Maybe you've heard about it but you're not quite sure what Outdoor Preschool Licensing is all about. Aren't nature preschools already able to be licensed?
Well, yes. In fact there are many wonderful nature preschools that are fully licensed in Maryland - The Nature Preschool at Irvine Nature Center, the Audubon Naturalist Society Nature Preschool, and Forest Preschool and Child Care at Carrie Murray Nature Center may come to mind. They are able to be licensed because they have indoor classrooms and buildings.
Outdoor Preschool Licensing is for programs that meet 100%, fully immersed in nature. These programs take place in a surprising range of settings such as parks, gardens, farms, beaches, and mountains. We can expand PRE-K and provide more equitable access to the benefits of nature-based learning and high quality child care by making outdoor preschools another option for Maryland families.
Read this Outdoor Preschool Licensing brochure to learn why it is vital for all children to have safe, inclusive access to outdoor preschool.
Fortunately, we don't have to reinvent the wheel! Our colleagues in Washington State enacted a bill to conduct a four-year Outdoor Preschool Licensing Pilot Program. This enabled experts in nature-based education to work closely with State officials to develop specific licensing guidelines for outdoor preschools - guidelines that are relevant to the work we do with children in fully outdoor settings. Following they pilot, they passed legislation in 2021 to officially license Outdoor Nature-Based Preschools in WA!
OUR WORK TO LICENSE OUTDOOR PRESCHOOLS IN MD
In January 2020 (before the pandemic), organizers in Maryland formed an Outdoor Preschool Licensing (OPL) Advisory Team and got to work! Conversations with MSDE officials, local organizations and schools, policy makers, elected officials, advocates, and other stakeholders began in earnest to establish allies and help inform the public of the need for the bill.
In 2022, champion Delegate Michele Guyton (District 42B) proposed HB376 to establish an Outdoor Preschool Licensing Pilot Program in Maryland. The bill had seven co-sponsors and groundswell of community support including: the Maryland State Child Care Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, North American Association for Environmental Education, and the Maryland Association for Outdoor Environmental Education, just to name a few! The bill was endorsed by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. But the bill didn't get a vote. It never moved forward from the Ways and Means Committee.
We are currently at the start of the 2023 legislative session and grateful to Del. Guyton for her continued support! Our bill is drafted and we are actively working to garner support from more delegates. We look forward to adding co-sponsors to the bill, officially filing it, testifying about why it is needed, and finally getting a vote!
WANT TO SUPPORT THESE EFFORTS?
You can tell delegates from your district that this is important to you and to our communities! Find your local delegate here and send them a message or ask to meet with them. The more they hear from constituents, the more they will understand this issue matters. You can also join the Outdoor Preschool Licensing Advisory Team (all are welcome!) by contacting the co-chairs, Lisa Poe or Monica Wiedel-Lubinski to get involved with advocacy.
Outdoor Preschool Licensing is an issue of equity, safety, and access to another high quality form of early childhood education. Our efforts will continue to ensure that outdoor preschools become another option for early learning.
If you'd like to know what's happening in your state regarding outdoor preschool licensing, visit this Policy Advocacy Map by the Natural Start Alliance to learn more.