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 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

Early Education Spotlight: Little World of Angels

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.

“If we don’t talk to them, they aren’t going to learn.”

Elisa reads to children in her program.

This statement from Maria “Elisa” Vega could easily be the motto of her bilingual program. Her licensed family child care, Little World of Angels, is full of children learning through conversation and play. Kids in her program come from a mix of English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families. When they come to Elisa, they sing, read stories, and interact with each other in both English and Spanish.

Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: Little World of Angels

Baby Steps To STEM

This month marks one year since the start of the Think Small blog. To celebrate, we’re using January to highlight information and initiatives from Think Small and our partners about infants and toddlers and their caregivers in Minnesota. This post is part of our series on children 0-3.

Jean Barbre, EdD

Many people think science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education begins in high school or, at best, in elementary school. In reality, even infants are learning about STEM every day. Innately curious, infants, toddlers, and twos love to explore, investigate, and discover—making the earliest years a perfect time to begin teaching the foundations of STEM. Jean Barbre’s upcoming book Baby Steps to STEM: Infant and Toddler Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Activities, supplies caregivers with every day, play-based, developmentally appropriate STEM activities for infants, toddlers, and twos. Continue reading Baby Steps To STEM

Revised Standards Provide Guidance for Early Childhood Field

This month marks one year since the start of the Think Small blog. To celebrate, we’re using January to highlight information and initiatives from Think Small and our partners about infants and toddlers and their caregivers in Minnesota. This post is part of our series on children 0-3.

Long before they can talk, children are observing, experimenting, and figuring out their world. Each child moves at his or her own pace, but there are predictable, observable milestones across many developmental domains. Early childhood professionals can support healthy child development in their programs. Continue reading Revised Standards Provide Guidance for Early Childhood Field

Using LENA to Help Close the Word Gap

By: Gerri Fisher

This month marks one year since the start of the Think Small blog. To celebrate, we’re using January to highlight information and initiatives from Think Small and our partners about infants and toddlers and their caregivers in Minnesota. This post is part of our series on children 0-3.

Children participating in LENA Start

By the age of three, it is estimated that low-income children have heard 30 million fewer words than those from higher-income families. We see, in fact, a difference in how many words a child knows as early as eighteen months of age. This discrepancy in the number of words heard is referred to as the word gap, and it contributes to low-income children being less school ready than their more affluent peers. In 2016, utilizing funds from the Bush and Target Foundations, Think Small introduced a new initiative to address the word gap. The initiative, called LENA Start, is a laser-focused language intervention for those first three critical years of life. Continue reading Using LENA to Help Close the Word Gap

Minnesota Early Learning Organizations Present Policy Agendas at January Policy Hour

The 2017 Minnesota Legislative Session is underway! January Policy Hour brought us up to speed on the policy priorities of the organizations in the Minnesota’s Future coalition and the Voices and Choices for Children Coalition. Below is a brief overview of each organization’s platform, along with links to more in-depth explanations where available. Continue reading Minnesota Early Learning Organizations Present Policy Agendas at January Policy Hour

Brain Development in Infants and Toddlers

90% of brain development occurs by age 5.

80% of the brain is developed by age 3.

Ages 0-3 are an important time for brain development.

These eye-catching statements sound impressive but can be confusing and misleading. Learning certainly continues after age five, and the window for development doesn’t close at Kindergarten. However, we know that interactions in the first few years of life are important to a child’s future. A parent’s relationship with their young child shapes the healthy development of their brain and body.  But what is the role of brain development? And how can caregivers support children 0-3 to have a great start? Continue reading Brain Development in Infants and Toddlers

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Surprised baby.

We’ve moved up a few diaper sizes, mastered crawling, and are transitioning to solid foods and walking. This month marks one year since the start of the Think Small blog. To celebrate, throughout January we will explore topics around kids the same age as our blog. Bring on the babbling, tantrums, and thumb-sucking. We’re taking a closer look at infants and toddlers.

Continue reading Happy Birthday, Blog!