Mar
12

Kids and Outdoor Schooling

You probably recall how much I appreciate the Washington Outdoor School (formerly the Roslyn Outdoor School), and the work KEEN (Kittitas Environmental Education Network) has done to bring real outdoor education to kids in the Lower Valley at Helen McCabe Park.

This idea of outdoor early education has been catching on nationwide. Washington stepped up, launching a pilot program in 2017 to work on the official requirements for licensing of outdoor preschools. Even up to last year, no outdoor preschools in the United States were licensed, which meant they couldn’t offer full-day programs, something quite important for working families. In addition, unlicensed outdoor preschools could not offer state financial assistance to families. Over the past two years, however, the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families has worked on creating new guidelines specifically for outdoor learning. The regulations are slightly different than those for indoor schools. For example, one of the new standards requires each classroom to have a teacher for every six kids, so most classes will have two or three staff present. There are also guidelines for implementing naptimes, or when it rains, and so forth.

With the new regulations in hand, Washington finally started to officially license a few programs, becoming the first in the country to do so. Last September, two programs on the west side made it through the process: Squaxin Island Child Development Center in Shelton, Mason County, and Kaleidoscope Preschool and Child Care Center in Eastsound, San Juan County. The folks guiding the program for the state have been very supportive of the benefits of being outdoors and are recognizing that, for some families, outdoor schools are nearly perfect options.

With outdoor schools, cost of education is also an important factor. Since outdoor schools spend far less than traditional schools on facilities and maintenance, more funding can go toward high quality teachers and financial support for families needing it. One example often cited is the experience of Seattle’s Tiny Trees Outdoor School. Tiny Trees built six outdoor classrooms/sites at a cost of $320,000, compared to the cost of one typical indoor preschool classroom of about $350,000. In these ongoing times of teachers and schools scratching for funding, such savings are significant.

Then, too, you don’t have to look far or hard to find research about the highly positive health, life and general well-being impacts of outdoor time and activities for kids (adults, too, for that matter). In Europe, the Danes and Swedes started outdoor kindergartens in the 1950, with Germany not far behind. There are many hundreds of “forest kindergartens” across the Continent – all devoted to building the future health of their citizens, societies, and countries.

The education and health side of this is particularly interesting to me – especially when it comes to vision. Some decades ago, an ophthalmologist buddy suggested that growing nearsightedness among kids was the result of them being pushed to read too soon. “If you want kids to have healthy and strong eyes,” he said, “get them out in natural light looking at distant things – then really limit the time they are focusing up close until they are eight or nine… Get your kids outside…” Outdoor schools seem like an obvious answer.

And what about today’s outdoor preschools across Washington? To have a sense of just how many such schools (with many also offering certain days of K-5 outdoor classes) there are, just Google “Outdoor and Nature-based Preschools in Washington.” For a broader look at the growing community of Washington outdoor educators, check out the Washington Nature Preschool Association at www.wanpa.org.

Our local Washington Outdoor School is helping many youngsters get a good start on their educations. The school now offers outdoor education in Roslyn, Ellensburg, and Yakima, with a great selection of summer camp offerings. It continues to grow with community support and outdoor-savvy teachers, offering both preschool and K-5 classes. Every day, Director Sibyl Maer-Fillo and her staff live their mission to “cultivate a child’s sense of wonder and foster a sense of stewardship through immersion in the natural world. We believe that interacting with nature encourages a sense of place, awakens curiosity and creates healthy minds and bodies.”

Take a look at some happy youngsters and find out more – or register your kids for the program that is perfect for them – at www.waoutdoorschool.org/. Take a look, too, at the Facebook page (www.facebook.com/WAOutdoorSchool/). To contribute to the important work of the school or to find answers to any questions, email waoutdoorschool@gmail.com or call 206-898-2041.

Given that outdoor schools are so good for youngsters and our future – and save a significant amount of money over traditional classrooms – I keep wondering when, and at what level, our local school districts will become more actively involved.

This is critically important business. To paraphrase Jodi Larsen, Upper County Rotary: Children are the emissaries we send into a time we will never see – what do we want them to take along?

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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Comments (2)

  • Gary Shull
    May 21, 2020 at 7:26 pm |

    You wrote a column about outdoor schooling. How do feel about outdoor weddings. I got married on a high ridge 37years ago today. It was a warm sunny day, the only day that month that did not start out with a cold rain. To the west we had a view that stretched from Pikes Peak to Longs Peak. The view to the east overlooked a buffalo herd. One buffalo posed for a picture with the newlyweds. Three of our five kids are married. Two of them had outdoor weddings. The oldest daughter wisely chose to take her December wedding in Boulder indoors.

    • Jim Huckabay
      May 25, 2020 at 7:25 pm |

      Love outdoor weddings! Have performed a number of them. Congratulations and thanks for writing, Gary!

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