First Environments Early Learning Center (FEELC) is a non-profit child care facility located in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park that serves the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Institute of Environmental Health Science and their contractors, as well as members of the general public. Almost 200 infants, toddlers and preschool children benefit from FEELC’s programming emphasis on nature as a “third” teacher.

FEELC is a North Carolina 5-star licensed child care center and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Designed to maximize natural light, FEELC’s “interactive building” uses found objects and donated materials that change in response to children’s interests. The grounds hold many gardens, including an edible garden harvested for meals at the school, natural areas for exploration, a playground and outdoor stage. Found objects made into art by children hang from ceilings, walls and are scattered indoors and out. Even the roof is put to use. Solar panels installed by a local power company generates and sends power back to the grid. The solar array generates enough to serve 120 NC households each year.

FEELC’s sustainable operations policy creatively and cooperatively maximizes funds, staff and community resources.  Sustainability permeates both programming and operations. Creatively reusing discarded and donated materials teaches conservation while fostering creativity. Gardening introduces earth friendly practices like mulching, capturing irrigation water and planting to attract bees and butterflies. Catching and releasing small insects for study inspires scientific exploration and demonstrates the need to preserve natural habitats.

FEELC recruits and retains professional teachers who are dedicated to the hearts and development of young children. Staff collaboration, cross-training and the opportunity to use individual creativity make for very low turnover rates among staff.