ECHO organization works to increase access to nature for kids across Colorado

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DENVER — As the Biden Administration pledges to increase access to outdoor spaces for members of underserved communities, an organization called Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) has been working to increase environmental equity for years in Colorado.

ECHO is a part of the National Wildlife Federation and its mission is to bring nature to every child.

ECHO’s team of landscape designers and early childhood experts help create outdoor spaces for childcare programs. Those spaces include gardens, boulders and logs, winding paths, and native foliage.

“It is becoming more apparent that we have to be very intentional about how we plan for and activate spaces. They should really driven by the needs of communities and not by some planning code or zoning code because we know that many families have been left out,” said ECHO Program Director Sarah Konradi.

The organization hopes their work will improve environmental equity by providing educational opportunities to preschool-aged children.

“Young children in particular are often overlooked as we think about building a healthier planet, so we say we start at birth, getting kids outside, hearing the birds chirp and the wind blow,” Konradi said.

Konradi said this year has been especially busy, with more programs and childcare facilities reaching out to ECHO during the pandemic and wanting to learn how to update their outdoor spaces to improve student’s outdoor experiences.

“We come in and we help to coach them, rethink what that space might look like, and then very slowly, very incrementally, help them tap into those community assets that can bring their space to life,” Konradi said.

Konradi said on many occasions, they’ve helped not only the kids, but also whole families experience nature in various ways for the first time.

“We hear success stories all the time of (childcare) providers whose families may not have tried a particular fruit or vegetable but because their children grew it at their childcare program, they are now excited to try it at home,” said Konradi.

Konradi said with the recent spotlight that’s been on the inequities of daily access to nature, now more than ever, it’s important to try to figure out how to increase time and experiences outdoors for every child.