Selected sites receive hands-on assistance to design and develop naturalized outdoor learning environments to enhance childhood development
Denver, Colo.– The National Wildlife Federation’s Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) program, in partnership with the Natural Learning Initiative, today announced recipients for 2019 seed grants throughout Colorado. The 28 selected sites will be awarded $5,000 towards the installation of naturalized outdoor learning environments, including technical assistance to aid in the design and development of these spaces.
Natural outdoor learning and play environments with diverse elements allow kids to take safe risks, grow and learn in nature while bringing benefits to intellectual, emotional, social and physical development. However, plastic, inorganic playgrounds remain the norm at child care centers despite efforts to improve quality of early childhood education in the United States. To counteract this, ECHO has set out to bring access to high quality, naturalized outdoor spaces to every child in Colorado through affordable interventions and hands-on training for early childhood professionals.
“Despite the growing list of mental and physical benefits, access to nature and outdoor learning experiences have drastically changed. What was once climbing trees, rolling down hills and exploring the woods behind your house has now evolved into sterile, unchanging playground equipment,” said Sarah Konradi, ECHO Program Director. “These seed grants will help bring us back to basics and create naturalized outdoor spaces for the facilities and communities that need them most. We want kids to get their hands dirty and engage with the world around them, and we’ll work hand-in-hand with selected sites to ensure the growth and development of these spaces for years to come.”
Recipients were chosen through a competitive review process from a pool of 58 for-profit and non-profit applicants. Selected sites and their respective counties include:
With the inclusion of these 2019 seed grant recipients, ECHO has worked collaboratively with early childhood and parks and recreation professionals to provide 7,242 children with daily access to dynamic natural play spaces at 143 sites since the program’s inception in 2017. Moreover, ECHO is committed to prioritizing facilities serving vulnerable families and children, including a high percentage of ethnic and racial diversity, children with disabilities or special health care needs and low-income families who may be experiencing housing or food insecurity. ECHO seed grants 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:
In addition to selecting the 2019 seed grant recipients, ECHO is pleased to announce a new partnership with the Early Childhood Council Leadership Alliance (ECCLA) to build a supportive technical assistance network across Colorado. ECCLA will work with their network of 34 Early Childhood Councils to deepen regional expertise around healthy outdoor learning environments and serve as a primary conduit to the early childhood education community to build recognition, participation, and support for ECHO.
“The research is clear that outdoor learning supports gross motor skills, encourages healthy eating, and promotes self-confidence. ECCLA is excited to partner with ECHO, leverage our network of early childhood councils, and expand the knowledge and skills of local child care providers so more children across Colorado have the opportunity to learn in high-quality, natural outdoor spaces,” said Liz Houston, Executive Director. For more information on ECCLA and Early Childhood Council visit www.ecclacolorado.org.
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