The Raleigh School Elementary Play and Learning Area

Schematic Design

Lift[ED] returns to The Raleigh School, 5 years after working with the school on their preschool outdoor learning environment, to design the new play and learning area for the elementary school. Our work builds on a foundation of community at the school and extends learning beyond the classroom into the great outdoors. We worked with TRS teachers and administrators to solidify goals and visions into a plan that transforms their existing 2 acre play area from a simple field with play equipment into a dynamic living and learning lab. 

Conceptual Design Alternatives



Primary Colors ELC - Dowd St.

BEFORE - A typical playground.

AFTER - A multi-functional Outdoor Learning Environment

Primary Colors on Dowd Street in Downtown Durham was due for an upgrade. The client was eager to take their small space and convert it from a typical playground to an Outdoor Learning Environment. Working with small spaces is one of Lift[ED]'s specialties. In this design, we were able to provide a trike track, stage, multipurpose lawn, a storage shed, water play, sand play, two playhouses, and garden areas. The space that a few pieces of playground equipment consumed was more than enough to provide a diverse environment that supports multiple types of play and learning. 

Primary Colors ELC - Dixon Rd.

Primary Colors is a 5 star licensed child care facility in Durham, NC. The owner, director, and staff are all committed to the idea that outdoor play is a critical component of childhood development. Their renovated outdoor learning environment supports their preschool classroom's curriculum, providing for extensions outside. Kids get to spend time outside, building, balancing, riding, and learning with their whole body instead of being cooped up in the classroom. Outdoor time here is fun and the learning doesn't stop, it gets amplified by nature.

Schematic design by Jesse Turner and Sarah Konradi at the Natural Learning Initiative
Design follow-through, construction drawings, and construction admin by Lift[ED].

Durant Road Preschool

Durant Road Preschool is a 5 star licensed childcare center in Raleigh, NC. Our goals for the transformation of their preschool playground into an outdoor learning environment were to create synergy across the site. We kept existing playground equipment in place, weaving a curvy 5' wide path throughout the site. The project includes many new features, but also re-purposed several existing manufactured play items such as playhouses, toy cars, and shade structures. We've taken a space that had all the common playground components and created a unique naturalized outdoor learning environment. We added a water play area with a hand pump, a grass maze, a central lawn, the "trike track", a bridge, and many natural products such as locust balance beams provided by Wild Child Workshop.

Montessori School of Winston-Salem Masterplan

We are working with the Montessori School of Winston Salem on the revision and implementation of their masterplan. In 2013, we worked with the school to re-organize the pedestrian and vehicular circulation system. Stop bars, signage, pavement marking, and crosswalks were installed to provide environmental ques to parents as they bring their children to school. Parking areas were re-striped to provide additional spaces and create a safe walkway from the parking lot to the school. According to Jon Churn, Head of School, the new circulation pattern is much safer and easier to manage. We also worked with the school to visualize a new entry experience that provides a sense of arrival that embraces the community.

Follow the Child Montessori School

Follow the Child Montessori School has been in operation since 2001 and started as a parent-driven venture. Jesse Turner worked as the lead site designer for the outdoor play areas while Design Coordinator at The Natural Learning Initiative, as part of the school's expansion to a new campus. Working as a team along with Philips Architecture and Sepi Engineering, Jesse provided valuable and unique insight on the spatial needs of children. He led stakeholder meetings with teachers and staff, prepared plans, and advised the school on budgeting for initial construction. 

After his time at NLI ended, Jesse continued to work with the school. Lift[ED] created construction drawings and advised volunteers, led by Jeremy Hauch of Hauch Design

Montessori School of Winston-Salem Toddler Play Space

The Winston Salem Montessori School’s Toddler Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) provides challenges and learning opportunities for the school’s youngest class. The overall goals of the design were developed by the Natural Learning Initiative as part of a masterplanning and visioning process. The Toddler OLE design is based on best practices for early childhood outdoor environments, this is no ordinary “playground”. It is a fully equipped landscape for learning and play. The design of the space integrates lush plantings and features with cognitive and motor skill development goals. Children using this space have opportunities to ride trikes on the looping path, run up and down a mini-hill, play in the sand, climb around forts, slide down a slide, and explore plantings that attract interesting bugs and butterflies. We are pleased to have improved the everyday lives of the children using this wonderful space.

The Raleigh School

The Raleigh School’s Preschool Outdoor Learning Environment was transformed from a desert of play sand into a vibrant and diverse space for play and learning. We led the permitting, design, construction documentation, and construction administration for this project.

Sheep Harney Nature Hut

We worked with teachers, school administrators, and Earlyspace LLC to prepare design and construction drawings for the Sheep Harney Elementary School early childhood outdoor learning environment. The Nature Hut is a special component where kids will be provided with found natural objects to use in their play and learning activities.