Early Childhood Health Outdoors Partners with Grow Outdoors South Carolina to Bring Nature Play to Child Care Programs Statewide

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The National Wildlife Federation’s Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) initiative and North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative  have been invited to partner with the South Carolina Department of Social Services Division of Early Care and Education (DSS) and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to create naturalized outdoor play and learning spaces in early childhood education programs across the state. 

The partnership is part of the Grow Outdoors South Carolina initiative, which is focused on providing high-quality, outdoor play spaces to benefit children’s overall health and development. ECHO is hiring a local team comprised of landscape designers and early education professionals who will provide design assistance, resources and training to child care programs to help co-create and activate outdoor learning environments that promote nature-based play, physical activity and healthy eating. In addition, ECHO’s work in the state is supported by the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.

“ECHO is honored to be a part of this exciting collaboration to enhance and activate naturalized outdoor play and learning environments for young children across South Carolina,” says ECHO Senior Director of Design & Engagement, Rebecca Colbert. “As an initiative of the National Wildlife Federation, the ECHO team understands that we have a unique opportunity to help young children develop a connection to nature. In addition, our specialized expertise includes landscape design strategies that help mitigate heat and enhance climate resilience – supporting both healthy children and healthy communities.”

"DSS and DHEC are excited about this collaborative journey with the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative,” said DSS State Director Michael Leach. “This partnership aligns with DSS’ mission to ensure the well-being of South Carolina's youngest citizens. Together, we can create vibrant, nature-inspired spaces that foster the growth and happiness of our children with lasting results."

“The most recent data we have show that 42 percent of South Carolina public school students ages 5 to 18 are overweight or obese and over half, 57 percent, are not meeting minimum standards for heart and lung health,” said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC director. “These problems often persist into adulthood, so addressing them early is very important.”

“We know that physical activity stimulates positive cognitive and emotional development in young people, and natural play and learning environments like those created by Grow Outdoors SC are diverse and engaging spaces where children want to spend time. In addition to increased time outdoors, these environments promote problem-solving, creativity and collaboration with others.” 

The Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) will offer its community-based, equity-driven design thinking to creating healthy natural play and learning environments, where all children and their families can thrive and learn healthy life habits.

“NLI is excited to contribute almost a quarter century of early childhood outdoor design research and development to an ongoing collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation ECHO program,” said Robin Moore, Professor of Landscape Architecture, NC State University.

“Working together with Grow Outdoors SC represents a unique partnership,” adds Dr. Nilda Cosco, Associate Research Professor and NLI co-founder with Moore, “that integrates NLI’s evidence-based resources, research tools, and professional development programs to support our NWF practitioner colleagues in co-creating early childhood outdoor environments.” “And,” adds Moore, “all of us collaborating with South Carolina DSS and DHEC to implement a strategic, statewide vision for center-based, healthy, safe childhoods, engaged with nature – that’s huge.”

Learn more about Grow Outdoors South Carolina here.



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