Small Talks – Text Me: Turning Everyday Moments into Early Learning Experiences

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

By Kristie Thorson

Small Talks took place at the Wilder Center in St. Paul on Tuesday, October 10, 2017.

Text Me: Turning Everyday Moments into Early Learning Experiences was the topic of the second Small Talks event which took place October 10, 2017, at the Wilder Center in St. Paul. The panel presentation and discussion focused on leveraging the simplicity of text messaging to engage parents and boost a child’s learning.

Ben York, Ph.D., Founder of ParentPowered Public Benefit Corporation, made the trip from California to talk about the research behind Think Small ParentPowered Texts.  This free program is offered to parents of children ages birth to five.

Ben York, Ph.D., Founder of ParentPowered Public Benefit Corporation.

“We sought to develop an approach to complement existing programs by breaking down the complexity of engaged parenting into small steps that are easy to achieve,” York said.

Think Small ParentPowered Texts provide Minnesota parents with three text messages per week.

“On Mondays, we send facts, which include factual information on why the skill of the week is important,” said York.  “On Wednesdays, we send tip messages with recommendations for activities that build on existing family routines, and on Fridays, we send growth messages which reiterate the skill and provide encouragement and follow-up.”

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

Continue reading Small Talks – Text Me: Turning Everyday Moments into Early Learning Experiences

Families First: Connecting Southern MN Children with Early Learning Scholarships

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 Jon Losness and Sara Stebbins

For over 40 years, Families First of Minnesota (formally Child Care Resource and Referral) has been a non-profit organization in our community working as a resource for parents, child care programs, and community members in all areas of early childhood.  Our programs reach families in 20 southern counties across the state, as well as greater Minnesota in the case of Early Learning Scholarships.

We help ensure positive beginnings for all young children and their families by offering the following programs in the Rochester area and beyond:

  • Child Care Aware (20 counties)
  • Crisis Nursery (Olmsted County)
  • Early Head Start (Olmsted, Freeborn, also with Semcac and Three River partnerships in Rice and Winona)
  • Early Learning Scholarships (28 counties)
  • Head Start (Olmsted, Freeborn)
  • School Readiness (Rochester)

Families First’s role in Early Learning Scholarships is that of Area Administrator in which we administer services that meet the grant requirements under an obligation to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). This current fiscal year we are working with an awarded amount of $7.3 million.  This means we award and manage scholarships to qualifying families in 4 Regional Areas making up 28 Minnesota counties, with 2 of these areas being newly added this fiscal period: Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha, Winona, Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Sibley, Waseca, Watonwan, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Pine, Carver, Dakota and Scott. Currently, we are serving almost 1000 children in these areas.

Continue reading Families First: Connecting Southern MN Children with Early Learning Scholarships

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

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?

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

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

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

Early Education Spotlight: Little Learners

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.

grandma-grandpa-3
Children from Little Learners with the residents, “Grandmas and Grandpas.”

Little Learners in Ada, Minnesota, is set up to be unique. Located in the same building as Benedictine Living Community, which offers independent and assisted living options for adults, the early learning program finds many opportunities to partner with the “Grandmas and Grandpas.” Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: Little Learners

Minnesota PreK-3 Design Team Releases Statewide Recommendations

A new group of early education experts released recommendations for how Minnesota can best improve the early care and education landscape across our state, a key area of focus to help close our worst in the nation achievement gaps. A group of early childhood stakeholders, the Minnesota PreK-3 Design Team, met with West Central Initiative and The McKnight Foundation to create a voluntary, statewide, mixed-delivery preschool approach in Minnesota. Continue reading Minnesota PreK-3 Design Team Releases Statewide Recommendations