Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE!) Texas

OLE! Texas text mark superimposed over collage of children olaying and learning outdoors.Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE!) Texas is a statewide initiative that promotes healthy, nature-based outdoor spaces at early childcare and education (ECE) programs. A healthy outdoor space helps preschool children be more active while they play, discover, and connect with nature.

As of August 2020, 1.1 million little Texans spend time at more than 14,000 ECEs. Unfortunately, over thirty percent of Texas children between the ages of 2 and 4 have overweight or obesity. Promoting physical activity in ECEs is a critical step in reducing rates of obesity. It also encourages healthy behaviors that support children during early development and later in life.

To help reduce the overweight and obesity burden, the OLE! Texas initiative:

  • Promotes nature-based design elements shown to reduce sedentary behavior as well as support motor skill and psycho-social development.
  • Enables early childhood educators to move their lessons outside by using natural design elements such as vegetable gardens, fruit trees, looping pathways, grasses, and other activity stations to support child development, food awareness, and nature play.
  • Provides education to ECE staff, design professionals, and community stakeholders about the best practices for designing an outdoor learning environment.

Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) Model

The Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) model inspired OLE! Texas. POD showed higher physical activity levels and a 22 percent reduction in sedentary behavior among preschoolers. View the article, Childcare Outdoor Renovation as a Built Environment Health Promotion Strategy: Evaluating the Preventing Obesity by Design Intervention, [pdf] published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

OLE! Texas Goals

DSHS leads a team of state agencies and local organizations to promote OLE! Texas at ECEs. Our goal is to develop resources for ECEs to build quality outdoor spaces.

DSHS received a Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) multi-year grant to help with funding. State and local partner organizations are helping to execute the vision.

The statewide leadership team’s strategic plan aims to increase the number of ECEs with properly designed outdoor learning environments.

The leadership team will:

  • Develop a network of trained landscape and design professionals to design with ECE staff outdoor spaces featuring best practices.
  • Convene local coalitions to identify local resources to assist ECEs with the process of developing and constructing a proper outdoor learning environment.
  • Create resources for professionals from key disciplines (landscape architects, ECE staff, horticulturalists, licensing professionals, nature play specialists, etc.) to increase technical expertise.
  • Identify funding resources for ECEs and designers to receive training, develop schematics, and complete construction.

OLE! Texas is an initiative of Texas Department of State Health Services, in partnership with other state agencies, universities and organizations across Texas.