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About ECHO

Healthy. Natural. Affordable.

ECHO Kids & Nature

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 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.

The ECHO Initiative is a partnership between The National Wildlife Federation and North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative.

This opportunity is generously supported by The Colorado Health FoundationGates Family Foundation, and Dr. Scholl Foundation.

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.  

Demonstration Sites are being developed at 10 sites across Colorado that serve children under the age of five. Licensed child care centers, licensed preschools, and publicly accessible spaces that become Demonstration Sites receive design and planning assistance and $10,000 towards the installation of an outdoor learning environment (OLE) that features best practices as outlined in the Natural Learning Initiative OLE Toolkit. In return, the Demonstration Sites host biannual educational visits from other early childhood professionals and landscape designers, and participate in evaluation of the project through surveys of parents and teachers. ECHO utilizes research-based best practices to achieve statewide adoption of high-quality outdoor learning environments at early childhood education (ECE) sites throughout Colorado. Through a competitive process, two licensed child care center and preschool sites were selected in Fall 2017.  In 2018, sites were selected as follows: a) Spring 2018: four sites (licensed child care centers or preschool sites and publicly accessible sites serving Family, Friend, and Neighbor child care) were selected and b) Fall 2018: four sites (licensed child care centers and preschool sites or publicly accessible sites serving Family, Friend, and Neighbor child care) were selected. See ECHO Stories to learn more about current Demonstration Sites.

Required commitments for demonstration sites:

  • Utilize $10,000 (to be received in two payments) to enhance the outdoor learning environment based on designs provided by ECHO Design Team.
  • Participate in a full-day Interactive Design Workshop led by ECHO Partners. ECHO Partners will support travel needs. Dates and locations will be announced to participating programs in advance.
  • Identify two individuals to receive sponsored registration to the Annual ECHO Summit.
  • Be available for on-site consultation from ECHO Design Team (e.g., site measurements, pictures, action planning, etc.) as needed.
  • Host two on-site training events annually with support from ECHO Partners to share experiences with fellow early childhood professionals.
  • Identify two individuals to receive sponsored registration for the “Outdoor Learning Environments for Young Children” online certificate program.
  • Receive ongoing support from an ECHO Support Specialist and ECHO Partners through site visits, phone calls, online consultation, and email.
  • Engage in program evaluation with instruments (e.g., surveys, etc.) furnished by ECHO Partners.

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 naturalizing the outdoor learning environment, including edible species.
  • Commit to gardening on-site.
  • Commit to serving local, fresh food for meals and snacks, either produced in on-site gardens or procured from external food suppliers.
  • 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

Preference will be given to programs that:

  • Prepare food for snacks or meals in an approved, functional on-site kitchen.
  • Operate on a year-round calendar.
  • Demonstrate previous experience with family and community engagement.

Publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children are also eligible to become ECHO Demonstration Sites. Criteria are outlined below.

Seed Grant Sites work closely with Demonstration Sites to naturalize and improve their outdoor spaces.  Each awarded Seed Grant Site will receive $5,000 towards the installation of a naturalized outdoor learning environment and technical assistance to aid in naturalizing their outdoor learning environments. Through a competitive process, Seed Grant Sites are selected as follows: a) 25 sites were selected in Spring 2018; and b) at least 25 sites will be selected in Spring 2019. 

ECHO Seed Grant Sites are open to for-profit and non-profit licensed child care centers or preschools serving children under the age of five that meet the following minimum criteria:

  • A minimum Colorado Shines Level 1 rating. License must be in good standing with the State of Colorado.
  • Commit to naturalizing the 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

Required commitments for seed grant sites:

  • Attend full-day Interactive Design Workshop led by ECHO partners.
  • Encouraged participation in the annual ECHO Summit.
  • Be available for consultation from the ECHO Design Team (e.g., measurements, pictures, etc.).
  • Identify community representative(s) (e.g., coach, child care health consultant) to participate in a Technical Assistance Provider Workshop.
  • Identify one individual to receive sponsored registration for the “Outdoor Learning Environments for Young Children” online certificate program.
  • Participate in evaluation in partnership with ECHO Partners.
  • Send representative(s) to at least one training at a local or regional Demonstration Site.

Publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children are also eligible to become ECHO Seed Sites. Criteria are outlined below.

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 Grant 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.

Publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children are eligible to apply to become ECHO Demonstration Sites if they meet the following minimum criteria :

  • Evidence of serving or potential to attract families with young children, including unlicensed 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 naturalization of 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.

Publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children are eligible to apply to become ECHO Seed Grant Sites 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 care providers.
  • Have a designated entity such as an agency, business, non-profit, dedicated staff or volunteers that will serve as the primary caretaker and community connector for the outdoor learning environment.
  • Commit to creating and/or enhancing an outdoor learning environment, including naturalization of the site and gardening on-site.

Required commitments for publicly accessible sites:

  • Same as Demonstration Site or Seed Grant Site requirements
  • Ensure there is a committed entity or organization of individuals to ensure implementation and management of the site.

While Demonstration Site Grants and Seed Grants are not available to family child care providers, 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. 

 

Contact Us

For questions about the ECHO Initiative, please contact:
Sarah Konradi
ECHO Program Director, National Wildlife Federation
konradis@nwf.org
303-441-5140 

For assistance with ECHO applications or general questions, please contact:
Adrienne Sedlak
ECHO Education and Outreach Manager, National Wildlife Federation
SedlakA@nwf.org
303-441-5145

ECHO in the News

Colorado Parent – "Creating Better Outdoor Learning Environments in Colorado"

Chalkbeat – "Less plastic, more trees: New effort seeks to reinvent preschool playgrounds and capture kids’ imaginations"

TEDxMileHigh - "Nature Play Adventure Recap"

TEDxMileHigh - "Designing playgrounds for happier, healthier kids"

ECHO is a partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative. Click here to learn more.

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