Children benefit from spending time in natural outdoor environments physically, socially, and emotionally. Our beautiful outdoor learning/play space was constructed in 2015 based on guidelines established by the Natural Learning Initiative at NC State. In 2022, we were officially recognized as an OLE! Texas site by the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children, in partnership with the Texas Department of State Health Services. This means that our outdoor space meets numerous best-practice indicators for connecting children to nature, promoting physical activity, and supporting nature-based learning.
Children go outside for at least 60 minutes daily unless our local air quality index is above 151 (red) or the local heat index is above 105F (orange). Those conditions are considered unsafe. When the air quality index is 100-150 (orange), the heat index is 91-104 (dark yellow), or temperatures are below 25F, classes may go outside, but for shorter periods of time. Whenever outside time is cancelled or shortened to less than 30 minutes, teachers will take children on walks inside the building and/or engage them in other large motor activities indoors (e.g., dancing, playing active games).
Teachers always monitor children carefully for signs of discomfort outside and suggest ways for children to take care of themselves as needed, including putting on or taking off layers of clothing, drinking water, moving more or resting, and being in the sun or shade. Laboratory faculty/staff are especially vigilant about monitoring children for breathing difficulties and signs of heat-related illness.
Our natural outdoor classroom has a water pump and a very shallow (< 2 inches deep) riverbed that’s lined with rocks. Children use these water features routinely. During our summer camp, we offer children additional opportunities to play in water (e.g., hoses, sprinklers) on Fridays. Water play is always carefully supervised; we maintain an adult to child ratio of at least 1:3 in our toddler classes and 1:6 across all other age groups.