of wild places, inclusion of fruit-bearing species, and, above, all establishing a sense of place. 

In The NAMTA Journal Vol. 38, No. 1, 2013

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:28am

What makes a park inclusive and universally designed? A multi-method approach

Behavior Mapping, Book Chapter, Design, Inclusive, Research Article

Social inclusion has been the subject of recent initiatives in the United Kingdom and Canada driven by continuing issues of social exclusion of minority ethnic groups, low-income families, people with disabilities, children, youth and elders form mainstream contemporary society. This chapter contributes to the discourse through findings from an on-going study of a universally designed park created as an inclusive community environment.

In Open Space People Space, Taylor and Frances, 2007

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:26am

Developing evidence-based design: Environmental interventions for healthy development of young children in the outdoors

Book Chapter, Childcare, Childhood Development, Design, Health, Research Article

This chapter is a summary of the background for a study of childcare outdoor play environments conducted by the author as a research contribution to the emerging field of design for active living for young children.

In Open Space People Space, Taylor and Frances, 2007

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:19am

Healthy Planet, Healthy Children: Designing Nature into the Daily Spaces of Childhood

Book Chapter, Design, Health, Nature Play, Research Chapter

This chapter presents examples of designed environments that support or have the potential to support children's daily outdoor contact with nature and thus ensure the biophilic evolution of our planet and its human citizens. Drawing on the latest reserach findings it explores the role of physical design in improving the quantity and quality of exposure to nature by integrating it into the built environment.

In Biophilic design: the theory, science, and practice of bringing buildings to life, Wiley, 2008

Post date: Mar 8 2011 - 11:17am

Behavior Mapping: A Method for Linking Preschool Physical Activity and Outdoor Design

Behavior Mapping, Childcare, Journal Article, Physical Activity, Research Article

The preschool that children attend has been shown to be a significant but variable predictor of physical activity of 3- to 5-yr-olds, whereas the time outdoors has been found to be a strong correlate of physical activity.

Post date: Feb 17 2011 - 1:51pm
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