Washington Becomes First in the Nation to License Outdoor, Nature-Based Child Care

May 13, 2021

Washington is now the first in the nation to permanently license outdoor, nature-based child care for preschool and school-age children under a new law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Senate Bill (SB) 5151 authorizes the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) to license outdoor, nature-based child care programs that enroll preschool or school-age children, teach a nature-based curriculum, and provide daily nature-based learning experiences for at least half of the day. Licensure allows outdoor, nature-based child care programs to receive subsidy payment through Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) for income-eligible families, and to participate in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP).

In 2017, DCYF launched a four-year Outdoor Preschool Pilot project to license outdoor, nature-based early learning and child care programs. As a result, DCYF set a precedent as the first in the nation to successfully develop state licensing requirements and processes to expand access to safe, high-quality child care and education outdoors.

“Our pilot program allowed us to learn what it takes to provide a high-quality outdoor program and establish robust standards to ensure children’s health and safety in the outdoors. Other states can now look to us as they consider how to implement outdoor learning options,” said DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter.

SB 5151 aligns with DCYF’s Strategic and Racial Equity Plan, which prioritizes creating a high-quality integrated birth through age 8 system while eliminating racial disproportionalities.

“Outdoor, nature-based experiences promote children’s physical, cognitive, and social development in ways that are unique from a traditional indoor environment. Yet, many families lack access to outdoor and nature-based experiences, and these inequities often fall across socioeconomic and racial lines,” said Hunter. “By licensing outdoor child care, we’re expanding access for children and families.”

DCYF will begin working with programs interested in applying for an outdoor, nature-based child care license starting in July 2021, when SB 5151 goes into effect.

DCYF is grateful for the collaboration and support of many partners and stakeholders, including outdoor preschool program directors and teachers, legislators, tribes, Washington nonprofits and universities, national experts, and families, who made this program happen.