NWF, Partners Receive $1.75 Million Grant to Connect Kids to Outdoors

Colorado Health Foundation Funds ECHO – Early Childhood Health Outdoors

DENVER (Jan. 23, 2017) – The Colorado Health Foundation has awarded a $1.75 million grant to an initiative of the National Wildlife Federation, Qualistar Colorado, and Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) of North Carolina State University to transform early childhood education through healthy, naturalized outdoor spaces across the state of Colorado. The grant will fund Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO), an initiative connecting children from birth to age 7- to the outdoors and providing health, social, and cognitive benefits while increasing the quality of care at early childhood education sites.

“The connection between Coloradans and nature is something that cannot be taken for granted,” said Brian Kurzel, the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center Director. “Through the ECHO initiative, the National Wildlife Federation, along with our partners and with the generous support from the Colorado Health Foundation, will bring the benefits of inviting natural outdoor spaces to all young Coloradans. The health and developmental benefits of spending time outside are clear, and we believe that all young children deserve access to outdoor spaces that are tailored to their needs and that any care provider can access and afford.”

Kathryn V. Harris, the President and CEO of Qualistar Colorado, said “This exciting partnership is certain to have a remarkable impact on Colorado’s early childhood education landscape. The combination of Qualistar’s expertise in building safe, supportive learning environments and the National Wildlife Federation’s long-standing focus on connecting children with nature will result in more natural, well-designed outdoor play spaces that inspire children’s healthy development.”

Nilda Cosco, the Director of Natural Learning Initiative, said “The partnership with the National Wildlife Federation and Qualistar Colorado opens the doors for our team to extend our reach and share our experiences designing high quality outdoor learning environments for young children.”

ECHO will build the networks of expertise within Colorado’s early childhood education community to make high-quality outdoor learning environments the statewide standard practice. The initiative will provide cost-effective, landscape-design expertise targeted for young children so early childhood education providers can maximize their outdoor spaces for the best development outcomes for young children. Based on ten years of research showing proven results for young children, these well-designed outdoor spaces do not require major capital improvements, and include professional development for providers. With individual grants of $5,000 to $10,000 given to licensed centers as well as to areas used by family, friend, and neighbor caregivers, these outdoor spaces will be tailored to meet the needs of the provider, the community, and the children.

“The Colorado Health Foundation is honored to support these organizations working to help young children get a healthy start in life. We know that promoting healthy outdoor learning environments increases children's activity level and connection with nature, and provides benefits across many aspects of development. ECHO is exactly the type of initiative that will change how people across the state understand the potential of outdoor spaces and will influence systems for broad and long-term impact,” said Hillary Fulton, senior program officer at the Foundation.

These outdoor learning environments will stimulate children’s curiosity, encourage physical activity and provide exposure to nature and fresh foods from garden plots. This initiative will also help connect Colorado’s kids to nature at a time of growing concern about the amount of time many children spend outside. By working to provide daily access to natural spaces for all Colorado’s young children, ECHO aims to help the early childhood education community  reach child developmental goals while making high-quality outdoor time a regular part of Colorado children’s lives.

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