Smoky air over Denver is keeping some kids indoors

Daycare centers are monitoring wildfire smoke.

Poor air equality in Denver, most recently brought about by drifting  smoke from wildfires all over the West, obscures the mountains as seen from City Park Golf Course on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Poor air equality in Denver, most recently brought about by drifting smoke from wildfires all over the West, obscures the mountains as seen from City Park Golf Course on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Rebecca Speiss.

Denver’s air quality is suffering as wildfire smoke billows across the Rocky Mountains from western states like Oregon, California and Idaho. It’s bad for a lot of us, and downright dangerous for others.

Just like extreme heat, bad air quality affects the oldest and youngest most, and childcare centers are adapting. For some kids in Denver, this means less time outdoors.

Mile High Learning has been providing subsidized childcare and teaching in Denver since 1970. The center’s president Pamela Harris said her school directors have experienced more kids with runny noses and coughs — especially in kids with asthma.

“(School directors) do have concern about the air quality,” Harris wrote in an email. “However, we have not changed our practices in terms of limiting time outdoors at this point, although we will be monitoring as things continue to evolve.”

Other preschools have already taken the next step. Shannan Meyer from the Primrose School at Lowry, part of a nationwide chain of private preschools, said her organization monitors the city’s air quality indexes.

“If it’s moderate, we do a limited time outside, and then if it’s unhealthy, we don’t go outside at all.” Denver has experienced days of “moderate” air quality and only returned to better air quality early Thursday.

Many childcare centers look beyond air quality, keeping an eye on heat indexes as well. Meyer said that at Primrose they adjust outside playtime according to the state heat index, or the “feels-like” temperature that factors in things like humidity into temperature readings.

Research into early childhood development has revealed just how integral years 0-3 are for lifelong growth, especially in learning gross motor skills. Meyer said that the children kept indoors are given alternatives to make up for lost recess time.

“I hope the fire season is not bad this year, especially because the kids get stuck inside,” she said.

Out of the six Denver childcare centers Denverite called, most were aware of the effects of wildfire smoke; only one said they were not worried about air quality and had not changed their outdoor policies.

We asked Meyer if she knew of other childcare centers checking air quality indexes.

“You know, I hope so,” she said.

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