SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Young children at nine San Francisco child care centers and family child care homes are enjoying green outdoor play spaces after community volunteers worked multiple weekends to create natural play spaces that allow children to explore their world in a way that inspires learning, movement and imaginative play. Connecting Children with Nature 2021, a project created by the San Francisco-based national nonprofit Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) in partnership with SF Recreation & Park Department (Rec & Park) and Rebuilding Together SF (RTSF), unveiled the “green” makeovers at a ribbon cutting ceremony in October at a child care center in the Bayview, Wu Yee Children’s Services at Kirkwood.
The transformed play areas include new plantings and gardens for experiencing nature, logs and tree stumps clusters for climbing, and loose parts to use in creative & imaginative play. Wu Yee Children’s Services, an Early Head Start/Head start program, which serves children from birth to 5 from families with incomes below the federal poverty line, is one of four child care centers and five family child care homes that received this transformation. Other centers include FranDelJa Enrichment Center locations in the Bayview and Hunters View and FACES SF in the Bayview. Family child care homes include Banana Fana Preschool, Guidry Early Care and Education Program, both in the Ingleside neighborhood; Las Mañanitas in Westwood Park; Tender Love Childcare in Silver Terrace; and Valle Los Niños in Noe Valley.
The 2021 Connecting Children with Nature program was launched in March 2021 by LIIF, First 5 SF, and the San Francisco Office of Early Care and Education. The project brought together a unique partnership with RTSF, Rec and Park, and San Francisco Children and Nature along with hundreds of volunteers and in-kind donations of natural materials. In addition to the physical transformations, LIIF is providing one year of professional development and technical assistance for all the teachers on best practices in nature-based early childhood education to prepare them for meaningful outdoor learning.
“We know that access to outdoor space is essential to the development and growth of all of our City’s children. Nature promotes creativity and responsibility, and provides an opportunity for kids to play, imagine and just be themselves. Investing in outdoor space and nature is investing in our children’s mental and physical health. I want to thank all of the wonderful organizations and volunteers who partnered with the City to connect all of our children to the outdoors,” said Mayor London Breed.
“Children in every neighborhood deserve access to nature,” said San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton, who represents District 10. “The Connecting Children to Nature project brings outdoor equity to our youngest children, sparking a love for the natural world and instilling the value of stewardship.”
“Years of research show that health outcomes improve when we invest in early childhood education. Providing enhanced natural play areas ignite our young children’s imagination and exploration. The pandemic proved more than ever how vital natural open space is in our lives. I am proud to support this incredibly important initiative and hope to see more natural play spaces across the city,” said District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar.
“Being outdoors is an important setting for young children’s social-emotional development and self-regulation skills development. The challenges of the past two years have underscored how critical engaging outdoor space and quality child care are to families, the community and our economy. However, many child care facilities, particularly those serving low income children, haven’t had access to the resources needed for really dynamic outdoor spaces,” said Elizabeth Winograd, senior program officer at LIIF.
“Research has shown positive changes in children’s behavior after changes to outdoor spaces coupled with professional development for teachers. LIIF is proud to have provided nine grants to child care providers in San Francisco; with these funds and a partnership with SF Rec and Park and Rebuilding Together and many other local nonprofits. This project is a perfect example of how important community partnerships are in creating a successful program.”
“We know outdoor play provides opportunities for learning with direct benefits for children. Within a generation, children’s lives have largely moved indoors with a significant loss of freedom to explore the natural world. Research indicates that direct experiences of nature in early childhood contribute to the care for nature across the lifespan. Providing this daily opportunity for our children is monumental to help restore their freedom to explore the natural world,” said Office of Early Care and Education Director Ingrid Mezquita.
Many of the logs and other natural materials that make up the transformed play areas came from Golden Gate Park.
“We are thrilled that Golden Gate Park trees and other materials from our parks have found new life instilling a love of nature in San Francisco’s youngest residents,” said Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Children are natural explorers, and nature makes them happier and more resilient. We are proud to be part of SF Children and Nature, a collaborative that works to ensure all city kids have the same opportunity to experience nature every day.”
“We are proud to be part of a project that will bring joy and inspiration to the future generations of our community,” said Mahogany Roland, Rebuilding Together San Francisco’s executive director, “ I’m grateful for the 350 volunteers from Rebuilding Together San Francisco that donated their weekends in order to make this ambitious vision a reality. Without their skills, expertise, and shared goal of improving our communities, we would not have been able to make this happen.“
“We are committed to the success of San Francisco’s children and physical surroundings are an important part of every child’s health and development,” said Wu Yee Children’s Services Executive Director Monica Walters, “Wu Yee Children’s Services believes nothing is more essential than excellent child care and education for all our children, right from the start, and nature is an integral part of their learning. Providing unstructured time to play in a natural environment inspires discovery, exploration, creativity and joy in young children.”
“Children and families in San Francisco need outdoor engagement, and it is part of our mission to provide this space. To the detriment of their health, most children here do not have access to green spaces in their neighborhoods. It is therefore vital to the family child care community to access funding to enhance our green spaces. This funding will improve their programs and guide their children, families and community towards a lifelong connection with nature,” said Monique Guidry, director of Guidry Early Care and Education Program, a family child care in the Ingleside.