Outdoor Preschool and Public Health
By Lynny Brown
Happy Public Health Week!
This week, we’re highlighting outdoor access for kids as a way to improve public health. At Willamette Partnership, we help partners throughout the Pacific Northwest build stronger, healthier, and more equitable communities. Connecting young children to nature is one of the best investments we can make for the future health of people and the planet.
Outdoor preschool advocates have been busy flexing their civic muscles in Salem. The Outdoor Early Learning Alliance of Oregon has been pushing for outdoor preschool licensure through House Bill (HB) 2717-1. With solid advocacy training from the Children’s Agenda, we had ten people provide oral testimony on outdoor preschool and over 50 advocates submitted written testimony! After all that civic participation, the bill successfully passed the House Committee on Early Childhood and Human Services. Hooray!
Why Do We Need Outdoor Preschool Licensure?
In the age of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, mental health concerns, and chronic diseases among young children, outdoor preschools offer many benefits at a critical stage of a child’s development. Outdoor preschools provide high-quality education, safe learning environments, and are good for a preschooler’s physical health, mental health, learning, and development. All children should have access to these benefits.
How Does Outdoor Preschool Promote Health in Children?
- Promotes physical activity, reduces sedentary behaviors, and improves overall cardiorespiratory fitness
- Reduces stress, anxiety, and depression in children
- Nature helps children recover from Adverse Childhood Experiences
- Supports all developmental learning domains
- Supports creativity and problem-solving skills
- Enhances cognitive skills and higher executive functioning
Despite these benefits, many families lack access to outdoor programs, and these inequities often fall across socioeconomic, racial, and geographic lines. Currently, outdoor preschools cannot meet the same licensing standards written with indoor facilities in mind. For example, an indoor square footage requirement per child is a standard that outdoor programs can’t meet.
The lack of licensing means outdoor preschools can only operate for half days and have difficulty accessing state resources and programs like Preschool Promise. As a result, outdoor preschools are unavailable for families who use these programs, especially rural and low-income folks who work full days and need extended-day care for their children.
To address these inequities, Oregon needs a new licensing pathway that removes barriers to outdoor preschool licensure. HB 2717-1 is the first step to that new pathway.
What is HB 2717-1?
HB 2717-1 is a bill addressing licensing barriers and increasing childcare capacity, equity, and health. It would expand the definition of a childcare facility to include outdoor programs so that the Office of Childcare can license interested outdoor preschools using rules appropriate for an outdoor setting. With 60% of Oregon’s children living in childcare deserts, licensed outdoor preschools can provide more options to families and increase childcare capacity, especially in places with limited indoor facility options and high rent.
HB 2717-1 increases options for families to choose an outdoor program so their children can learn, grow, and heal outside. We imagine a future where all families can access natural spaces and high-quality child care. Whether they live near a forest, rural area, or urban environment, we are building pathways for all children to learn and play outside.