In spring 2017 the Washington Legislature passed SB 5357 “Establishing a pilot project to license outdoor early learning and child care programs.” We are excited by this project - to establish a pilot to analyze current models of outdoor preschools and adapt, when necessary, our licensing regulations to allow for the operation of outdoor early learning programs.
In researching the area of outdoor preschool, the legislature found that while there are upwards of 40 outdoor early learning programs in the state, all operate as part-day programs and are therefore not subject to child care licensing regulations. Many of these programs have expressed an interest in hosting full-day programs, and participating in the state’s Early Achievers program.
However, DCYF recognizes that many of our current licensing regulations are specifically geared towards the built, indoor environment. SB 5357 directs DCYF to establish a pilot to analyze current models of outdoor preschools and adapt, when necessary, our licensing regulations to allow for the operation of outdoor early learning programs.
Over the life of this pilot project, ensuring the health and safety of children will be our primary concern. Below is a brief outline of the scope of the pilot project:
- Year 1, beginning July 2017: recruiting pilot participants; organizing advisory committee; data collection and analysis of participants policies, procedures, and practices; developing outdoor setting licensing requirements; training participants staff; portable background check; submitting an annual report.
- Year 2, beginning July 2018: pilot full day services based on the outdoor setting licensing requirements; providing ongoing professional development and technical assistance; conducting pre and post compliance monitoring; providing ongoing data collection and analysis; engaging tribal care providers; developing pathway to Early Achievers; submitting an annual report.
- Year 3, beginning July 2019: engaging additional pilot participants; providing ongoing professional development and technical assistance; conducting compliance monitoring; providing ongoing data collection and analysis; implementing pathway to Early Achievers; submitting an annual report.
- Year 4, beginning July 2020: conducting final monitoring data collection and analysis; final complaint data analysis; providing ongoing professional development and technical assistance; submitting an annual report and developing final pilot recommendations.
Licensing Outdoor Preschools and the Outdoor Preschool Pilot Standards
Chapter 110-300D WAC establishs procedural requirements for participating in the outdoor preschool pilot. These rules reference the Outdoor Classroom Agreement, which outdoor preschool pilot participants must sign in order to participate in the pilot project.
One stipulation of this agreement is that outdoor preschools must adhere to the programmatic, health, and safety standards set out in the Outdoor Preschool Pilot Standards.
More information can be found in the Resources box, including legislative reports and the Dec 2019 webinar.
The outdoor preschool pilot ends on Aug. 1, 2021. DCYF has recommended that the Washington State Legislature authorize DCYF to license outdoor, nature-based child care for preschool and school-age children with Senate Bill 5151 of 2021-22. Please see the Resources sidebar for the Outdoor Preschool Pilot Final Report. For up-to-date information on the progress of SB 5151, view the bill information on the Legislature's website.
Aliza Yair, M.Ed. is the Program Specialist for the Outdoor Preschool Pilot Program. She is responsible for the research and assisting in the development of licensing standards. Aliza began her career in early childhood education working as a teacher and educational leader in New Zealand, where she also led a weekly outdoor preschool program for 4-year olds in a nearby park.
In 2015, Aliza gained her M.Ed. from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and soon after made her mark as a policy specialist in New York City’s Pre-K for All program. Aliza brings to this project her experience innovating in policy development, as well as a background in the biological sciences and early childhood program evaluation.
Aliza moved to Washington in the summer of 2017, and was the lead support for parent advocates engaging in the DEL Negotiated Rule Making process. Although new to the state, Aliza is already in love with the beautiful landscapes and hiking in Washington, and looks forward to helping create high-quality educational opportunities for children in nature.
Debbie Groff, Early Start Act Technical Assistance Lead Specialist was appointed to manage the Outdoor Preschool Pilot Program. Debbie Groff’s journey in early learning began working with Head Start and ECEAP children and their families over 30 years ago. Debbie also owned and operated a family home child care for 10 years which focused on outdoor learning opportunities with natural materials and adventures. Debbie credits her passion and love of learning and child outcomes to these experiences.
Debbie has been a member of the DEL for the past 14 years. She has been a Center Licensor and Licensing Supervisor which continued to drive her search for outdoor early learning programs that offered children unique learning opportunities. As a part of her licensing role, she partnered with early learning programs to develop strategies and structure in order to implement their outdoor learning vision for the children in care.
For the last two years Debbie has played a vital role in the Standards Alignment process and is thrilled to embark on training delivery for DEL staff, providers and stakeholders. Debbie’s commitment to the equity and quality of care for all of Washington’s children continues to guide her work every day.