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Could Outdoor Preschools Qualify For Public Funding?

Outdoor preschools, where children spend the entire preschool day outside, have been growing in popularity in the Northwest, where rain tends to be the most severe weather event one can expect. Now, a few outdoor preschools in Seattle that meet at public parks are hoping to qualify for subsidies from the city's new preschool program. 

Advocates say outdoor preschool could save the city money, since facilities costs would be zero, reports Jen Kinney for Next City.

The "literal lack of overhead lets outdoor schools keep tuition low," Kinney wrote. "A year's tuition at Tiny Trees will be $7,000, compared to at least $12,000 for traditional preschools in Seattle and up to $20,000 for full-time care." 

Outdoor preschools had their start in Scandinavia in the 1960s and have become increasing popular in the U.S. in recent years, especially in places with mild climates like Seattle. The first outdoor preschool in the country opened on Vashon Island in Puget Sound in 2008, according to Kinney.

Subsidy amounts available under Seattle's preschool program will vary. Tuition will be charged to children on a sliding scale, meaning that who is enrolled in a particular program will in part determine the size of subsidy a program receives. However, programs that don't meet the city's standards will receive no financial support.

Right now, there is no real chance of these programs meeting Seattle's stringent public preschool standards. Those standards include building codes and sites free of insects, pests, and rodents. By definition, the great outdoors meet none of those qualifications.

Still, the questions raised are interesting. The public programs seek to target low-income families. Children in those families are widely reported to spend less time outside than their better-off peers. If there was a way to have a less-expensive preschool option for these children, might they not benefit from more time spent exploring nature? Or is the whole idea a ludicrous way to impose middle class, hippie values while also saving a buck?

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