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

Early Learning Scholarships Are Critical for Children in Child Protection

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: Rich Gehrman, Founder and Executive Director of Safe Passage for Children

Early childhood education and quality child care are among a handful of services that significantly reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect, and also lessen negative effects when it does occur.

That is why Safe Passage for Children and Think Small actively participated in the successful 2017 campaign by the MinneMinds Coalition to pass legislation giving top priority for early learning scholarships to children who are homeless, in child protection, or in foster care, and to open eligibility at birth rather than age three.  As a result of this effort, $20.65 million was added to the state budget for the current biennium, bringing the total early childhood scholarship pool to $140.4 million.

While the increase itself was modest, the policy changes in this statute mean that our most vulnerable children can now get critical child development opportunities on a priority basis, and during the much earlier period when it can best promote healthy brain development.

This accomplishment caps years of effort by key legislative leaders and the MinneMinds Coalition, with a special push this session by a team that included Safe Passage, Close Gaps by 5, Hennepin County, People Serving People, and Hylden Advocacy and Law.

Continue reading Early Learning Scholarships Are Critical for Children in Child Protection

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

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!

Using LENA to Help Close the Word Gap

By: Gerri Fisher

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.

Children participating in LENA Start

By the age of three, it is estimated that low-income children have heard 30 million fewer words than those from higher-income families. We see, in fact, a difference in how many words a child knows as early as eighteen months of age. This discrepancy in the number of words heard is referred to as the word gap, and it contributes to low-income children being less school ready than their more affluent peers. In 2016, utilizing funds from the Bush and Target Foundations, Think Small introduced a new initiative to address the word gap. The initiative, called LENA Start, is a laser-focused language intervention for those first three critical years of life. Continue reading Using LENA to Help Close the Word Gap

Prenatal to Three Policy Forums: Working Together for A Great Start

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.

By: Representative Dave Pinto, District 64B

Representative Dave Pinto

Since the very beginning, my top priority as a legislator has been to make sure that every child in Minnesota gets off to a great start. The disparities that our state sees in education, economics, health, and the criminal justice system – some of the worst in the nation – are paralleled by disparities that begin with prenatal care and continue from birth and beyond.

Continue reading Prenatal to Three Policy Forums: Working Together for A Great Start

Closing Opportunity Gaps to Shrink Achievement Gaps

By: Maya Fanjul-Debnam

The opportunity gap is one of the biggest obstacles our education system faces today.

As highlighted in a Minnpost op-ed written by Think Small President, Barbara Yates:

“Our achievement gaps start as opportunity gaps, where children do not have access to the opportunities they need to flourish and reach their full potential.”

Continue reading Closing Opportunity Gaps to Shrink Achievement Gaps

Word Pedometers Brought to Minneapolis to Help Close Word Gap

By: Maya Fanjul-Debnam

Minnesota is heralding in an innovative program to help close the word gap. The word gap–a 30 million word deficit between children from low income families and their more well-off peers– is evident by age 3. In order for it to be reversed, children need both parents and caregivers to speak, sing and read to them often.

This new approach to early literacy, originated by the LENA Research Foundation, is designed to make a tangible change to those stats by encouraging parents to be more intentional about building vocabulary-enhancing interactions into their parenting.  Continue reading Word Pedometers Brought to Minneapolis to Help Close Word Gap

Poverty’s Immense Impact on Brain Development During Childhood Explored

By: Maya Fanjul-Debnam

LEL FCC 2011More than 16 million children in the United States – 22% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, $23,550 a year for a family of four.

Children living in poverty are often exposed to a cluster of circumstances that affect their brain development. A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin Madison found that children from low-income families experience less cognitive stimulation, stressful living conditions and harsher parenting, which all affect brain growth and development.

Continue reading Poverty’s Immense Impact on Brain Development During Childhood Explored

Learning Starts at Birth: Implications for a Lifetime

By: Maya Fanjul-Debnam

LEL0212FCCFrom the moment they are born, children are learning from their surroundings. Everything from brain growth to approaches to life are shaped by what does—or does not–happen in their first months and years of life.

As highlighted in a study from the Ounce:

“Early experiences that are nurturing, active, and challenging actually thicken the cortex of an infant’s brain, creating a brain with more extensive and sophisticated neuron structures that
determine intelligence and behavior.”

Continue reading Learning Starts at Birth: Implications for a Lifetime