Exciting things are happening on the campus of Henderson Elementary! After zero citations from the State Licensing Inspection and an almost full staff, the Henderson Childcare Center is set to open their doors to children on August 1st! The Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE!) sounds too good to be true, and we are so grateful for the work being done in our community to support our most early learners and their families.
The OLE! Texas Initiative is sponsored by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) as an intervention strategy to combat obesity. Research conducted at the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) over the past 20 years has shown that a purposefully designed Outdoor Learning Environment can reduce sedentary behavior by as much as 22%. With the inclusion of on-site fruit and vegetable gardens, we can also increase food awareness and healthier choices in our youth. In Texas, slightly over 30% of children ages 2-4 are either obese or overweight, making the importance of childcare centers more prominent than ever. Childcare centers are a logical option to intervene in childhood obesity as approximately 9,000 successful centers are serving about 2.5 million kids in Texas. The NLI and other research strategies have shown that in addition to improving physical activity in the youth, being outdoors and in contact with nature can reduce the prevalence of myopia in children, reduce the effects of asthma and allergies, increase concentration and creativity, reduce stress, and provide support for other early childhood developmental domains.
From A Dream to Reality
With funding from DSHS and USDA, Midland ISD’s new Early Learning Center partnered with Texas Tech University to design the Outdoor Learning Center. Through workshops and meetings, our partners at Midland ISD, Texas Workforce Solutions, and Texas Tech University were able to take OLE! from a dream to a reality. If you are interested in building a childcare center in your local school district, here is a brief overview of how this process works:
- First is the pre-workshop preparation, which involves scheduling times and meeting space, contacting stakeholders, preparing a base plan, and conducting a preference survey of teachers, parents, and at-time children.
- This workshop is preceded by a public information session for stakeholders (teachers, parents, regulators, legislators, potential donors, and anyone who may have an interest in the project) usually the evening before or the morning of the workshop.
- TTU faculty and facilitators then conduct the design workshop. This team is a combination of 10 – 12 individuals representing the administration, teachers, parents, inspectors, AgriLife extension, facilities, maintenance, and others who may be able to contribute. The process works to make everyone feel comfortable developing a design solution and seeks consensus among the participants. The workshop concludes with a reflection activity, action planning, prioritizing, brainstorming resources, and evaluations.
- After the workshop, TTU then develops a final masterplan and presents it to the center and parents. The masterplan can then be used to build support for the project, inform the public and other childcare centers in the community, solicit funding, encourage volunteers, etc. It also serves as a guide for the continued development of construction documents for bidding purposes.
- TTU also provides advice and technical support for the implementation of the masterplan, through either contracted services, volunteers, or both.
In addition to creating a fabulous childcare center, this process assists in training designers so they can replicate the initiative using the same process, allowing us to impact more children by building more childcare centers across the United States. Again, we are so excited and proud of the efforts being made in our community to improve the opportunities for the youth. Thank you, especially to our Early Childhood Action Network for setting goals, the countless hours of breakout working groups and discussions, and your dedication to supporting every child from cradle to career. If you would like to get involved and be a part of future projects, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.