Thursday, March 17, 2016

Outdoor Play and Early Learning

Outdoor play is an important part of development for young children for a variety of reasons. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), it is associated with greater amounts of physical activity in children, and whole body exercise has a long-lasting influence throughout childhood. Outdoor inspired parks can aid in the exploration of environments, and an amazing one is opening in the coming weeks in Washington!

Northwest Trek: Kids' Trek

Beginning April 2, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park will open a new play-space dedicated to outdoor play and learning. 

Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek.
According to a Northwest Trek press release, the new park is a nature-inspired playground that will provide plenty of exercise along with integrated lessons about how children connect to the natural world through play and awareness of the plants and animals with which we share the Earth.

Kids will slide, scramble, stomp, clamber and crawl at this unique play space. They’ll also imagine, explore, learn and connect with nature in a unique setting that integrates an appreciation of animals and plants into a variety of activities. Children of all abilities can enjoy Kids’ Trek, which is ADA-accessible.

Work has been underway for more than a year on the $1.9 million project, paid for with donations from the Northwest Trek Foundation, companies, individuals, grants and a voter-approved Metro Parks Tacoma bond issue.
Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek.
“Kids’ Trek is a link between our younger audience and the natural world, encouraging them to explore more,” Varsik said. “We think engaging children more closely in nature-themed play activities will help them develop a greater appreciation for the world around them.”
All the features have a purpose, Education Curator Jessica Moore explained, from the animal tracks ripe for identification to the collection of tumbled branches ready for creative tinkering. The idea, she said, is to provide opportunities for children to learn and explore. That includes periodic visits from the discovery cart—a mobile science station with magnifying glasses and activities.

Northwest Trek is currently open from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Beginning March 18, Northwest Trek will extend its hours to be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission to Kids’ Trek is free with membership or a paid ticket to Northwest Trek. For more information, go to

Outdoor Play Tools at Home

If you live far away from Northwest Trek, you can still promote outdoor exploration in your early learning curricula or at home. According to NAEYC, the best tools for outdoor play and learning involve:
  • Anchored play equipment - such as swings, slides or climbing structures.
  • Natural elements - such as trees, shrubs, flowering plants and anything else you might find in your own backyard. 
  • Risks and challenges - equipment and activities that allow children to adventure or take risks (safely) such as logs or balancing beams.
  • Wheeled toys - such as tricycles, wagons or bikes (used with safety gear).
  • Manipulative equipment - objects such as balls, jump ropes, hula hoops can allow children the ability to practice object control such as throwing and catching.
See more suggestions for outdoor play and learning here: NAEYC Outdoor Play.

Monday, March 14, 2016

DEL Redesigns Scholarship Program

The Department of Early Learning is excited to announce the redesign of the scholarship program for early learning professionals! This will allow us to streamline services and support early learning professionals in their career development.

Beginning July 1, 2016:
  • Early Achievers Grants: Students pursuing an Early Childhood Education certificate and/or Associate Degree offered through a Washington State community and technical college will apply to for an Early Achievers Grant through their local community and technical college. This scholarship program is managed by the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.
  • Washington Scholarships for Child Care Professionals: Students pursuing their Child Development Associate Credential (CDA), GED or attending a public University working towards a Bachelor’s degree will apply to Child Care Aware of Washington for a Washington Scholarship for Early Learning Professionals. This program is managed by Child Care Aware of Washington. Current Washington Scholarship recipients will continue to be funded by Washington Scholarships while actively enrolled and meeting eligibility criteria.
"We support a seamless transition for current scholarship recipients with continuous financial assistance, advising and uninterrupted course work," said DEL Assistant Director Nicole Rose.
DEL and state partners will develop a transition plan and will share additional information in the coming months regarding scholarship applications, eligibility and guiding resources for scholarship recipients (such as an FAQ document).

For more information about scholarships, educational programs and career options in early learning, please visit the newly-developed Early Childhood Education Career Planning Portal at   If you have immediate questions, you may contact MERIT Support at

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

DEL Celebrates Healthy Breakfast, Healthy Starts

Busy weekday mornings can make it a challenge for families to find time for a healthy breakfast. However, US Department of Agriculture data show that more students are starting their day with a nutritious breakfast in their school cafeterias. 

Even earlier, in child care, Head Start or ECEAP, Preschool-age kids are learning at an amazing rate every day. Preschoolers are just beginning to learn important concepts that lay the foundation for years to come. Eating breakfast improves concentration and mental performance. 
The American Dietetic Association states "that children who eat a healthy, well-balanced breakfast are more likely to meet daily nutrient requirements, concentrate better, have better problem-solving skills, have better hand-eye coordination, be more alert, be more creative, miss fewer days of school and be more physically active."
National School Breakfast Week was launched in 1989 to raise awareness of the availability of the School Breakfast Program to all children and to promote the links between eating a good breakfast, academic achievement and healthy lifestyles. 

A lot of the focus on this initiative is about school-age children, cafeterias and nutrition, but the message rings true for even the littlest learners!

The focus on healthy nutrition for children is a large part of the Healthiest Next Generation initiative, launched in September 2014. The initial goal was to help Washington’s children maintain a healthy weight, enjoy active lives and eat well by creating healthy early learning settings, schools and communities. 

Join the Celebration!

This week only, share a photo of your child or children's healthy breakfast or the breakfast menu at their child care, pre-K, ECEAP or Head Start on DEL's Facebook page or send it to us in a Facebook message, via email ( or Tweet it at us! We will spread the love on our social media accounts!