Can We Help End Education Inequality by Taking Preschool Outdoors?

Preschool is expensive and increasingly a luxury that only the wealthy can afford. In most states in our country, preschool costs more than rent or college tuition.


This leads to women (and increasingly men) dropping out of the workforce during a critical time in their careers and contributing to a shortage of skilled talent in our economy, from the technology sector to the school classroom — not to mention the 60 percent of children in our country who enter kindergarten two years behind their wealthier (and luckier) peers.

In the recent Hechinger Report article, Into the woods: When preschoolers spend every class outdoorsLillian Mongeau presented a hopeful portrait of a new trend in American preschools: breaking down the school house walls and taking the classroom outdoors.

A preschool where children develop the emotional, social and academic skills they need to thrive in kindergarten while also living a vibrant, joyful childhood. A childhood full of play, exploration and wonder in the natural world. The article also appeared in The New York Times.

The article also mentions that outdoor preschools make a quality education more affordable.

It’s simple really. A brick and mortar schoolhouse is expensive. It requires significant capital to build, to meet state licensing standards and to heat, clean or cool every day. Take the classroom outdoors and that expensive building becomes unnecessary, cutting costs up to 25 percent.

Here in Seattle Tiny Trees Preschool is taking this idea to scale with nine outdoor preschools approved by Seattle Parks and Recreation for 2016 and 2017.

Our goal is for these preschools be public schools with free tuition for low income families provided by the City of Seattle’s new Preschool Program.

The preschools aim to meet state licensing and quality standards and align with local school districts to make sure every child is prepared to enter kindergarten.

Parks are the most democratic of spaces and speak to the values of a public education: equity, opportunity and excellence. Parks are universally loved and provide a perfect venue for universal preschool.

Outdoor classrooms in parks also address a shortage of preschools and child care centers in urban areas.

As real estate prices climb in cities like Seattle, San Francisco and New York preschools struggle to find the buildings they need to meet the demand.

Child care is not a very profitable industry and cannot compete with doggy day care, restaurants and technology companies for real estate in a hot market. The result: long wait lists and increasingly childless cities.

President Obama wants to see the spirit of public education expanded to cover our youngest students so no matter how lucky or unlucky a child was in the lottery that is birth they have an equal chance of achieving the American dream.

In his State of the Union address this month, the president called for universal preschool where every child has “a fair shot at opportunity in the new economy.”

When the president presented his vision of preschool he received a standing ovation.

Lawmakers from both parties stood to support early childhood education. Not only for the benefit for the child but also the financial reality that dollars spent on children at an early age result in greater savings later in life: a child who goes to preschools spends less time in expensive jails, drug treatment centers and mental health facilities.

Every child deserves a fair shot at the American dream.

Outdoor preschools can help ensure that a fair shot is something both families and taxpayers can afford.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card

Close

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.