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?
Yes and no. There are many wonderful nature preschools that are fully licensed in Maryland - The Nature Preschool at Irvine Nature Center and the 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. But outdoor preschools are NOT able to be licensed because their model operates entirely outdoors, with no indoor classroom or building used daily. In Maryland, outdoor preschools are licensed by the Maryland Department of Health as 'camp' during the summer, but there is no path to extend or continue the license to be recognized as a licensed outdoor preschool during the school year.
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 safe, 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), ERAFANS director Monica Wiedel-Lubinski formed an Outdoor Preschool Licensing (OPL) Advisory Team and they 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 also 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 continue to work with community members, early childhood advocates, public policy and lawmakers to inform them about the bill and the urgent need for it to pass.
On Feb. 1, 2023, Delegate Guyton introduced House Bill 525 to the Maryland House, this time with thirteen co-sponsors! We testified to the Ways and Means Committee on 2/10, then proceeded to negotiate amendments. On 3/2, the Early Childhood Subcommittee voted unanimously to pass the bill with amendments. The same afternoon, the Ways and Means Committee passed the bill and several more Delegates asked to join as co-sponsors! (Watch voting here.) It passed in the House on 3/9 with 26 co-sponsors!
The Senate Hearing takes place Wed., March 22 in the Education, Energy, and the Environment Senate Committee. If it passes in the committee, it will await another vote in the Senate and then head to Governor Moore.
WANT TO SUPPORT HB525? HERE'S HOW TO HELP!
1) Write a letter to your local delegates.
Feel free to copy and modify this Letter Template for Delegates to send to your local lawmakers (look up MD lawmakers here). They are more likely to act when they hear from their own constituents! You can also share this webpage www.erafans.org/OPL-MD for detailed info or send our brochure about Outdoor Preschool Licensing in MD.
2) Write a Letter of Support for testimony.
We can submit this with testimony for our hearing, which is a powerful show of demand in favor of the bill. Your letter can be from you, personally, as well as on behalf of your school/organization if you are authorized to do so. You can copy and modify this Letter of Support template and then email your letter(s) to Lisa Poe, co-chair of the Outdoor Preschool Licensing Advisory Team.
3) Ask Parents for Letters of Support. They love your school and want to support the growth of nature-based programs for ALL families! Contact families and ask them to write letters in support of HB525. You can copy and paste this Parent Email template right in your weekly email correspondence. Feel free to share www.erafans.org/OPL-MD for detailed info or send our brochure about Outdoor Preschool Licensing in MD. This is a great way to demonstrate your leadership and show families that you whole-heartedly support equitable access to nature-based education.4) Use social media to raise awareness about the bill.
Post to your networks and encourage others to reach out to their local lawmakers, too.
5) Stand with us.
Join the Outdoor Preschool Licensing Advisory Team! Reach out to Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, co-chair, if you'd like to get involved!
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.