Healthy. Natural. Affordable.
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.
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:
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:
Preference will be given to programs that:
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:
Preference is given to programs that serve vulnerable families and children, which can be demonstrated by meeting any of the following criteria:
Required commitments for seed grant sites:
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:
Preference will be given to sites that:
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:
Required commitments for publicly accessible sites:
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.
Colorado Parent – "Creating Better Outdoor Learning Environments in Colorado"
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.
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