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What Is ECHO?

Healthy. Natural. Affordable.

ECHO nature play space

These are the foundations of Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO). 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 by North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative on the Preventing Obesity by Design model. This research showed that by improving the design of outdoor spaces through affordable interventions and training early childhood professionals, young children and early childhood programs 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.

ECHO Kids & Nature

ECHO is a partnership between The National Wildlife FederationNorth Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative, and Early Childhood Council Leadership Alliance. Click here to learn more.

ECHO is generously supported by Gates Family FoundationConstellation Philanthropy, Buell Foundation, and an anonymous donor. 

How can you participate in ECHO?

There are various ways to become involved with ECHO.  Details are outlined below. Please note, if you meet the eligibility criteria to become a Demonstration Site or a Seed Grant Site, you may apply to both.  However, you are only allowed to receive one of the opportunities. In addition, if you are applying as a licensed child care center or preschool, you can not apply as a publicly accessible site serving Family, Friend, and Neighbor child care, and vice versa. Sites that receive an ECHO grant are not eligible to receive additional ECHO grant funds in the future. However, if you apply and are not selected to receive funding during the current grant cycle, we encourage you to reapply.  

 

Get Involved

 

Demonstration Sites

ECHO demonstration sites are leaders in outdoor play across Colorado. Demonstration sites are role models for high quality and natural outdoor learning environments. Demonstration sites host annual professional development for early childhood professionals to learn how to design outdoor spaces and engage children in outdoor play. Demonstration sites can be licensed child care center, preschools or publicly accessible spaces. See ECHO Stories to learn more about current Demonstration Sites.

When applications are available, typically for-profit and non-profit licensed child care centers and preschools serving children under the age of five that meet the following minimum criteria are eligible to become ECHO Demonstration sites:

  • A minimum Colorado Shines Level 2 rating, with preference for sites with higher rating levels. License must be in good standing with the State of Colorado.
  • Willing to serve as a demonstration site for other early childhood professionals and programs.
  • Own or lease current space for at least 5 years into the future.
  • Commit to gardening on-site.
  • Demonstrate interest in and capacity to serve in a leadership role.
  • Serve vulnerable families and children, which can be demonstrated by meeting any of the following criteria:
  • Demonstration of economic need for population served (e.g., percent of families eligible for need-based child care subsidies in the county, level of participation in Colorado Child Care Assistance Program [CCCAP], number of low-income families that may be experiencing housing or food insecurity)
  • Serving a diverse population, including a high percentage of ethnic and racial diversity
  • Serving children who are English language learners
  • Serving children with disabilities or special health care needs

Seed Grant Sites

ECHO seed sites are licensed child care programs, preschools or publicly accessible sites that have committed to improving the quality of their outdoor spaces that embrace natural elements. Seed sites are clustered around existing demonstration sites to create a shared network of learning. Seed sites engage in professional development in partnership with demonstration sites to continue to learn best practice in outdoor spaces and how to engage children in play outdoors.

When applications are available, typically for-profit and non-profit licensed child care centers and preschools serving children under the age of five that meet the following minimum criteria are eligible to apply.

  • A minimum Colorado Shines Level 1 rating. License must be in good standing with the State of Colorado.
  • Commit to creating a natural outdoor learning environment, including conducting gardening on-site.

Preference is given to programs that serve vulnerable families and children, which can be demonstrated by meeting any of the following criteria:

  • Demonstration of economic need for population served (e.g., percent of families eligible for need-based child care subsidies in the county, level of participation in Colorado Child Care Assistance Program [CCCAP], number of low-income families that may be experiencing housing or food insecurity)
  • Serving a diverse population, including a high percentage of ethnic and racial diversity
  • Serving children who are English language learners
  • Serving children with disabilities or special health care needs

Publicly Accessible Sites

In an effort to ensure ECHO reaches all young children in Colorado, we encourage community sites such as community centers, nature centers, publicly accessible parks, libraries, or community playgrounds to apply to be either a demonstration site or seed site. Programs and locations that provide outdoor space that is regularly used by zero-to five-year-old children cared for by Family, Friend, and Neighbor caregivers are welcome to apply.

When applications are available, publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children are eligible to apply to become an ECHO site if they meet the following minimum criteria:

  • Evidence of serving or potential to attract families with young children, including Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) child care providers.
  • Evidence of serving or potential to serve vulnerable children and their families and child care providers.
  • Have a designated entity such as an agency, business, non-profit, dedicated staff, or established volunteers that will serve as the primary caretaker and community connector for the outdoor learning environment.
  • Own or lease current space for at least 5 years into the future.
  • Commit to creating and/or enhancing an outdoor learning environment, including adding natural elements to the site and gardening on-site.
  • Willing to serve as a demonstration site for others interested in learning about ECHO best practices.

