Transforming OLEs into best practice sites

POD Wake County

The purpose of POD Wake County is to address the obesity epidemic in young children attending childcare by creating a multidisciplinary intervention to transform childcare outdoor learning environments (OLEs) into active, productive best practice demonstration sites (eight in Phase One and eight in Phase Two). The six-year project focuses on design, management, and training to create active, edible OLEs that will benefit from several growing seasons.

Major activities include:

  1. Creating outdoor learning environment demonstration sites in Wake County through design training, management, programming, and support for community engagement and fundraising.
  2. Technical assistance to convert unattractive “playgrounds” devoid of plants into productive OLEs for children, families, and the community.
  3. POD Wake demonstration sites will be used for interactive trainings twice a year to engage an additional ten centers (60 centers by the end of the project).
  4. Evaluation process to measure environmental and behavioral changes including attitudes towards outdoor activities by childcare providers.
  5. Technical assistance will be provided on-call and online via the Green Desk and NLI InfoSheet library at the NLI’s website.

Supported by the John Rex Endowment.

At the POD Wake Co. Design Workshop a cohort of four childcare centers come together to better understand why it benefits young children to spend time outside and how to make changes to their OLEs, using design best practices that promote physical activity, healthy eating, and learning. These sessions are a combination of presentations and hands-on activities and are the beginning of the POD process. Above, the center owner, director, and staff from A Safe Place for Children (ASP) in Raleigh, NC create the construction paper cut-out version of their OLE design during the Create a Site Design portion of the Design Workshop. ASP continues to collaborate with NLI and Wake County Smart Start through POD Wake Co. NLI partner Advocates for Health in action joined us at the first POD Wake Co. design workshop (Dec. 12-13, 2012) and they filed this report:
I gained a better understanding in how an OLE is designed. Putting ideas on paper, using visuals to design a plan and brainstorming. Sometimes just talking through an idea can create a better, a larger or a more desirable outcome.
Technical Assistance provider participating in the Design Workshop

I am a hands on person so actually doing the design put the whole process into perspective.
Childcare Center Director

On November 1, 2014 more than 55 childcare teachers, center directors, and owners came together at Heather Park Child Development Center for an introduction to POD-Wake Co. demonstration center network and to the benefits of connecting young children to nature. Eight demonstration centers, in two cohorts have participated in POD-Wake Co.. Each center worked with the NLI Design Team to renovate their OLEs through a participatory design process. In addition, the POD-Wake Co. Garden Trainers and Wake Smart Start Quality Enhancement Specialists make regular visits to each center to guide implementation of the designs, utilization of community engagement and local resources, and planting, tending, harvesting, and eating activities with the children. Each demonstration center created a tabletop display to share. Participants circulated through the showcase display to see photos, site maps, and sample nutritious foods.

Cohort One

Raleigh Nursery School
Johnson Pond Child Development Center
A Safe Place
Primary Beginnings Child Development Center

Cohort Two

Childcare Network #61
Heather Park Child Development Center
Beginning and Beyond Child Development Center
ABC Land, Inc.
NLI's recommendations for the Heather Park CDC includes a story telling circle, which symposium participants were able to implement in 45 minutes. This hands-on activity gave everyone a chance to experience first hand the steps towards installing stump seats and planting small shrubs and trees. Participants left with a sense of accomplishment after completing this project and Heather Park is able to take advantage of a new setting as a result of hosting the symposium!
Beginning and Beyond Child Development Center Owner, Rosalind Blair, welcomes visitors to their renovated OLE. They have continuously added to the OLE since the last time they hosted tour visitors in 2015.
Visitors take in the fruited arbor at A Kind Garden (left) and walk along the wooden plank wheeled toy pathway (right). No matter what size, the potential for an OLE is great!
Visitors tour Johnson Pond Learning Center as they learn how an OLE can be adapted to young children of all age groups in a large center.
The POD Wake County Gathering and Tour presents a showcase of the progress in creating naturalized childcare center Outdoor Learning Environments (OLEs) in Wake County. Presentations and bus tours to the POD Wake Co demonstration OLEs show how the Preventing Obesity by Design program supports children's outdoor activity and engages children in gardening, healthy eating, and outdoor learning. During the event you will visit three POD Wake Demonstration sites.
The 2017 Gathering and Tour was held on July 13, 2017 with visits to:
  • A Safe Place Child Enrichment Center, 1216 Cross Link Road, Raleigh
  • Childcare Network #61, 4905 Western Boulevard, Raleigh
  • Holly Springs Academy, 116 Quantum Drive, Holly Springs
The 2016 Gathering and Tour was held on August 4, 2016 with visits to:
  • Johnson Pond Learning Center, 6523 Johnson Pond Road, Fuquay-Varina
  • A Kind Garden, 838 Belmont Drive, Raleigh
  • Raleigh Nursery School, 1035 Halifax Street, Raleigh
The 2015 Gathering and Tour was held on May 28, 2015 with visits to:
  • ABC Land, Inc., 610 Raymond Drive, Wendell
  • Beginning & Beyond Child Development Center, 322 E. Cabarrus Street, Raleigh
  • A Safe Place Child Enrichment Center, 1216 Cross Link Road, Raleigh