|Blackberry tunnels where children can chase each other, outdoor stages that allow kids to play, jump and use their imagination; and wide, curved pathways for running and riding …these are all elements of incredible outdoor learning environments (OLEs) at eight child care centers in Wake County.I was fortunate to participate in a recent Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) tour of three child care facilities in Wake County that have incorporated OLEs as part of NLI’s Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) Wake project and see first-hand policy, systems and environmental changes that increase access to healthy foods and physical activity in action.To date, 850 children at eight child care sites in Wake County where 69% of the children are receiving child care subsidies (and are at a greater risk for childhood obesity) are benefiting from incredible transformed outdoor spaces that incorporate edible gardens and plenty of opportunities for physical activity in an engaging way.
With funding from John Rex Endowment, community support and dedicated child care providers, NLI staff has helped transform the OLEs at these centers into active, productive, best practice demonstration sites. NLI supported the centers with outdoor design and planning guidance, technical support on engaging parents, teachers and the community, onsite training for creating year-round edible gardens, access to the curriculum and programming resources to enhance the development and use of the OLE, training for staff and more.
NLI provided each site with a custom OLE design plan and a $3,000 mini-grant to get started; the centers then raised $16,420 over 2013-2014 to help make their design plans come alive. Each of the eight centers continue to raise money and capitalize on community volunteers to develop their OLEs further. There are now 5,080 square feet of gardens at these sites!
NLI experts have offered 10 training sessions for 70 centers serving 6,408 children through POD Wake, and NLI is at work on creating a resource for other centers that provides them with tools and guidance to transform their outdoor play spaces.
Learn more about the eight demonstration site OLEs and see images of their design plans and before and after photos at NLI’s website here and see pictures from the tour last month here. Download these profiles of ABC Land in Wendell, A Safe Place Child Enrichment Center in Raleigh, and Beginning and Beyond Child Development Center to learn some of the highlights of these facilities that we toured. Visit this NLI page about raising funds and resources for OLEs
Written by Michele McKinley, AHA Project Coordinator
Soon this tunnel will be covered with shade- and fruit-producing blackberries at ABC Land in Wendell.