Bipartisan bill SB 5357, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island), will develop health and safety rules for the growing number of outdoor preschools in Washington.
If passed by the legislature, the Department of Early Learning will manage a pilot project to license outdoor preschools, including health, safety, and quality standards. Advocates, including the 15 bipartisan sponsors, believe that licensing outdoor preschools will expand access to affordable, high quality early learning programs, and provide more data on the benefits of outdoor, nature-based classrooms for Washington’s children and families.
The pilot project will begin Aug. 31, 2017 and conclude June 30, 2021. Outdoor preschools operate primarily outside in the natural world, but licensing rules focus on what’s inside the building with little guidance on outdoor learning environments. Without licensing outdoor preschools cannot provide the full day programs that are so important for working families, or offer tuition assistance for children living in poverty that licensed preschools can offer. If this bill passes, Washington will be the first state in the country to develop licensing and quality standards for outdoor preschools.
Advocates say outdoor preschools can make education more affordable to families by removing the cost of a brick and mortar facility. That means instead of spending money on a building, outdoor preschools can keep tuition prices low and invest in teachers.
“Recent studies confirm children are not getting enough play time outside and spend a very low percentage of time being physically active,” say advocates for the bill. “Time outside and physical activity are both extremely important for the development of healthy brains and bodies. Academic learning and physical activity go hand in hand in the outdoors, and meets the needs of preschool age children in all areas of development: physical, social and emotional, critical thinking, communication, language, and literacy. The best part, is in addition to a great education, children enjoy a vibrant, joyful childhood: one full of adventure, play and wonder in the great outdoors.”