National Wildlife Federation, New America Release Policy Recommendations to Improve Outdoor Learning in Child Care

DENVER, Colo. — The National Wildlife Federation’s Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) initiative, in partnership with New America, released policy recommendations to build outdoor learning opportunities that help young children thrive. These policy recommendations can help state and federal leaders to promote healthy child development, support the early childhood workforce, and enhance health equity in communities.

“Together, we have a unique opportunity to create a paradigm shift that embraces and instills nature-based, high-quality outdoor learning in a reimagined early childhood system,” said Sarah Konradi, ECHO program director. “We believe that the outdoors should be an extension of the classroom, and that all young children should have frequent and ready access to outdoor spaces that support physical activity, social-emotional development, and cognitive function.”

Investing in high-quality outdoor learning environments to complement indoor classrooms is a low-cost and high-impact strategy for improving child care quality, educator well-being, and children’s learning and health. Yet few child care programs receive the financing, guidance, or support to improve their outdoor settings beyond minimum health and safety requirements.  These recommendations will foster systemic change that engages and inspires state and federal leaders to take a new approach.

State Policy Recommendations: 

  • Incorporate strategies for outdoor learning environment improvements, educator training and professional development in state plans for federal programs including for the Child Care Development Fund, Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, and Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five.
  • Take full advantage of limited-time federal funding to improve outdoor quality in child care.
  • In state-sponsored grant competitions, include outdoor environments in facilities or capital improvement focused initiatives and include educator training and support in quality improvement initiatives.

Federal Policy Recommendations: 

  • Replace the term “playground” with “outdoor learning environment” in licensing regulations to reframe the importance of outdoor settings in meeting child development objectives.
  • Make outdoor learning environments a qualified use for facility funding and make outdoor learning training and technical assistance qualified uses of professional development and quality improvement funding.
  • Fund and share research and best practices for improving outdoor learning environments and the importance of access to nature and outdoor play.
  • When funding providers to cover the cost of high-quality care, use a definition of quality that is equitable, inclusive, age appropriate, culturally affirming and considers outdoor quality as a strategy to meet child and workforce objectives.

For many young children, time outside in the licensed child care setting may be their first and only consistent outdoor experience. Bringing nature into the quality equation of licensed child care is a way to offset health disparities often found in marginalized communities. 


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