Early Childhood Health Outdoors

Healthy. Natural. Affordable.


These are the foundations of Colorado’s new Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) initiative. And this is what ECHO is designed to accomplish:
All young children in Colorado have daily access to quality outdoor learning environments where play and learning support development across all domains - cognitive, physical, social, and emotional.

ECHO is based on a decade of research on the Preventing Obesity by Design model showing that, by improving the design of outdoor spaces through affordable interventions and training early childhood educators, young children and care providers enjoy substantial benefits:

  • Children are more physically active in the outdoors and engage in social interactions more often.
  • Children and providers enjoy naturalized outdoor spaces and spend more time outside, supporting healthy behaviors.
  • Hands-on gardening encourages the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • And parents are more likely to linger at care centers, improving community experience.

Schoolyard photo by Natural Learning Initiative 

How will ECHO work? ECHO will support Colorado’s early childhood education (ECE) community by providing:

  • Landscape design expertise to maximize and naturalize outdoor spaces
  • Implementation grants to support the creation of these spaces
  • Professional development for ECE professionals and designers interested in creating high quality outdoors for children and families
  • Improved outdoor spaces for informal "family, friend, and neighbor" caregivers to utilize

By working at scale across Colorado in both licensed and informal settings, this initiative advances the statewide effort to provide quality care for every young child.

ECHO will help formal ECE providers meet educational and physical goals for their kids, improve program quality, meet professional development goals and create more appealing and engaging outdoor spaces compliant with current rules and regulations.

For those that provide "family, friend, and neighbor" care, ECHO will introduce high-quality outdoor spaces in publicly accessible locations around the state.

The National Wildlife Federation, partnering with Qualistar Colorado and North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative with funding support from the Colorado Health Foundation, is launching the ECHO initiative in 2017! Please click here to find out how you might apply for a grant, support the initiative, volunteer, or connect ECHO to other community work.

Join us for an ECHO Summit on Saturday, October 14th! More information is available here. Don't forget to register!

Playground image by Natural Learning Initiative