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

Legislative Wrap-Up: How did Early Learning Fare?

Minnesota legislators wrapped up the special session last week, and the Governor signed budget bills into law. Read about the new policies and programs that affect early learning throughout the state.

For more details about the provisions, check out the Child Care Aware of Minnesota Legislative Update. Continue to look for more specifics as the administration and departments work on the implementation process.



  • Increase in funding of $20.6 million over the biennium for Pathway I
  • Adds homeless, foster and child protection to priority list and expands this priority list to serve age 0-5
  • Early learning scholarships can be used at one, two, three and four star Parent Aware-Rated sites until 2020. Starting in 2020, only three and four Star rated programs will be eligible.

Continue reading Legislative Wrap-Up: How did Early Learning Fare?

Think Small’s Publishing Division Wins Big at Midwest Book Awards

Winners of the Midwest Book Awards Gala were announced May 12, 2017, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Think Small’s publishing division, Redleaf Press, took home top honors in three categories: Education/Learning, Children’s Picture Book, and Graphic-Illustration.

“We are thrilled to have Redleaf Press recognized by the Midwest Independent Publishing Association for the high-quality resources they publish. Since 1973, Redleaf Press has been, and will continue to be, an important part of Think Small’s mission of advancing quality care and education of children in their crucial early years,” says Think Small’s CEO Barbara Yates. Continue reading Think Small’s Publishing Division Wins Big at Midwest Book Awards

A Legislative Update: Early Learning a Policy Priority for State

It is great that early learning is a policy priority for the state, and it’s encouraging to hear it continue to be discussed. In a year of $1.6 billion surplus, it would also be great to see large investments in Minnesota’s youngest children.

Early Learning continues to be an important issue that Minnesota legislators are talking about. The House, Senate, and Governor have all proposed additional funds for early education, although they differ widely on how much to spend and in what way. Representatives and senators just finished their work to come up with joint budget bills. These still have to pass out of both bodies and be signed by the Governor to become law.

Two weeks before the end of the regular session, here’s an update on the status of Think Small’s policy priorities.

Increase the number of Parent Aware rated programs and allow programs to maintain or improve their Parent Aware ratings

The Education bill allows all Parent Aware rated program (1-4 Stars) to be eligible to accept Early Learning Scholarships until 2022. After 2022, Early Learning Scholarships will only be able to be used by families at 3 and 4 star Parent Aware rated programs.  This could encourage more providers to earn a new rating or improve their current rating. The Department of Human Services will continue to fund statewide implementation of Parent Aware. Continue reading A Legislative Update: Early Learning a Policy Priority for State

Policy Hour: Federal Updates on Early Learning

Dan Solomon

Field Representative to Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Dan Solomon, joined Policy Hour in May to provide updates on federal funding and policies that affect the early learning field.

Sen. Al Franken

Sen. Franken is on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, so he is very close to education issues. Uncertainty continues to be a common thread when trying to understand federal policy. Continue reading Policy Hour: Federal Updates on Early Learning

Early Education Spotlight: Little Wonders Daycare

By: Marie Huey (Video by Kristie Thorson)

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.

Brenda Novack has been a child care professional for more than 20 years.

Licensed family child care programs often make special adaptations to meet the needs of their community. Little Wonders Daycare in Waterville, MN, is a perfect example of this. Owner Brenda Novack knows her families well, and she tailors her high-quality program to fit their schedules.

Brenda is Two Star Parent Aware rated, and she is working toward Three Stars. Before starting her family child care, she worked at a child care center. That experience gave her ideas about how she wanted her own program to look, and the Parent Aware process has helped her polish the way she runs the show.

Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: Little Wonders Daycare