Taking it Outside – Spotlight on the Learning Environment

by Kelly Bowes, Quality Initiatives Manager, Denver’s Early Childhood Council

While most of us are thinking about spending more time indoors as winter finally approaches, we would like to take a moment to share some highlights about the gains made in our outdoor learning environments over the past year. The outdoor learning environment was HOT this past summer for children in early learning centers across Denver!

Playgrounds are extensions of the classroom and provide opportunities for continued learning. Outdoor play stimulates learning and development in unique ways. The benefits of outdoor play are numerous and well-documented. ¹

Children who play outdoors regularly:
  • Have lower obesity rates and improved health.
  • Develop stronger immune systems.
  • Have more active imaginations.
  • Have lower stress levels.
  • Play more creatively.
  • Have greater respect for themselves and others.

With these goals in mind, Denver’s Early Childhood Council leveraged some of this past year’s Quality Initiative resources to enhance outdoor learning environments across our early learning community.


Shade — Shade structures are an important health and safety investment on playgrounds. By blocking out harmful UV rays and cooling the play space, they provide a safer and more comfortable outdoor experience for children. This year, Denver’s Early Childhood Council made shade structures available for early learning programs with little or no natural shade cover across Denver.

Sand and Water Play — Children naturally love to play with sand and water. Because of its sensory nature, sand and water play offer opportunities for exploration and discovery, including the integration of STEM concepts. Sand and water tables make this play readily accessible to children. This year, we purchased sand and water tables for enhancing outdoor spaces and learning for children.

Playground Safety — Playground safety inspections support early learning programs to provide safe outdoor learning experiences for children. The report and consultation identify and rank risks and hazards, and provide guidance to address concerns. 18 early learning programs received a CPSI-certified playground safety inspection in fiscal year 2015-2016, earning them points towards their Colorado Shines rating.

Portable Gross Motor Equipment — Young children learn by moving and using their bodies. Tricycles, wheeled vehicles, balls and large block sets, among other things, give children opportunities to develop large muscle strength and coordination. The Council invested in a variety of portable gross motor equipment to support this important development.

Gardens — Learning about healthy and fresh food is a key component of health promotion for young children. Early learning programs can earn points toward their Colorado Shines rating by creating and engaging children in the garden. Gardens can also engage families and foster a sense of belonging and community.

This is just a sampling of the enhancements we helped make possible for programs over the summer, but remember, outdoor learning doesn’t stop just because it’s winter, so put on a jacket and get outside!

For more detail on how quality initiatives work for early learning programs, visit our Quality Initiatives page.

To learn more about how you can support our core mission, visit our Get Involved page.

¹ https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/teaching/eecd/nature-based-learning 

Back to Our Blog