Getting Started - I am an ECE
OLE! Texas is a statewide initiative to create high-quality outdoor learning environments at every child care center and home in Texas to support physical activity and healthy childhood development for all our littlest Texans.
Quality outdoor learning environments provide numerous benefits for students, teachers, and parents. We hope this page will help you consider this investment for your business and school. Early childcare and education (ECE) programs around Texas are already transforming their outdoor spaces to support the overall health and development of their students. These ECE programs will be examples of what quality outdoor learning environments can do!
Why should I do this?
Although improving an outdoor space can take a long time and is not a quick fix, the benefits for students, teachers, and the facility are long-lasting and worth the time and investment. Here are some benefits and impacts of transforming your outdoor learning environment:
- Creates a long-term investment for children’s health and development
- Increases your appeal to potential families that can increase your business
- Increases the number and quality of places students can learn in a child care setting
- Helps you meet the new Texas Minimum Standards in physical activity and screen time
- Helps you meet or exceed the Texas Rising Star Standards for outdoor environments
- Provides training opportunities and opens the door to something new in the early child education and development field
- Provides a safer space for physical distancing during COVID-19 that is learning-focused
- Connects you with a network of ECEs working on the same goals and with additional statewide support
- Increases physical activity for your students based on research
- Connects you to a statewide health-promoting movement for our littlest Texans
What are the recommended steps to create a quality outdoor learning environment?
Use these steps as guidance to transform your outdoor space into a high-quality outdoor learning environment for your students. Whether you are further along or at the beginning - wherever you are, you are on the right track!
Become familiar with the 12 best practices in a quality outdoor learning environment. Take free or low-cost introductory training available for early childcare professionals.
Learn the 12 best practice indicators for a quality outdoor learning environment.
Take training to help you build an outdoor learning environment and receive professional clock hours:
- From North Carolina State Natural Learning Initiative:
- Preschool Outdoor Environment Measurement Scale (POEMS) (Cost: $50/person)
- Childcare Outdoor Learning Environments Quality Tool (Cost: $50/person)
- Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Environments Certificate (Cost: $480/person or group rate)
- National Wildlife Federation Trainings
- Take an online course from Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension: Outdoor Play & Learning: A Texas Healthy Building Blocks Training (Cost: $10/person)
Videos and Visuals
- See colorful examples of the 12 best practice indicators and take a virtual guided tour of a model outdoor learning environment created by Texas Tech University Coalition for Natural Learning
- Watch this TED Talk: Designing playgrounds for happier, healthier kids [12:04 minutes]
- Watch this TED Talk: What Nature Teaches Children [14:53 minutes]
- Read more at the Harris County (Texas) outdoor learning environment webpage
- Read more benefits of engaging children with nature from North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative
Create or strengthen relationships with community partners that can support you by providing volunteers, resources, funding, or guidance. For example, local businesses, volunteer groups, coalitions, parent groups, fellow early child care centers/homes, OLE! Texas local chapters, faith-based centers, parks department, etc.
Find funding to transform your outdoor space, including funds for landscape design. For example, child care relief funds, fundraising, donations or community gifts, grants.
How much does it cost to create a quality outdoor learning environment?
Costs to create an outdoor learning environment will vary based on location, size of outdoor areas, and various costs for materials, professional design services, labor, etc.
In general, creating a quality outdoor learning environment can cost less than purchasing traditional, large playground equipment and provide children more benefits than a traditional playground. Many play areas in an outdoor learning environment use free and affordable materials that are readily available. Plus, changes can be completed over time, piece by piece, to make your transformation even more affordable!
Here are examples of affordable play settings in an outdoor learning environment for ECE programs.
How can I fund this? Can I use Child Care Relief Funds (CCRF)?
- Yes, you can use Child Care Relief Funds to transform your outdoor learning environment! Child care relief funds can be used to make changes to your outdoor space. To learn more about how to use CCRF to improve your outdoor space, please see Investment Idea #4 from the Texas Workforce Commission. For more information about available child care relief funds, please visit Preparing for the Child Care Relief Fund.
- American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are available for Head Start programs for “purchasing or enhancing outdoor learning spaces, including nature-based learning and outdoor classrooms”. These funds can also be used to fund staff planning sessions on how or where to enhance your outdoor space, choosing outdoor learning curricula, or how to best use your outdoor learning environment. Funds can also pay for professional development about outdoor learning environments for Head Start staff. Separate from other Child Care Relief Funds, this is funding specifically for Head Start programs.
- Community support. Volunteers can provide no-cost labor. Businesses and community groups can donate materials, volunteers, or building expertise. OLE! Texas local chapters can provide guidance and connect you to resources.
- Operational budget. Include outdoor space improvements as part of your yearly business operational budget to makes changes year after year if you can’t afford it all at once.
- Grants. Apply for small project grants along the way. Look for grants from statewide organizations like Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Education Agency, and Texas Children in Nature Network. Look for small project grants from different areas like natural resources, childhood development, physical activity, health, obesity prevention, child development, or environmental sustainability.
Locate an OLE! Texas trained landscape designer using this database from Texas Tech Coalition for Natural Learning. Design your outdoor learning environment using the 12 best practices with your OLE! Texas trained landscape designer. The OLE! Texas design process promotes collaborative design involving by staff, classroom teachers, and can even include students!
Using your design, identify your first project and plan your workday(s). Choose the materials needed, for example choose child-friendly native plants using this guide from Texas Parks & Wildlife. Schedule paid labor or volunteers. Plan training for classroom teachers about how to use the outdoor learning environment with students.
Break ground and transform your outdoor space to unlock the long-term benefits!
No matter how you choose to start, take action! Choose any action step below and you’ll be on your way to having a quality outdoor learning environment.
- Choose one of the 12 best practices that make a high-quality outdoor learning environment and start a small, cost-effective project in your outdoor space to see how it goes!
- Start a list of funding sources, businesses, and organizations that can help you change your facility’s outdoor space into a quality outdoor learning environment.
- Spread the word about the importance and benefits of quality outdoor learning spaces and why it’s a good choice for your program to gain support from your ECE director, teachers, staff, and families.
- Join the ECE outdoor learning environment network through Texas Association for the Education of Young Children (Texas AEYC) and talk to other ECEs about OLE! Texas and their outdoor learning environments.
- Get professional clock hours learning about outdoor learning environments. See training opportunities in the Learn section above.
- Connect with an OLE! Texas local chapter nearest you to learn what they are doing and any ways they can help.
- Request design services from a trained OLE! Texas landscape designer to design and plan your quality outdoor learning environment. Reach out to a designer directly to see if they are available to work with you and to request a quote.
You can contact the DSHS Obesity Prevention Program at BringingHealthyBack@dshs.state.tx.us with questions or for more information.
External links to other sites are intended to be informational and do not have the endorsement of the Texas Department of State Health Services. These sites may not be accessible to people with disabilities.