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Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO)

Healthy.  Natural.  Affordable.

These are the foundations of Colorado’s new Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) Initiative. And this is what ECHO is designed to accomplish:

All young children in Colorado have daily access to quality outdoor learning environments where play and learning support development across all domains— cognitive, physical, social, and emotional.

ECHO is based on a decade of research by North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative on the Preventing Obesity by Design model. This research showed that by improving the design of outdoor spaces through affordable interventions and training early childhood professionals, young children and early childhood programs enjoy substantial benefits:

  • Children are more physically active in the outdoors and engage in social interactions more often.
  • Children and providers enjoy naturalized outdoor spaces and spend more time outside, supporting healthy behaviors.
  • Hands-on gardening encourages the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Parents are more likely to linger at child care programs, improving community experience.

The ECHO Initiative was brought to Colorado in a partnership between The National Wildlife Federation and North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative.

Our Partnership

Together, ECHO and ECCLA are building a supportive technical assistance network across Colorado. ECCLA engages our network of 34 Early Childhood Councils to deepen regional expertise around healthy outdoor learning environments and serves as a primary conduit to the early childhood education community to build recognition, participation, and support for ECHO. We support the development of a long-term strategy that engages policy makers, child care providers, and other early childhood professionals that may contribute to the quality, programming, and management of outdoor learning environments in Colorado.

“The research is clear that outdoor learning supports gross motor skills, encourages healthy eating, and promotes self-confidence. ECCLA is excited to partner with ECHO, leverage our network of Early Childhood Councils, and expand the knowledge and skills of local child care providers so more children across Colorado have the opportunity to learn in high-quality, natural outdoor spaces.”

ECHO In Action

ECHO is transforming outdoor spaces for children across Colorado. They collaborate with early childhood education providers and community groups across the state to ensure that every young child has daily access to nature. To learn more about ECHO, please visit

Learn more by hovering over each photo. 

This young child is the first to dig into a freshly built earth play area, constructed by community volunteers only minutes before at Step By Step Child Development Center. This natural play setting will provide important sensory experiences for many children to come.

My First Vegetable Garden training participants get their hands dirty while learning how to plant marigolds and tomatoes (donated from Welby Gardens)

Directors, teachers, parents, and ECHO design professionals come together for a participatory design workshop to create a new outdoor learning environment at Venture for Success Preparatory Learning Center, a 2019 ECHO Demonstration Site.