ECHO Elevates the Field at Local and National Conferences

Professional conferences provide a platform for like-minded organizations and professionals to come together to advance communication and collaboration around shared priorities that help shape the future of any given field. The early childhood education and nature-based outdoor learning fields are no exception, which is why the National Wildlife Federation’s Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) initiative makes conference participation a priority. ECHO’s team of educators and landscape architects engages early childhood education professionals and community stakeholders in collaborative processes to co-create evidence-based landscape designs for the development of healthy outdoor learning environments.

ECHO participates in events across the country to share innovations, provide subject-matter expertise, and expand and enhance the growing network of early childhood educators, environmental educators, conservation professionals, and equity and social justice advocates who are collaborating to ensure all young children have equitable access to healthy outdoor experiences.

Early Childhood Education in the Rocky Mountain Region

ECHO booth at RMECC 2024. Credit: ECHO Program

The Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference is the region’s largest early childhood conference. Each year, the conference hosts educators, professionals, business leaders, policymakers, caregivers, and other stakeholders to provide early childhood professional development and training.

ECHO has long participated in the conference, recently sponsoring the event, which helps conference organizers attract top-notch keynote speakers and offer a wide selection of workshops. ECHO has presented on a variety of nature play and outdoor learning topics, and, most recently, we featured a new “Offsite Play and Learning Resource Guide” to help communities extend outdoor play and learning opportunities beyond the boundaries of child care settings. At each of these events, ECHO designs materials and discussions to meet the needs of attendees, reflect current and timely topics, and support the network of outdoor learning advocates.

“Many times, early childhood educators and caregivers see the implementation of outdoor play and learning as a major transformation that requires a lot of time and money. We come to these conferences with resources and examples to show them that they can incorporate enhanced features into their spaces incrementally, regardless of time or budget.”

Jessica Yuill, ECHO Education and Engagement Manager

International Connections Made Local

The Children & Nature Network’s “Nature Everywhere” international conference brings together cross-sector leaders from around the world to advance programs, practices, and policies for advancing equitable access to nature everywhere children live, learn, and play.

At the 2022 Nature Everywhere conference, ECHO partnered with IFF, a Community Financial Development Institution, and Kai Young, a home-based provider in Detroit to present a TED-style talk, “A Model Partnership: Building Quality into Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Environments.” IFF and ECHO collaborated to support a cohort of early childhood educators in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit to take a deep dive into high-quality outdoor play for young children. This session explored the partnership between the providers, ECHO, and IFF, who supports educators in the development of quality facilities in communities that need them the most.

In 2023, the conference came to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. ECHO supported this conference as a sponsor, presenter, and convener. We hosted a panel discussion called, “Finding Yourself in Nature: Culturally Relevant Practices for Enhancing Outdoor Learning in Child Care Settings.” The discussion elevated the voices of three Colorado-based child care providers who have transformed their outdoor spaces to reflect and nurture the cultural identities of the young children and families they work with. Through their work, these providers have expanded opportunities for children in their care to simultaneously strengthen bonds with their families, communities, and the natural world.

In addition, we invited conference professionals focused on outdoor learning for young children to an informal lunchtime gathering, and we hosted a rambunctious NBA championship game watch party and celebrated the winning Denver Nuggets!

“These events are all about connection, elevating the voices of partners and on-the-ground practitioners, and propelling the field forward. Our team works hard to make sure that our presence at the Children & Nature Network conference – and all conferences – reflects those goals.”

Liz Houston, ECHO Deputy Director

Broadening the Reach in Nashville

ECHO, as a national movement, believes that access to quality outdoor learning environments benefits our kids, our communities, and our planet. For these reasons, the team was honored to present at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference. NAEYC is one of the largest associations for early learning professionals in the nation, made up of nearly 60,000 individual members of the early childhood community.

The 2023 NAEYC Conference in Nashville brought together more than 7,000 early childhood professionals from across the U.S. and around the globe, making it imperative that presenters represent and meet the diverse interests and needs of attendees. ECHO presented their session on designing and activating outdoor spaces for nature play and learning in Spanish, ensuring that Spanish-speaking attendees were able to learn more about best practice in outdoor learning environments.

Bringing it Home at the ECHO Summit

Attendees at an ECHO Summit event. Credit: ECHO Program

While ECHO is a national initiative, we remain dedicated to fostering opportunities for local connections and collaborations in our home state of Colorado. To achieve this goal, we host an annual summit to stay connected with and support early childhood programs and highlight the work that educators and caregivers are doing locally.

This event has grown and evolved throughout the years – the most recent iteration being the 2023 ECHO ‘Roving’ Summit. Since ECHO first launched in Colorado in 2017, many of the early childhood programs we first engaged with have made tremendous progress in creating and activating high-quality outdoor learning environments.

Taking the annual summit on the road helped showcase their progress and opened their doors for shared learning with other local child care programs. We hosted three gatherings across Colorado, providing opportunities for educators to learn more about how they can engage their communities, while seeing first-hand how local ECHO partners enhanced and activated their outdoor spaces.

Learn more about how our 2024 event has continued to evolve by visiting the ECHO Annual Summit webpage.