Preference will be given to sites that:

  • Demonstrate a commitment from a community connector or partner agency that will seek to activate and encourage use of the site by the targeted population. If a language other than English is predominately spoken in the area, the agency should demonstrate expertise in communicating with community members in the predominant language.
  • Are accessible to the populations served on a year-round calendar.
  • Are located within walking or biking distance of low-income neighborhoods.
  • Are at or near places that are perceived as safe, or welcoming to, mixed documentation status families.

Family Child Care Providers

While family child care providers are not eligible to become demonstration or seed sites, free training and incentives are available for family care providers to participate in ECHO. Sponsored event registration, supported travel costs, substitute coverage and implementation grants are ways we are seeking to engage family child care providers. Family child care providers are encouraged to review the ECHO training registration pages for specific details on how to become involved.

Demonstration Sites

ECHO demonstration sites are leaders in outdoor play across Colorado. Demonstration sites are role models for high quality and natural outdoor learning environments. Demonstration sites host annual professional development for early childhood professionals to learn how to design outdoor spaces and engage children in outdoor play. Demonstration sites can be licensed child care center, preschools or publicly accessible spaces. See ECHO Stories to learn more about current Demonstration Sites.

When applications are available, typically for-profit and non-profit licensed child care centers and preschools serving children under the age of five that meet the following minimum criteria are eligible to become ECHO Demonstration sites:

  • A minimum Colorado Shines Level 2 rating, with preference for sites with higher rating levels. License must be in good standing with the State of Colorado.
  • Willing to serve as a demonstration site for other early childhood professionals and programs.
  • Own or lease current space for at least 5 years into the future.
  • Commit to gardening on-site.
  • Demonstrate interest in and capacity to serve in a leadership role.
  • Serve vulnerable families and children, which can be demonstrated by meeting any of the following criteria:
  • Demonstration of economic need for population served (e.g., percent of families eligible for need-based child care subsidies in the county, level of participation in Colorado Child Care Assistance Program [CCCAP], number of low-income families that may be experiencing housing or food insecurity)
  • Serving a diverse population, including a high percentage of ethnic and racial diversity
  • Serving children who are English language learners
  • Serving children with disabilities or special health care needs

Seed Grant Sites

ECHO seed sites are licensed child care programs, preschools or publicly accessible sites that have committed to improving the quality of their outdoor spaces that embrace natural elements. Seed sites are clustered around existing demonstration sites to create a shared network of learning. Seed sites engage in professional development in partnership with demonstration sites to continue to learn best practice in outdoor spaces and how to engage children in play outdoors.

When applications are available, typically for-profit and non-profit licensed child care centers and preschools serving children under the age of five that meet the following minimum criteria are eligible to apply.

  • A minimum Colorado Shines Level 1 rating. License must be in good standing with the State of Colorado.
  • Commit to creating a natural outdoor learning environment, including conducting gardening on-site.

Preference is given to programs that serve vulnerable families and children, which can be demonstrated by meeting any of the following criteria:

  • Demonstration of economic need for population served (e.g., percent of families eligible for need-based child care subsidies in the county, level of participation in Colorado Child Care Assistance Program [CCCAP], number of low-income families that may be experiencing housing or food insecurity)
  • Serving a diverse population, including a high percentage of ethnic and racial diversity
  • Serving children who are English language learners
  • Serving children with disabilities or special health care needs

Publicly Accessible Sites

In an effort to ensure ECHO reaches all young children in Colorado, we encourage community sites such as community centers, nature centers, publicly accessible parks, libraries, or community playgrounds to apply to be either a demonstration site or seed site. Programs and locations that provide outdoor space that is regularly used by zero-to five-year-old children cared for by Family, Friend, and Neighbor caregivers are welcome to apply.

When applications are available, publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children are eligible to apply to become an ECHO site if they meet the following minimum criteria:

  • Evidence of serving or potential to attract families with young children, including Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) child care providers.
  • Evidence of serving or potential to serve vulnerable children and their families and child care providers.
  • Have a designated entity such as an agency, business, non-profit, dedicated staff, or established volunteers that will serve as the primary caretaker and community connector for the outdoor learning environment.
  • Own or lease current space for at least 5 years into the future.
  • Commit to creating and/or enhancing an outdoor learning environment, including adding natural elements to the site and gardening on-site.
  • Willing to serve as a demonstration site for others interested in learning about ECHO best practices.

Preference will be given to sites that:

  • Demonstrate a commitment from a community connector or partner agency that will seek to activate and encourage use of the site by the targeted population. If a language other than English is predominately spoken in the area, the agency should demonstrate expertise in communicating with community members in the predominant language.
  • Are accessible to the populations served on a year-round calendar.
  • Are located within walking or biking distance of low-income neighborhoods.
  • Are at or near places that are perceived as safe, or welcoming to, mixed documentation status families.

Family Child Care Providers

While family child care providers are not eligible to become demonstration or seed sites, free training and incentives are available for family care providers to participate in ECHO. Sponsored event registration, supported travel costs, substitute coverage and implementation grants are ways we are seeking to engage family child care providers. Family child care providers are encouraged to review the ECHO training registration pages for specific details on how to become involved.

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Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

Learn More