Policy Hour: Previewing the 2018 Legislative Session

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Facts and speculation both made appearances at February’s Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour at Think Small in Minneapolis, and Sara(h)s abounded.

Sara Benzkofer, Sarah Orange, Sarah Clarke, and Jessica Anderson presented during the February Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour at Think Small.

Sarah Orange, Policy Advocate for the Minnesota budget Project, talked about the state budget forecast. The 2018 legislative session begins on February 20 and is the second year of the state’s two year budget cycle. The legislature sets the budget in odd-numbered years and often prioritizes bonding in even-numbered years. They don’t necessarily have to pass legislation in the even-numbered (or “off”) years, but they often do.

The November budget forecast predicted an upcoming deficit of $188 million for the current biennium, growing to $586 million in the next biennium. However, there have been several changes since November that will be reflected in the February forecast, which comes out at the end of this month.

Continue reading Policy Hour: Previewing the 2018 Legislative Session

Early Education Spotlight: Big Red House

Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases great work happening in high-quality 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.

By Marie Huey, Video by Kristie Thorson

Greta Miller with one of the children in her family child care program.

“I need to step up my game to ensure the kids who go through my program are learning, are healthy, are happy, are engaged.”

This is one of many pieces of knowledge Greta Miller has gained during her journey as a child care provider, and every day she works to meet these goals. She began 18 years ago when her first child was born. While attending college, she formed a partnership with another student-parent, and they shared responsibility of running a family child care program. Greta left school, but continued to do child care in Moorhead, Minnesota—first in a rented duplex, then in a home.

Big Red House Childcare

In her old house, the child care materials were everywhere, and it was difficult to disconnect at the end of the day. She designed her current house with a dedicated basement space for child care including hard surface floors, a sink, a child-friendly bathroom, sleeping room, and space to keep supplies organized. She also gave it an inviting (and accurate) name: Big Red House.

Greta figured she’d move on from child care when her five kids entered school, but she’s only grown to love it more now that they are older (her youngest is 6). She completed the Child Care Credential several years ago in Detroit Lakes. The series of classes/trainings refreshed her knowledge of child care development, connected her with a small community of dedicated providers, and motivated her to professionalize her program with a name, logo, and webpage.

Watch this video to get a look inside the Big Red House.

Pursuing new learning opportunities, like that credential, are what keep her engaged and motivated. She participated in Parent Aware when it first arrived in Clay County. Her awesome coach supported her to fine tune some of the strategies she was already using. Using a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship, she attended a Southwest Minnesota State University online program in early education. The internet also provides her with new inspiration for activities and supplies to keep the program engaging.

Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: Big Red House

Attend a Precinct Caucus and Submit a Resolution to Support Early Learning

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

On Tuesday, February 6 at 7:00 p.m., Minnesota will hold precinct caucuses around the state. They are the beginning of a process that Minnesota’s major political parties use for choosing the candidates and the issues they will support in elections. You can find out where your caucus is by using the Secretary of State’s Caucus Finder.

Attending your party’s precinct caucus provides you with an opportunity to advance an issue that matters to you, support the candidates of your choice, and build your involvement in the political process. You can learn more about what to expect by visiting the Secretary of State’s website about precinct caucuses.

Beyond voting for the candidate of your choice, another way to participate in the caucus is by submitting a resolution. Resolutions are position statements that can be adopted at the precinct level and advanced to become party positions.

What does a resolution look like?

A resolution is usually a one-page document that outlines:

  • The problem or opportunity
  • A rationale for a position for the issue
  • A policy statement about what should be done about the issue 

How do I present my resolution?

  • There is time for resolutions on the agenda
  • Resolutions must be presented in writing
  • Present your proposal and the reasons for it. Be persuasive! (It helps to lobby early and have copies).
  • If there is disagreement, the caucus chair will facilitate debate (often 3 statements for and 3 against).

VOTE!

Use this sample resolution at your caucus to support early learning:

Whereas, Minnesota has some of the worst opportunity and achievement gaps in the nation; and

Whereas, improving the early learning landscape across Minnesota improves the lives of children and the future of our state; and

Whereas, children start learning at birth;

Therefore, be it resolved that the _________ Party supports:

  • increasing access for the most vulnerable children to attend high-quality early care and education programs by expanding Early Learning Scholarships,
  • continued support of Parent Aware- Minnesota’s quality rating system for early learning programs, and
  • eliminating the wait list for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) so all children from low-income families can access quality early learning programs starting at birth.

