Early Sprouts: Growing Great Gardeners


By Kristie Thorson

There is much more ‘being planted’ in this backyard then simple seeds and seedlings.  These Minnesota children, along with their family child care provider, are also developing a perennial love of gardening, and with that, a desire to always eat their veggies!

Taking turns watering the garden is a favorite activity.

It’s all part of Think Small’s Early Sprouts program – a hands-on curriculum which teaches children about healthy eating and guides family child care providers through planting, gathering and serving nutritious foods in their programs.

“Early Sprouts is focused on giving providers experience and knowledge around adding a garden to their program,” said Rochelle Mateffy, an early childhood coach at Think Small.

Thanks to the generous support of the Cargill, Think Small is able to offer the Early Sprouts program to providers in the Twin Cities area at no cost.  Family child care providers attend training classes and then they work with an Early Childhood Coach from Think Small to incorporate a garden into their family child care setting.  This past planting season, twelve child care providers participated in the program.  There were four from St. Paul, four from Minneapolis, one from Brooklyn Center and one from Brooklyn Park.

The children participate in the full garden experience from planting to harvesting.

“For the kids, the focus of this program is to give them the garden to table experience,” said Mateffy. “To teach them where their food comes from and also give them an opportunity to try these vegetables.”

Family child care provider, Wendy Prokosch, harvests green beans with one of the kids.

Family child care provider, Wendy Prokosch, owns and operates Lil’ Pro Family Child Care, a four-star Parent Aware rated program in Brooklyn Park.

“I have a lot of picky eaters and I was hoping Early Sprouts would give them more exposure and because of the ownership in the process that they’d actually experiment a little bit more,” said Prokosch.  “And it worked!  They are trying things that they normally would not even try.”

To see the Early Sprouts program in action, check out this video from Lil’ Pro Family Child Care.

Policy Hour: Early Education Policy and Funding Changes

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Amanda Varley and June Reineke from MDE presented at the October 2017 Policy Hour.

Representatives from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) presented at the first Policy Hour of the season. June Reineke and Amanda Varley shared updates on changes to early education policy and funding from the 2017 legislative session.

Early Learning Scholarships
Early Learning Scholarships are funds used to increase access to high-quality early childhood programs for three to five year olds and zero to two year olds in some circumstances. They aim to support kindergarten readiness for children with the highest needs.

Pathway I Scholarships are awarded to eligible children through an Area Administrator. Parents choose the program where they would like to use the scholarship. Pathway II Scholarships are awarded to children through a Four Star Parent Aware rated early childhood site. Programs apply to receive the Pathway II funds.

Varley noted the impressive expansion of scholarship funding, which started out as $2 million for select areas in 2013 and is now a $70.2 million statewide program. They will serve an estimated 16,000 children in the current fiscal year (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018).

Continue reading Policy Hour: Early Education Policy and Funding Changes

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

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.

Education

EARLY LEARNING SCHOLARSHIPS  

  • 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?

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

Policy Hour: Power to the Profession Initiative

Policy Hour presenters were MnAEYC-MnSACA’s Kathleen O’Donnell and Sara Benzkofer.

Early education is in the spotlight now. That was the message from Kathleen O’Donnnell, Executive Director, and Sara Benzkofer, Director of Policy and Communications, of MnAEYC-MnSACA. The April Policy Hour presenters are from the state affiliate of the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). They talked about the Power to the Profession Initiative out of NAEYC and how the recent attention to early childhood development and education presents both challenges and opportunities to support and advance the profession. Continue reading Policy Hour: Power to the Profession Initiative

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

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