Programs & Projects

For almost two decades, NLI has focused on the design of community-level built environments as a strategy to improve children’s health and development through design education and technical assistance. The focus is implementation of cost-effective, naturalized outdoor learning environments (OLEs) in childcare centers, public schools, public parks, zoos, botanical gardens, and other nonformal education sites in North Carolina and across the country.

Support for NLI projects and programs has come from private foundations, public agencies, private industry, and national agencies including the National Science Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Institute for Museum and Library Science, National Wildlife Federation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina, the John Rex Endowment, and many other entities.


Programs integrate design assistance, evaluation, professional development, and policy initiatives, with the aim of achieving higher levels of sustained quality. These activities are often tied to a multi-year project, which may also include strategic planning and coordination, research, site visits, site analysis, community presentations, stakeholder meetings, design workshops, design reviews, training, and post-occupancy evaluation.

“These gardening activities remind me of my childhood. Activities like canning are becoming a lost art and it is important to pass them onto future generations… if they grow up and can’t buy food, they will at least have the skills to plant a seed.”

A Center Director - POD Wake County