The Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) was founded to assist communities in creating “stimulating places for play, learning, and environmental education – environments that recognize human dependence on the natural world.”1 The Natural Learning Initiative is concerned that children are losing contact with the natural world due to the lack of attention and development of the outdoor play spaces of child education centers;2 the over protectiveness of “helicopter” parents who limit outdoor play; the increase in air-conditioning which keep children indoors; and the pressure of school curriculum objectives, which don't leave time for outdoor exploration and learning.3 As a result of this concern, NLI focuses on the importance of the natural environment in the daily life of all children.
The Natural Learning Initiative was founded in January of 2000 as a program of the College of Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Dr. Robin Moore, a nationally and internationally known play advocate and play space designer, is the Director.
Four main areas comprise the services of NLI: research of children's outdoor environments, design assistance in creating natural learning play space, professional development events and programs, and the dissemination of information through online and print sources.4
As part of their research protocol, the Natural Learning Initiative uses behavior mapping for observing social interactions, physical elements of play, and environmental attributes of the play space.5 They also perform post-occupancy evaluations. NLI collaborates with other departments within North Carolina State University as well as with other national and international universities and research centers.
The Natural Learning Initiative’s design assistance is a comprehensive project, which includes strategic planning and coordination, research, preliminary site visits and site analysis, community presentations, stakeholder meetings, design workshops and reviews, training, and post-occupancy evaluations.6
Professional development and training events at NLI are through conferences and hands-on workshops, webinars, and distance learning courses. They cover “theory, principles, and techniques of design for natural play and learning, with an emphasis on the role of the natural environment in healthy child development.”7 Their scope includes community parks, children's museums, zoos, botanical gardens, child development centers, schools, and urban neighborhoods.
In 2002, the Natural Learning Initiative's work as designers to ParkWorks was recognized as an Award Winning Project by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Ohio chapter. They also received the 2008 General Design Honor Award from ASLA for the Boston Children's Museum Plaza. The next year, in 2009, they again received the General Design Honor Award from ASLA for the Teardrop Park in New York City.8
The Natural Learning Initiative believes that the built environment of play spaces needs to be re-designed and eco-restored in order for children to “engage with the wondrous, playful attributes of nature.” They see landscape architects beginning to emerge as specialists in “creating new types of landscapes to support active, outdoor lifestyles in childhood.”9
- 1. “About Us.” Natural Learning Initiative. < http://www.naturalearning.org/content/about-us > 30 Sep. 2011.
- 2. “A new role for Landscape Architecture.” Natural Learning Initiative. < http://www.naturalearning.org/content/new-role-landscape-architecture > 30 Sep. 2011.
- 3. Op.cit., “About Us.”
- 4. “Services.” Natural Learning Initiative. < http://www.naturalearning.org/content/services > 30 Sep. 2011.
- 5. “Research.” Natural Learning Initiative. < http://www.naturalearning.org/content/research > 30 Sep 2011.
- 6. “Comprehensive Projects.” Natural Learning Initiative. < http://www.naturalearning.org/content/comprehensive-projects > 30 Sep. 2011.
- 7. “Professional Development.” Natural Learning Initiative. < http://www.naturalearning.org/content/professional-development > 30 Sep. 2011.
- 8. “Accomplishments.” Natural Learning Initiative. < http://www.naturalearning.org/content/accomplishments > 30 Sep. 2011.
- 9. Op.cit., “A new role for Landscape Architecture.”