Donate Donate

About ECHO

Healthy. Natural. Affordable.

ECHO Kids & Nature

These are the foundations of Colorado’s Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) program, and they are the values that drive ECHO’s mission for all young children in Colorado to have daily access to quality outdoor learning environments where play and learning support cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development.

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 and providing hands-on training for early childhood professionals to actively engage children in these outdoor spaces, young children and early childhood programs see substantial benefits.

Among these benefits, children and child care providers alike enjoy and spend more time outside in naturalized outdoor spaces, supporting healthy behaviors. When children spend time outdoors, they are generally more physically active and engage in more social interactions. And parents often are more likely to linger at these child care programs, improving the community experience.

Get Involved

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, the first two of these sites were selected in fall 2017.

ECHO is rapidly expanding to reach more sites in 2018 and 2019. There are several ways to be part of this exciting, transformative initiative.

Demonstration sites serve as resource and training hubs for their community and nearby ECHO seed grant sites, showcasing how incremental, affordable improvements to the outdoor learning environment impact young children’s healthy development. By sharing processes, successes, obstacles, and opportunities, demonstration sites can guide others seeking to create dynamic, engaging outdoor spaces for children.

By 2020, demonstration sites will be developed at 10 sites across Colorado that serve children under the age of five, including four new sites to be selected in fall 2018. These sites will be licensed child care centers and preschool sites and publicly accessible sites serving family, friend, and neighbor child care.

Licensed child care centers, licensed preschools, and publicly accessible spaces that become demonstration sites receive design and planning assistance and $10,000 toward the installation of a best-practice outdoor learning environment (OLE).

Demonstration sites host biannual educational visits from other early childhood professionals and landscape designers, helping to spread ECHO practices and share progress with the broader community.

Required dates and 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 partners.
  • Participate in a full-day Interactive Design Workshop led by ECHO Partners in Denver. ECHO Partners will support travel needs.
  • Identify two individuals to receive sponsored registration to Annual ECHO Summit in Denver.
  • Identify community representative(s) (e.g., coach, child care health consultant) to participate in a Technical Assistance Provider Workshop in Denver.
  • Be available for on-site consultation from National Wildlife Federation ECHO design team (e.g., site measurements, pictures, action planning) as needed.
  • Host two on-site training events in 2019 and annually thereafter 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 two sponsored registrations for the Annual ECHO Summit in 2019.
  • 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) furnished by ECHO Partners.

ECHO Demonstration Site grants are open to for-profit and non-profit licensed child care centers and preschools serving children under the age of five that meet the following minimum criteria:

  • 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.

ECHO demonstration site grants will also be open to publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children. Criteria are outlined in the Publicly Accessible Sites section.

Drawing from the site naturalization experience of demonstration sites, seed grant sites offer hands-on training opportunities at demonstration site grounds. These training opportunities guide site improvements through a reciprocal relationship of coaching, sharing, and learning.

Seed grants supplemented with technical assistance will be offered to child care centers and preschools and publicly accessible sites to improve their outdoor learning environments.

Through a competitive application process, seed grantees receive design assistance via a full-day, hands-on Interactive Design Workshop resulting in a schematic plan. Each awarded site will receive a $5,000 grant and technical assistance to aid in naturalizing their outdoor learning environments. Through a competitive process, 25 seed grant sites will be selected in spring 2018, and another 35 seed grant sites will be selected in spring 2019.

ECHO seed grant sites are open to for-profit and non-profit licensed child care centers and 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 in 2018 and 2019.
  • Be available for consultation from National Wildlife Federation ECHO designers (e.g., measurements, pictures).
  • 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.

ECHO seed grant sites will also be open to publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children. Criteria are outlined in the Publicly Accessible Sites section.

In an effort to ensure ECHO reaches all young children in Colorado, we are encouraging community sites such as community centers, nature centers, public parks, and community playgrounds to apply to be either a demonstration site or seed grant site in 2018 or 2019. Programs and locations that provide outdoor space used by unlicensed family, friend, and neighbor child care are welcome to apply.

ECHO demonstration site grants will also be open to publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children, if they meet the following minimum criteria:

  • Evidence of serving or potential to attract families with young children, including unlicensed family, friend, and neighbor 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.

ECHO seed grants are also open to publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children, if they meet the following minimum criteria:

  • Evidence of serving or potential to attract families with young children, including family, friend, and neighbor 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 care 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 ECHO training registration pages for specific details on how to become involved.


Please note: If you are eligible to apply 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 cannot apply as a publicly accessible site serving family, friend, and neighbor child care, and vice versa.



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, Qualistar Colorado, and North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative. Click here to learn more.

Get Involved

   Please leave this field empty

Happening Near You

You don't have to travel far to join us for an event. Attend an upcoming event with one of our regional centers.

Learn More