Small Talks: How Early Conversations Impact a Child’s Life

Small Talks features leaders who will share key insights on early childhood education and discuss innovative solutions to early learning issues in Minnesota.

Talk to Me: How Early Conversations Impact a Child’s Life was the topic of the first Think Small Small Talks event which took place August 15, 2017, at the University of Minnesota’s Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in Minneapolis.  The panel presentation and discussion focused on closing the word gap in Minnesota through simple practices, strategic partnerships, and innovative research.

Scott McConnell, Educational Psychology professor at the University of Minnesota was one of the presenters.  His research focuses primarily on preschool-aged children, and the skills and competencies that will enable them to learn and participate in school and other settings.  His work includes implementation and evaluation of LENA Start, a program which focuses on increasing interactive talk with children because it has been proven to be a key factor in early brain development.

“Families talk more, kids talk more.  Families talk less, kids talk less,” McConnell said.

Click below to watch some video highlights from the first Small Talks event.

Continue reading Small Talks: How Early Conversations Impact a Child’s Life

West Central Minnesota Child Care Providers Benefit from Forgivable Loans

The Policies in Play series takes a closer look at the recently passed state legislative policies that affect early care and education. We work with partners to find out what these policies look like in action and how they impact Minnesota children and families.

By Marie Huey, Civic Engagement Specialist

Like many communities across the state and especially in Greater Minnesota, the West Central region is experiencing a child care shortage.  West Central Initiative (WCI) serves the counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse, and Wilkin, and is the area designated as Minnesota’s Economic Development Region IV.  Child care providers are leaving the field for a variety of reasons, from low compensation to reaching retirement age, making infant care in many areas especially difficult to find.

Because WCI heard from their region that improving access to child care was crucially important, they decided to “flip the switch” on financial supports to the field.  When the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced the Request for Proposal for Greater Minnesota child care grants, WCI was ready to apply.  Greg Wagner, Business and Economic Development Director at WCI, spoke with me to explain the process and impact on child care providers in the area.

Continue reading West Central Minnesota Child Care Providers Benefit from Forgivable Loans

Early Education Spotlight: Stepping Stones Childcare Learning Center, Inc

By: Marie Huey

Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases great work happening in child care and preschool settings across Minnesota. From innovative early learning programs to parent perspectives on what works, check out the Early Education Spotlight for unique examples of Minnesota’s early learning successes.

Serena Bowman (Left) and Christel Cartie, Co-Owners and Directors of Stepping Stones

Parents often ask sisters Serena Bowman and Christel Cartie, “Are you a preschool program?” The sisters confidently respond, “Yes.” Because Stepping Stones Childcare Learning Center, Inc is a high-quality, Four Star Parent Aware rated program where parents can be assured that their children receive the enrichment and educational opportunities they need to be school and life ready.

When Serena and Christel combined their entrepreneurial spirit with their passion for making a difference for children, the result was Stepping Stones. They noticed that many families in the area needed care for their children, and many specifically wanted a place that offered high-quality early education options. With a goal of providing a unique experience and taking high-quality care and education to the next level, they opened a child care center in 2008. That original Aitkin location no longer exists, but they now have three centers: in Brainerd, Baxter, and Pequot Lakes. Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: Stepping Stones Childcare Learning Center, Inc

The Triple Bottom Line of Child Care

The Policies in Play series takes a closer look at the recently passed state legislative policies that affect early care and education. We work with partners to find out what these policies look like in action and how they impact Minnesota children and families.

By: Cisa Keller, Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Quality Development at Think Small

Quality child care is essential to the state’s economic viability.  Every Minnesotan is touched by child care, whether directly or indirectly.  Child care allows families to go to work, supports children in their development as tomorrow’s workforce, and is a network of small businesses that span all geographical, economic and cultural communities in Minnesota.  Child care is a foundational element that creates the space for our state’s economy to thrive. At Think Small we believe that by prioritizing investments in both access to high quality and capacity building of the sector, we will be able to strengthen child care business and increase availability for Minnesota’s young families.  In doing so we will also achieve a triple bottom line:

  1. supporting the economy by boosting the business of child care,
  2. supporting employment for parents and families, and
  3. supporting young children by preparing them for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Continue reading The Triple Bottom Line of Child Care

Early Learning Scholarships Are Critical for Children in Child Protection

The Policies in Play series takes a closer look at the recently passed state legislative policies that affect early care and education. We work with partners to find out what these policies look like in action and how they impact Minnesota children and families.

By: Rich Gehrman, Founder and Executive Director of Safe Passage for Children

Early childhood education and quality child care are among a handful of services that significantly reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect, and also lessen negative effects when it does occur.

That is why Safe Passage for Children and Think Small actively participated in the successful 2017 campaign by the MinneMinds Coalition to pass legislation giving top priority for early learning scholarships to children who are homeless, in child protection, or in foster care, and to open eligibility at birth rather than age three.  As a result of this effort, $20.65 million was added to the state budget for the current biennium, bringing the total early childhood scholarship pool to $140.4 million.

While the increase itself was modest, the policy changes in this statute mean that our most vulnerable children can now get critical child development opportunities on a priority basis, and during the much earlier period when it can best promote healthy brain development.

This accomplishment caps years of effort by key legislative leaders and the MinneMinds Coalition, with a special push this session by a team that included Safe Passage, Close Gaps by 5, Hennepin County, People Serving People, and Hylden Advocacy and Law.

