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Early Childhood Programs

About the Initiative

Background information

Through the generous support of the Children, Youth & Families’ program at the Heinz Endowments, an extensive planning process revealed that Pennsylvania’s early childhood education field is eager to learn more about children’s environmental health, environmental curricula, and conservation. 

In the words of early learning programs across the Commonwealth, the process of “greening” an early childhood program should begin with question, “How can we improve the health of the children we care for every day?” and, “How can we save money so we can continue this care?”

Surveys, focus groups, and stakeholder interviews confirmed that Pennsylvania programs demonstrate a strong willingness and drive to "...make healthier choices in programs that can improve the health of both children and staff”. Programs have also requested high-quality, age-appropriate environment and ecology curricula that they can use to educate their children. 

And, last but not least, programs have reinforced that they are constantly fighting the uphill battle of scarce resources and declining annual budgets.  Any opportunity to learn conservation methods would benefit them and they were willing to “…try anything that is of low-to-no-cost to save even a few dollars more each year”.

Much of the environmental health information that was presented to programs during the planning process was new to the field. Described below are some examples of what was learned from 485 respondents to the online survey.

  • 87% of respondents indicated that they regularly serve children with respiratory issues, yet only 12% of respondents stated they have received information on indoor air quality or how to improve it. 
  • 55% of those surveyed stated that they hold ultimate decision-making authority on the method of pest control used in programs, yet only 15 % of these respondents indicated that they have ever received information on the practice of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the negative effects of pesticide exposure on children.
  • 86% of respondents did not know if they were using plastic utensils, bottles, or cups containing Bisphenol-A (BPA)

Pennsylvania programs indicated that they wanted to learn more about these topics and others to make necessary changes to their operations, yet they largely stated, “We do not know where to start.” This is understandable.

Environmental health is a rapidly growing field. New and complex information is released to the public every day. Programs expressed frustration in not knowing how to sift through the preponderance of environmental health “cautions” and “warnings”. Many programs simply stated that they are, “…just too overwhelmed with it all,” especially in the face of having to meet already existing quality expectations to be regulated by DHS, to participate in the Keystone STARS program, and to become nationally accredited. Yet, Pennsylvania early learning programs demonstrated an unwavering commitment to children’s healthy growth and development. They acknowledged that more and more children suffer from respiratory issues and are challenged with developmental delays. The planning process concluded with the assertion from programs that, “…This information is important to our core mission of providing quality care and education. It should be integrated into what is already expected of us.  But, please do not give us another rating scale.” 

In 2011, the Heinz Endowments funded the PA ECE Healthy & Green Initiative. Since that time a great deal of effort has been exerted to identify and vet environmental health content and to assure that it is delivered to the ECE field in a quality manner. OCDEL is partnering with several key government agencies such as the Departments of Health, Environmental Protection, and Conservation and Natural Resources to develop collaborative strategies that can support the priorities of this initiative. 

PA Healthy & Green Advisory Council

Collaboration is the hallmark of this effort. By using the expertise of national and statewide experts in the health, early childhood education, and environment fields, the PA ECE Healthy & Green Initiative is poised to make lasting and positive impacts in early learning programs across Pennsylvania.

A PA ECE Healthy & Green Advisory Council, comprised of experts representing these three essential fields, has been formed to oversee and inform the initiative as a whole. The Advisory Council is charged with assuring that all content promoted through the initiative is based on sound science and contemporary research. 

Advisory Council Membership 

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