Preschoolers have a natural outdoor classroom to learn, from finding insects to creating art with pine cones. Now more outdoor adventures can begin.
New legislation affecting childcare in Washington came into effect on July 1. It authorizes the State Department of Children, Youth, and Families to authorize outdoor and nature-based child care programs.
In addition, the adoption of SB 5151 means that childcare providers will not have to pay license fees for two years as a state suspension until June 30, 2023, when operators are recovering from the financial blow of the pandemic.
Washington is now the first state in the country to permanently allow outdoor and nature-based child care for preschool and school-aged children under the new law. This will increase the number of programs that will get preschool or school-aged children in school, teach a nature-based curriculum, and provide such learning experiences for at least half of the day.
A few outdoor programs started after 2017 as part of a state pilot project. The one in Spokane is Little Woodland Adventures, said co-owner Megan Benedict, and her 4-hour outdoor program uses the Dishman Hills Natural Area. Children ages 2 Â½ to 5 learn with a nature-based preschool program.
The program came to a brief halt during the pandemic, but Benedict recently took the children outside. She plans to get the new licensing option to expand services by September because of what she offers to children.
âIt prevents them from having walls and fences, so it keeps them calmer; they can learn more easily in an environment where they are not limited by walls, âsaid Benedict. âThey have more ability to move, jump, run as they learn and not have to constantly sit in one place.
“We have rules and boundaries where we can obviously see them and hear them and interact with them, but it’s a more open environment for them to learn.”
Benedict is also a co-owner of Into the Forest, an accredited Veradale center that incorporates outdoor learning. She says the new licensing option for nature programs gives more providers the ability to serve more children.
âIn order to run it as a full day program, to give more families the option of a child care program, I will need to be licensed,â she said.
She said another challenge is hiring enough qualified teachers to be able to increase capacity. As the license documents are completed, it will continue to track the pilot’s allowances for four hours of outdoor instruction.
His curriculum still contains crafts, numbers, shapes, colors, and typical preschool classes, she said, but he just taught in different ways to use the natural environment. Little Woodland Adventures also takes place in the winter, with children dressed appropriately, but they quickly lose extra layers as they move around, Benedict said.
The new licensing provision allows outdoor and nature-based child care programs to receive a subsidy through Working Connections Child Care for families eligible for income and participate in the education program and early childhood assistance.
Under traditional daycare licenses, requirements would not be maintained to allow for a full outdoor program, Benedict said, due to building rules, the number of bathrooms and sinks per child, and the number of bathrooms and sinks per child. ‘other standards.
âSo with that, we have more capacity to have more kids in the program who might need to be in an outside program more than an inside program,â she said.
âWith its adoption, there is still a set of standards and a set of licensing rules, but they are different from what a center-type licensing program is. They give us more leeway to do things and explore more and not have to be inside a building. “
Under the license fee suspension provision, it applies to new applicants as well as licensed suppliers. A press release said the fee suspension “will remove a financial burden on child care providers and help alleviate child care shortages in many areas.”
This means that child care providers – from private homes to large centers – will not be required to pay fees ranging from $ 30 per year for one family home provider to hundreds for centers and school-age facilities. .
âAt this particular moment, everything counts,â said Luc Jasmin, owner of the Parkview Early Learning Center in Spokane. Jasmin is also president of the Washington Child Care Center Association. This suspension of fees may mean that cash-strapped vendors after the financial blows of the pandemic can afford facility upgrades or cover other operational costs.
âSo for Parkview in particular, we’re saving $ 1,500. Right now, as you know statewide, we’re going through a heat wave, âsaid Jasmin. “Guess how many vendors need $ 1,500 right now to be able to fix their cooling systems just to stay open serving kids?”
âIt’s a tangible thing right now that if the vendors had to pay the license fees, they wouldn’t have that money to help. Just to start a place, there are expenses. Then you have to take into account that there are permit fees and construction fees, just to open a facility.
He also thinks outdoor learning programs add more choice. âWhat you see is just flexibility, and the government is generally not known for its flexibility,â he said. âIt’s just another way for them to find smart solutions.
“I applaud them and I love that they think outside the box, and it’s really a family choice, right?” if a family wants to bring a child to an outdoor space, they can. If they want to take them to a family home or to a center, now you have just really opened it up, leaving the choice to the parents. This is what we should be doing.
Other child care laws were passed this year, including the Fair Start for Kids Act, signed on May 7 by Gov. Jay Inslee, to provide new funding for child care and learning. young children. And starting in July, most American families are eligible to receive monthly payments of up to $ 300 per child.
As part of the $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that President Joe Biden enacted in March, Congress turned the existing child tax credit into what is, in effect, a monthly allowance. for children for all, except the highest paid parents.
Families who have declared taxes for 2019 or 2020 will automatically receive their first payments on July 15, but low-income parents who have not declared taxes in those years because they earned too little will have to apply for the money through an online portal set up by the Internal Revenue Service.