Outdoor Preschools Are Now Legal In Washington State 

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When you hear the world "outdoor preschool," what first comes to mind? If you're like me, it conjures up a pretty funny image of a bunch of 4-year-olds sitting in the woods learning the ABCs. And as it turns out, that's pretty much what they are.

If you're tempted to roll your eyes at the idea, you're definitely not alone. In fact, most of North America would respond that way. But they're actually not as fringe as they sound. In fact, outdoor learning has been widely embraced by Scandinavian countries for years.

As it turns out, they're gaining popularity in the United States as well. Just this week, these outdoor school became legal in Washington state, making it the first in America to fully license outdoor preschools. They'll now have the same legal status as indoor spaces, which means greater access to funding and registrations and the ability to offer full-day programs and subsidized spots to low-income families.

The move comes after years of work by the Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families to create appropriate guidelines for outdoor learning. As the Seattle Times reported, "One new standard requires each classroom to have one teacher for every six kids, so most classes have two or three staff members. Other guidelines detail how to implement nap time, or what to do when it rains." (Don't worry; most outdoor schools do have indoor space for when it's too cold or raining.)

Many assume that outdoor learning can't be as productive as indoor learning, but a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychology showed that it might actually be the opposite. The results showed that teachers could hold their students' attention twice as long after teaching the previous class in the open air.

As the authors wrote, "The rate of 'redirects,' or instances where a teacher interrupted the flow of instruction to redirect students' attention, was cut almost in half after a lesson in nature." Typically, redirects are observed an average of once every 3.5 minutes; but after a lesson in nature, that number increased to once every 6.5 minutes.

Outdoor schools will have small class sizes, help kids get in touch with nature, and even potentially improve focus and learning. So while they might sound strange at first—and they're definitely different from the classes many of us learned our ABCs in—they could actually benefit the next generation in more ways than one.

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