Small Talks – Don’t Expel Me: Social Emotional Strategies for a More Inclusive Child Care Program

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

The Small Talks panel

The third Small Talks panel presentation focused around research that indicates children are being expelled from preschool at an alarming rate.  Don’t Expel Me: Social Emotional Strategies for a More Inclusive Child Care Program took place on January 9, 2018, at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul.  During the early morning event, attendees discussed early childhood expulsion, strategies for changing adult behaviors, and the need for a systemic response.

“Many people are really aware of how bad expulsion is, and how detrimental it is to young children in our K-12 system, but the assumption is always that it doesn’t happen in early childhood,” said panelist Cisa Keller, Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Quality Development at Think Small.  “Why would you ever expel three-year-olds?” But Keller went on to share that expulsion happens in early childhood programs at three to four times the rate then it happens in K-12 systems.

Small Talks was held at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul.

“Yale University actually did a study on early childhood programs from all sorts of settings and what they found was that there was a significant amount of implicit bias that was happening with all of the teachers regardless of their race, their gender, or the program setting,” said Keller.

One of the ways Think Small is working to help solve the problem locally is through Project Inclusion, a program for early educators that combines social-emotional classroom training and one-on-one coaching.

Click below to watch a video about Project Inclusion, featuring a local provider and her coach.

“The coach’s role isn’t to help the provider work with one specific child in their program.  Instead, it’s to help the child care provider understand how their behavior and their environment can help foster better social-emotional development for all of the children,” said panelist Candace Yates, Quailty Supports Manager at Think Small.

Continue reading Small Talks – Don’t Expel Me: Social Emotional Strategies for a More Inclusive Child Care Program

Policy Hour – Early Childhood Data

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Ann Kaner-Roth

January Policy Hour started with a special announcement: the event is now named the Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour. Ann served as the Executive Director of Child Care Works from 2000-2008. She went on to spearhead work around marriage equality. At the time of her death in December 2017, she was serving as the Deputy Secretary of State—once again looking out for those who did not have a voice in our political system. In honor of her contributions to the field and her commitment to working in coalition, Policy Hour will be re-named the “Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour”.

This month’s discussion was about Minnesota early childhood data.

Anita Larson, MN Department of Education

Anita Larson from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), presented on their Early Childhood Longitudinal Data System. ECLDS (pronounces “e-sleds”) integrates data from several state agencies to provide information on program access and outcomes for young children. It is the Pre-K version of SLEDS (Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System).

MDE takes information from the other agencies, de-identifies it to protect privacy, and makes it available. The result is not real-time data for teachers to make classroom decisions, but rather information that shows how different groups of children participate in certain programs.

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Early Childhood Advocates Partner to Provide Parent Trainings

By Megan McLaughlin, Way to Grow

Think Small Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Marie Huey, speaks to parents during a  training session at Joyce Preschool in Minneapolis.


Several organizations that serve children and families recently worked together to provide trainings for Minneapolis parents. As part of a grant from Minnesota Comeback, Way to Grow is partnering with other organizations, including Think Small, to engage parents in advocacy opportunities.

Another parent training session was held at Center for Families.

The “My Voice Matters” advocacy trainings covered skills and strategies that parents of young children can use to enhance their ability to advocate. Parents from Way to Grow and Joyce Preschool attended the trainings, which were simultaneously translated into Somali, Spanish, and Hmong. Continue reading Early Childhood Advocates Partner to Provide Parent Trainings

Policy Hour – Improving the Early Childhood Workforce

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

December Policy Hour presenters shared information about state and national initiatives that are working to enhance and improve the early childhood workforce.

Sara Benzkofer provided updates on Power to the Profession.

Power to the Profession
Sara Benzkofer, Director of Policy and Communications at MnAEYC-MnSACA, joined us to provide updates on Power to the Profession. Power to the Profession is a national collaboration to define the early childhood profession by establishing a unifying framework for career pathways, knowledge and competencies, qualifications, standards, and compensation.

The task force leading the initiative is made up of 15 organizations. Additional stakeholder organizations participate in the process, and the initiative also solicits feedback from people in the field.

The process includes 8 decision cycles that build off each other. So far, two cycles are complete. The first cycle focused on professional identity, defining the work as the Early Childhood Education Profession within the Early Childhood Field. Seven responsibilities of Early Childhood Professionals emerged from the work, including the importance of engaging families, observing and assessing children’s learning, and implementing developmentally appropriate curriculum. Find more in-depth information, including Sara’s PowerPoint presentation, here.

