Washington becomes first in the country to license outdoor preschools

Washington has become the first state in the country to license outdoor preschools.

The state’s outdoor early education programs have kids gather on tree stumps and go hiking through the woods rather than in a classroom. Most of the preschools take place entirely outdoors from September to June, rain or shine. Instructors say the settings prompt students to think about their relationship with nature and be more creative with the space they have, while still practicing and learning the same things traditional preschoolers do.

With the idea of outdoor early education catching on nationwide, Washington launched a pilot program in 2017 to develop official requirements that all licensed outdoor preschools must follow. Until recently, no outdoor preschools in the United States were licensed, which meant they couldn’t offer full-day programs, an important factor for many working families.

Unlicensed outdoor preschools also can’t offer state financial assistance to families.

But over the past two years, the Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families has worked on creating new guidelines specifically for outdoor learning, which has slightly different regulations than indoor schools.

One new standard requires each classroom to have one teacher for every six kids, so most classes have two or three staff members. Other guidelines detail how to implement naptime, or what to do when it rains.

This fall, with the new regulations in hand, the state finally started to officially license a few programs, becoming the first in the country to do so. In early September, two programs made it through the process – one in Mason County, and another in San Juan County.   (Seattle Times)