Eco-Healthy Child Care® Fact Sheets:

The Built Environment

The built environment include the buildings, sidewalks, streets, play structures and other human-created spaces around us. As our cities develop and population grows, we create schools, apartments, shopping centers and other spaces for all to live, learn, work and play. The built environment is critical because it affects our physical and mental health and well-being by either enabling or preventing opportunities for healthy activities.


Health Concerns and Exposure Information

Environmental Justice and the Built Environment

Child on a slide.

The lasting impacts of racist urban development policies have lead to communities (often black, brown or low-income) that do not have access to safe parks, green spaces and clean air. This disparity in access to usable outdoor space contributes towards disparities in activeness and associated health outcomes. It is important that all child care facilities provide regular natural learning opportunities, e.g. visiting local parks or arranging field trips to community gardens, to promote physical, mental, and social activity for the children being cared for.

Additional Health Concerns

Two small children on a walk in autumn.

Importance of Physical Movement: The built environment can contribute to obesity, diabetes, asthma and heart disease, if there is not access to safe places for children to exercise and play.

The built environment can also contribute to poor health if the structures we live, learn (child care facilities) and work in are not maintained properly--if they have peeling or cracking paint, leaky pipes or poor ventilation. Child care facilities that are located next to or nearby polluting facilities such as: dry cleaners, nail salons, gas stations or former hazardous waste sites will put the staff and children at-risk of developing health issues.

A gloved hand holds and uses a bottle of cleaning chemical spray.

Indoor contaminants: housing materials and consumer products, such as particle board, paint, cleaners, air fresheners and carpeting, can release gasses that cause indoor air pollution, trigger asthma and may be toxic in ways that can damage a child’s long term health. See EHCC’s Air Quality fact sheet. Children can also be exposed to lead by ingesting or inhaling paint particles and dust from chipping, peeling or cracking pre-1978 contaminated paint. See EHCC’s Lead fact-sheet.

Child wearing a face mask.

Outdoor Air Pollution: placing a child care facility near sources of pollution can increase children’s exposure to air pollutants. Optimal locations for early learning programs would be away from factories, highways, gas stations, dry cleaners, nail salons and agricultural businesses that use pesticides. See EHCC’s Safe Siting fact-sheet.

Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults do. Poor air quality is correlated with: decreased lung function, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and even some types of cancer.

Natural Learning and Healthy Building

Natural Learning

Learning and playing in the natural outdoor environment offers children: fresh air, opportunities to learn about nature, larger spaces for physical activity, and stimulation of their senses. Help to improve children’s brain development and overall health by providing opportunities for vigorous physical activity and access to green space every day.

Small child on a scooter.

  • Walk or bike: Take children on a walk whenever possible – to local parks, playgrounds or other nearby locations. Encourage caretakers to walk or bike their children to child care and to the grocery store, drug store, bakery or coffee shop.
  • Arrange field trips: visit a local park, community garden or local farm. Arrange for experts in the community to provide learning experiences related to their work.
  • Grow organic vegetables and fruit: plant seeds in window boxes or in a raised bed outdoors. Watch them grow and enjoy the yummy vegetables at a picnic. Make sure to first test your soil’s lead concentration before growing food in it. You may need to bring in clean soil if you have high lead levels and/or use raised, lined, and sealed beds. See EHCC’s Lead Fact-Sheet.

Person holding a butterflu.

  • Promote hands-on learning: let children hold a ladybug or beetle instead of simply reading a book about insects.
  • Go exploring: after talking about various types of bird nesting habits, go outdoors and instruct children to look for nests in trees. Have them point out other places where animals live.
  • Find space for active play: children should have 15 minutes of “unstructured” physical activity for every hour they are in child care. Free play is essential for social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones and managing stress. Preschoolers should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time (except when sleeping). Children who learn about nature and play outside are more likely to build lifelong healthy habits.


Healthy Building Tips