Continue reading Early Learning Scholarships Are Critical for Children in Child Protection

Policies in Play

Join us on the playground as we explore Policies in Play!

Think Small believes that placing a priority on children and their families through access to high quality early childhood education is critical to closing Minnesota’s opportunity gap, thus eliminating the state’s achievement gap. Policy decisions that are in the best interest of children are in the best interest of communities and thus Minnesota’s future economic development.

The 2017 legislative session included several key changes to early care and education, including:

  • Early Learning Scholarships Policy and Funding Changes
  • Child Care Assistance Program Changes
  • Department of Economic Development Child Care Grants
  • Office of the Legislative Auditor Report (February 2018)

Continue reading Policies in Play

Free Early Childhood Text Messaging Program Offered to Minnesota Parents

Child Care Providers Can Meet Parent Aware Requirement by Encouraging Families to Sign Up

Woodbury parent Amy Raleigh with her daughter Fiona.

When Woodbury parent Amy Raleigh heads to the store with her 4-year old daughter Fiona, she has a grocery list in one hand and her mobile phone in the other.  A busy mom who is constantly on the go, Raleigh uses text messages sent by Think Small ParentPowered Texts to turn ordinary situations into early learning experiences.

“These texts are helpful reminders to use everyday activities as learning opportunities with my daughter,” said Raleigh.  “They do a great job of not only giving me ideas, but also explaining how these activities are helping Fiona get ready for kindergarten.”

Think Small ParentPowered Texts is a FREE program that provides families with fun facts and easy tips to help build a child’s school readiness skills.  Parents who sign-up will receive text messages developed by researchers offering suggestions on ways to promote their child’s social-emotional learning, increase motor and language skills, and improve overall health development.  Continue reading Free Early Childhood Text Messaging Program Offered to Minnesota Parents

Seven Reasons to be Optimistic About Early Learning in Minnesota

By Todd Otis

  1. The benefits of giving children access to high-quality early learning have been proven beyond a doubt. Nobody has been able to dispute that targeted investment in quality early learning provides the single best public return on investment claims made by respected economists.
  2. Minnesota has a rich history of commitment to quality education for all its citizens. Minnesotans from every region, of every religion, and of every political perspective place a supreme value on education. It is part of our DNA and is the foundation of our quality of life.
  3. Early learning as a public issue has gained tremendous momentum in the past two decades. Both “grass tops” and “grass roots” citizens have embraced the issue. State funding for early learning has increased more than $400 million in the past seven years.
  4. While there are differences of opinion about how best to invest in early learning, this issue has not been contaminated by partisanship the way other public issues have been. Policy-makers of good will have shown a capacity to come together and keep supporting more investment.
  5. The voices of parents and early learning professionals are growing louder and more effective. The issue is catching fire and more and more adults are becoming the voices for children. From Worthington to Duluth and from Moorhead to Winona the tide of support is rising.
  6. Coalition work remains robust and unity within the movement continues to be valued. Start Early Funders Coalition joined hands with the Minnesota’s Future coalition to create MinneMinds. Leaders from diverse communities created Voices and Choices. Other coalitions continue to strengthen the movement. We are making progress on many fronts, together.
  7. YOU will make a difference. If you have read this far you obviously care about providing access to quality early learning for all of our children. YOU matter and need to be heard. As Margaret Meade, the great anthropologist, said years ago:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”


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Todd Otis is Vice President of External Relations at Think Small.  Founder and President of Ready 4 K, Otis has over 30 years experience in public affairs and communications.  A former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives (1979-1990), he also chaired the state D.F.L party.  From 1994 to 2001, he was a public affairs consultant in early childhood and the environment.  Otis has an A.B. from Harvard University and an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University.

Early Learning Investment – Turn Up the Volume!

By Todd Otis

The early childhood movement has come a long way in the past twenty years, and has a long way to go.

The public now understands the importance of early care and education both for a child’s educational success and to assure a future skilled, prosperous workforce. It now understands that public investment in quality early learning is a valid and important policy priority. A majority of people polled are even willing to pay higher taxes, if the taxes are used to improve early learning.

Todd Otis

Quality early learning is vastly under-resourced; there is far too little money in the system to provide parents the choices they deserve or maintain the quality workforce our children need.  As a result, far too many of our youngest children are being cheated, pure and simple.

At the very time when young families have the least amount of money, they are forced to pay $10-12,000 directly out of their pockets per child, and many families simply do not have that kind of money. Whereas at least 75% of K-12 education (public and private) is paid for by public sources and 25% by families, those numbers are reversed for early care and education. Most families simply cannot afford to pay for the quality early learning their kids deserve. Continue reading Early Learning Investment – Turn Up the Volume!

Policy Hour: Parent Aware Changes & Legislative Update

The final Policy Hour of the season was a double dose of early education information! We heard about changes to Parent Aware and received an end of legislative session update.

Parent Aware

June Policy Hour at Think Small

First, Michelle Lenhart and Nara Topp joined us from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to discuss changes to Parent Aware. Parent Aware is Minnesota’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. Participation is voluntary for child care providers, and it offers tools and resources to help:

  • Families find quality child care and early education
  • Programs improve their practices
  • Children benefit from care and education that will prepare them for school and life

Continue reading Policy Hour: Parent Aware Changes & Legislative Update