Early Childhood Education Outdoor Learning Environments

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Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE! Texas) transforms early childhood spaces through research inspired designs that increase physical activity and connection with the natural world. The initiative adds design elements (looping pathways, vegetable gardens, more play and learning settings, etc.) to enable 0-5 year old to be active, learn in nature, and develop motor skills. It has received national attention as an innovative and evidence-based approach to increasing childhood physical activity and food awareness. OLE! Texas demonstration sites can be found in Austin, Fort Worth, Harris County, Lubbock, and San Antonio.

Why is OLE! Texas important?

  • There are 17,000 child day care operations in Texas and over 1.1 million little Texans attend these operations who can benefit from this project.
  • More than 1 in 5 U.S. children ages 2 – 5 years are already overweight or obese.
  • OLE! Texas is based on the Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) model, which is associated with higher levels of physical activity and a 22 percent reduction in sedentary behavior among preschoolers.

OLE! Best Practice Indicators

  1. Ten or More Play and Learning Settings
  2. Looping, Curvy Primary Pathway
  3. Multipurpose Lawn
  4. Shady Settings (other than trees)
  5. Natural, Loose Materials
  6. Wheeled Toys, Portable Play Equipment and Play Materials
  7. Support of Gross Motor Activities
  8. Sufficient Trees
  9. Edible Fruiting Tree Species
  10. Shrubs, Vines, and Ornamental Grasses
  11. Designed Vegetable Garden
  12. Enclosed Outdoor Storage and Classroom Space

The Texas Tech Coalition for Natural Learning has created a guided tour of these Best Practice Indicators

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has created a child friendly plant list to help you choose plants for your OLE! space.

Additional Information

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and The Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) in the College of Design at NC State University are partnering to develop this exciting innovation in Texas. The project will bring to Texas the following components: Texas Professional Development Opportunities, Outdoor Learning Environment Design - Online Certificate, POD Train-the-Trainer (TTT) Series and Development of Demonstration Sites, and The Regulatory Framework for Outdoor Learning Environments in Texas Childcare Facilities.

To learn more about OLE! Texas and to discover ways you can improve outdoor learning environments, visit the links listed below that provide guidance and resources on outdoor learning environments efforts in Texas.

Please contact the Obesity Prevention Program at BringingHealthyBack@dshs.state.tx.us for more information.

Please have a look at these two short videos to get a better sense of the project and how it can help transform childcare centers into Outdoor Learning Environments.

Partners, such as Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Tech University, University of Texas School of Public Health, Texas Association for the Education of Young Children, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin, Natural Learning Initiative in North Carolina, Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Workforce Commission, Healthy Living Matters, Harris County Public Health, United Way for Greater Austin, Texas Nursery & Landscape Association, San Antonio Zoo, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, and Texas Department of State Health Services, have ALL committed to supporting OLE! Texas.