(Colorado News Connection) As Congress considers making significant investments in the nation's child-care system, children's advocates say now is the time to make nature-based, high-quality outdoor learning available for all children in Colorado, regardless of their ZIP code.
Sarah Konradi, director of the Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) program for the National Wildlife Federation, said kids need regular access to spaces where they can play, run and climb.
"We also want them to be able to explore, to imagine, to pretend, to create," Konradi outlined. "And so that may look like a little digging area in the shade of a tree, where they can explore worms and bugs."
ECHO has published new recommendations, calling for broadening investments in playgrounds to include outdoor extensions of the classroom; areas where kids create rules for new games, learn how to work together to build pirate ships, and other activities that help boost cognitive learning and social skills in natural settings.
Konradi pointed out child-care providers also see benefits from outdoor learning environments. Instead of monitoring recess on a traditional playground, educators can engage with kids as they explore winding pathways, plant pollinator gardens and create "mud kitchens."
Konradi noted building outdoor learning spaces does not necessarily require a lot of money or effort.
"Changes that we are advocating for can be extremely cost-effective; they can be done very incrementally," Konradi explained. "This doesn't have to be an extreme playground makeover to be successful."
When children get to spend a part of their day in natural settings, Konradi added, there is also an opportunity to pause, and take a deep breath.
"And spaces where children can just observe, contemplate," Konradi stated. "And with nature around us, we know that as adults going out into those kinds of environments is very restorative, and it can be for children as well."