The next three decision cycles will be combined into one and include questions such as: How should the field be structured? What should the preparation programs look like? Surveys should open soon, and NAEYC will collect feedback until April. Find more information about the surveys here.

Minnesota was the highest-responding state in the first two cycles. Sara encouraged continued advocacy and engagement, and suggested Early Childhood Professionals share the information with Gubernatorial candidates.

Debbie Hewitt presented on the B8 Work Group and the National Governors Association.

Debbie Hewitt, Early Learning Services Supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Education, presented information about two initiatives that are also addressing early childhood education workforce issues.

B8 Work Group
The Birth to eight years old (B8) Team used the 2015 Institute of Medicine report Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation, to inform their work and create a 10 year plan to implement in the state.

The Team now has a draft plan and is seeking feedback on their work.

Debbie introduced a new website during her presentation, which contains all of the information about the effort. You can watch a webinar on the recommendations, read related reports, and complete a survey about Minnesota’s Early Childhood Workforce. Feedback is due by the end of March 2018.

National Governors Association
Minnesota was one of a handful of states that were selected to work on ECE workforce issues as part of the National Governors Association. The advisory group of this initiative decided to focus on compensation. Wages for the field remain very low, and turnover is high.

Goals of the NGA group recommendations were:

  • Raise base pay
  • Reward for quality (program level)
  • Reward for education (individual level)
  • Bring more resources into programs so they can pay better
  • Provide other resources for individuals that aren’t base pay but increase their financial well-being.

To address these goals, the group looked at a variety of strategies that other states have used and determined which of those would be most useful and feasible for Minnesota. Their recommendations are:

  • Tax credits
  • Continue and increase T.E.A.C.H. and R.E.E.T.A.I.N.
  • Increase access to business education and shared services
  • Tie compensation to increased public funding
  • Implement a wage ladder, where pay increases as education increases (More research is needed to figure out if this would be a feasible or useful strategy)
  • Increase private sector support, potentially including tax credits
  • Collaborate with other groups, including the B8 Workforce Team
  • Continue to raise awareness about the critical importance of fair and adequate compensation

The group presented their recommendations to the Children’s Cabinet and Governor Dayton. Once the full report is finalized, they will share it with stakeholders.

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.

Early Education Spotlight – Here We Grow

By: Marie Huey (Video by Kristie Thorson)

Early Education Spotlight is an ongoing series that showcases great work happening in high-quality 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.

Here We Grow Early Childhood Center near Mankato, MN, features a large garden.

Bugs are a perennial favorite for kids at Here We Grow. There are plenty of grasshoppers to chase in the garden. Water exploration is also a highlight, and several pumps are stationed around the outdoor play area.

The nature-based early childhood center, located in Mankato, contains many opportunities for children to learn and grow outside. Owner and Director Elizabeth Bangert wrote the curriculum and designed the space for this Four Star Parent Aware rated program.

Here We Grow sits on two acres of land.

The Reggio-inspired curriculum means children direct the learning. Rather than set unit topics and lengths, Here We Grow has provocations based on children’s interests. This year a one week provocation about the human body turned into seven weeks. One of the children’s parents, a physician, came in to talk about wound care. The kids explored functions of white and red blood cells, with help from their teachers, of course.

Because children spend most of their time outside, they have plenty of opportunity to interact with other children and talk. Parents are amazed at how quickly their child’s vocabulary expands at Here We Grow. The outdoors is also a perfect setting to develop gross motor skills. Running, jumping, climbing, digging, and splashing are just a few of the activities encouraged by the play area.

Continue reading Early Education Spotlight – Here We Grow

Small Talks – Talk to Me: How Early Conversations Impact a Child’s Life

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

By Kristie Thorson

Talk to Me: How Early Conversations Impact a Child’s Life was the topic of the first Think Small Small Talks event which took place August 15, 2017, at the University of Minnesota’s Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in Minneapolis.  The panel presentation and discussion focused on closing the word gap in Minnesota through simple practices, strategic partnerships, and innovative research.

Scott McConnell, Educational Psychology professor at the University of Minnesota was one of the presenters.  His research focuses primarily on preschool-aged children, and the skills and competencies that will enable them to learn and participate in school and other settings.  His work includes implementation and evaluation of LENA Start, a program which focuses on increasing interactive talk with children because it has been proven to be a key factor in early brain development.

“Families talk more, kids talk more.  Families talk less, kids talk less,” McConnell said.

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

Continue reading Small Talks – Talk to Me: How Early Conversations Impact a Child’s Life