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

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

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

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

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

Early Education Spotlight: Little Angels Child Care

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.

Lisa Brown

Child care professional Lisa Brown knows how much planning is needed to take care of 12 kids at one time. Fortunately, organization is something she’s good at, and it has certainly benefited her and the children she cares for.  After feeling unsatisfied with the child care options for her children, Lisa decided to open her own Family Child Care program, Little Angels Child Care. Guided by her high standards, love of children and education, Lisa has created a Three Star Parent Aware Rated program that supports children socially and cognitively.

Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: Little Angels Child Care

Policy Hour: Reports Propose Solutions for Early Learning in Minnesota

Legislative Task Force on Child Care Access and Affordability

Senator Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington, was one of the presenters at the February Policy Hour organized by Minnesota’s Future and hosted by Think Small. Sen. Wiklund talked about a report by the Legislative Task Force on Child Care Access and Affordability.

Senator Wiklund presents at February Policy Hour.

Before creating the report, she explained that the committee met to discuss various issues around child care. They learned about the child care shortage in Greater Minnesota and heard from the Department of Human Services regarding changes to federal law that impact Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). They also heard from organization leaders, parents, and providers who shared their thoughts on what works and does not work for child care in Minnesota. Continue reading Policy Hour: Reports Propose Solutions for Early Learning in Minnesota

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