Outdoor Learning Environments Soon Available in TX


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Texas (39.1% Latino population) is launching five Outdoor Learning Environment demonstration sites across the state, three of which are at early childcare centers.

This is great news for many Latino students across the state. Currently, children today can spend 8-10 hours a day in childcare.

However, like many Latino-majority schools, childcare facilities offer less time for kids to play and be active. As early as age four, Latino children face gaps in academic performance and disparities in obesity.

Latino kids need safe places to play and be active to reduce obesity and boost academic achievement.

Naturalize Outdoor Playgrounds

Play – particularly play in nature – is critical for healthy child development.

Nature supports creative problem solving, enhances cognitive abilities, improves academic performance, reduces Attention Deficit Disorder, increases physical activity, reduces stress, and more.

How childcare facilities are designed can either promote or hinder play, thus either helping or hindering childhood development and overall health.

Orange Chapel Hill DayCare before improvements. Source: Natural Learning Initiative

Outdoor learning environments are one way to naturalize existing playgrounds to include, trees, bushes, natural and food gardens, logs, stumps, boulders, rocks, sand, and looping pathways. Similar to green schoolyards and discovery play gardens, these improvements boost physical activity, academic success, and social and emotional learning.

North Carolina and Texas are working to prevent obesity and improve health by designing outdoor learning environments at childcare centers.

Preventing Obesity by Design

A project to improve outdoor environments of childcare centers to increase children’s physical activity and children’s awareness of vegetables, fruits and nuts as healthy foods began in North Carolina (8.84% Latino) in 2009 and spread to Texas in 2016.

Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) began at the North Carolina State University College of Design under the Natural Learning Initiative, supported by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.

The POD Model aims to use high quality outdoor environments at early childcare centers as a health intervention to increase time outdoors to reduce obesity.

Orange Chapel Hill DayCare after improvements.
Source: Natural Learning Initiative

Since 2009, 27 childcare centers in North Carolina have been approved for four key POD activities:

  1. Teacher training
  2. Participatory design assistance
  3. Start-up incentives
  4. Dissemination

Check out the site design plans and before and after photos for all 27 projects.

Health advocates in Texas wanted to do something similar and use the outdoors as a preventive health strategy to reduce the cycle of sedentary children and obesity.

Statewide Intervention

Experts from the NC State Natural Learning Initiative trained Texas partners in the POD Model to further outdoor learning environment design and best practices in Texas.

In 2016, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) launched OLE (Outdoor Learning Environments)! Texas, with continued support from the Natural Learning Initiative.

Using the POD Model, OLE! Texas aims to improve childcare center’s outdoor environments to increase physical activity and food awareness, and reduce and manage childhood obesity.

The project will bring the following components to Texas:

  1. Texas Professional Development Opportunities
  2. Outdoor Learning Environment Design – Online Certificate
  3. POD Train-the-Trainer Series and Development of Demonstration Sites
  4. The Regulatory Framework for Outdoor Learning Environments in Texas Childcare Facilities

OLE! Texas will be launching its first demonstration site in Lubbock, Texas (35% Latino) in collaboration with Texas Tech University Department of Design and the Department of Landscape Architecture.

This is a great opportunity for Texas Tech to partner with state agencies, other universities and professional organizations to promote child health.

Kristi Gaines
Director of Graduate Programs in Interior and Environmental Design at Texas Tech University

“This is a great opportunity for Texas Tech to partner with state agencies, other universities and professional organizations to promote child health,” said Kristi Gaines, director of graduate programs in the Department of Design at Texas Tech, according to one source.

OLE! Texas will be launching additional sites in Austin (30% Latino) and Houston (41% Latino) in 2018.

Austin Community College Child Development Department will be improving the outdoor environment at their Chilcren’s Lab School.

The Healthy Living Matters Collaborative in Houston has identified four early childcare centers to be OLE! Texas demonstration sites.

Naturalizing outdoor learning environments in childcare settings can help Latino kids be more prepared for kindergarten.

By The Numbers By The Numbers



of Latino parents support public funding for afterschool programs

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