Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) Program
National Wildlife Federation
2020 Advancing Environmental Literacy Award Recipient
Young children need daily access to natural outdoor settings as early in life as possible to instill positive habits and encourage healthy development. The benefits of connecting to nature are well-documented, collectively showing that children's social, psychological, and physical health is positively impacted when they have daily contact with nature. In addition, time in nature helps children gain a sense of environmental awareness, connection, and responsibility.
The National Wildlife Federation has embarked on an innovative and ambitious initiative called Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) to ensure all young children have daily access to nature play and learning opportunities. The ECHO team includes a multi-disciplinary team of professional landscape architects and designers and early childhood specialists who work with child care centers, preschools, and homes to enhance and activate their outdoor spaces for nature play and learning. In addition, our team adapts ECHO best practices to help community centers, library systems, museums, and other entities enhance their public outdoor spaces. Our vision is that every young child experiences nature daily for the health of our kids, communities, and planet.
The ECHO team provides start-up implementation grants to help programs begin to transform their outdoor spaces for young children, while providing professional development for educators, and encouraging community ownership through an interactive, hands-on design and implementation process. This collaborative, community-driven model has been highly successful: to date, this program has reached more than 10,000 children in Colorado and trained over 2,300 professionals to create and activate natural, dynamic, and healthy outdoor spaces.