Early Education Spotlight: The Teddy Bear 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)

Early educator Darcy Barry plays with the children in her large backyard.

Darcy Barry discovered her passion for teaching young children early on, and she’s still going strong. A child care provider in Moorhead, Minnesota, for 23 years, Darcy’s impact reaches throughout the community.

Darcy’s program, Teddy Bear House, is Four Star Parent Aware rated. She’s always been passionate about educating children, and earning the rating lets others know that. She teaches the children important skills such as reading, art, and music. And she combines that teaching with a large helping of nurturing and warmth.

“Every day is different.  Every day is fun.  It’s all about the kids and the families.”

The Four Star rating qualifies her to receive Early Learning Scholarships, which was one of the main motivations for her to earn it. Early Learning Scholarships help parents pay for high-quality care. More than half of her children receive scholarships.

“The main reason I wanted to do the scholarships was for the families so they could come to daycare and not have to worry about the financial part because it’s a burden,” said Darcy.

The parents of the children in her program go to school or work full time, so access to consistent, quality care is essential.

Continue reading Early Education Spotlight: The Teddy Bear House

Policy Hour – Changes to Child Care in Minnesota

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Staff from DHS presented at Policy Hour.

Staff from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) presented at November Policy Hour about the changes to child care in Minnesota. During the 2017 legislative session, many changes passed to help Minnesota come into compliance with federal updates to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) Changes
Nicole Frethem gave an overview of changes to CCAP. Families receiving CCAP will now have 12 months of continuous eligibility, providing more stability than the previous system of redetermining eligibility every 6 months. During those 12 months, copayments will not go up with changes in family income, although they can go down if necessary. Most families will have to report less information during this time about changes in work schedule or child care needs.

Providers will now have to receive payments within 21 days, which is faster than the previous requirement of 30 days. For more information about CCAP changes, refer to this document.

Licensing
Michelle McGregor gave an overview of changes to child care licensing. License-exempt programs that serve children receiving CCAP will now need to go through a certification process. This includes many after school programs and requires them to meet additional health and safety standards, along with some other new requirements.

Continue reading Policy Hour – Changes to Child Care in Minnesota

Think Small Offers Free Information Sessions for Parent Aware Participation

Child care provider Brenda Arzac Ramirez reads to the children attending her four star Parent Aware rated program in Minneapolis.

By Susan Schaffhausen

In 2017, Think Small undertook new efforts to increase the number of child care providers who devote their care to ensuring children’s health, safety, and best practices for early learning through participation in Parent Aware.  Parent Aware is the statewide Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for Minnesota. Parent Aware participation and quality ratings are focused on getting children ready to succeed in school and bring significant benefits to licensed care providers, both family and center-based.   Parent Aware is the opportunity for providers to go beyond basic care certification and strengthen their commitment to excellence.

Think Small was responding specifically to a steady decline in the number of family child care programs in Minneapolis and St. Paul (15% from 2014 to 2017) and the smallest number of providers entering Parent Aware in the history of the program. This was a concerning trend as the metro area has a significant number of family child care providers of color and new immigrant providers, who often serve populations with limited resources and opportunities.  Parent Aware participation makes a valuable range of free and low-cost resources available to support providers, including coaching and trainings from early childhood professionals, professional development support, funding support for quality improvements, and access to higher child care assistance rates and early learning scholarships.

Watch this video Think Small produced highlighting the benefits of participating in Parent Aware.

Continue reading Think Small Offers Free Information Sessions for Parent Aware Participation

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.

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 – 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

Northeastern Minnesota Addresses Child Care Shortage

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, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Five child care programs in Northeastern Minnesota are receiving a boost from state funds. The Northland Foundation received a grant from the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to increase availability of child care in the region.

While a child care shortage is a problem statewide, the Northland’s situation is especially shocking. The Northland Foundation serves the communities of Northeastern Minnesota which include Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, an St. Louis counties. In that region, over 80% of moms work. A 55% growth in child care slots is needed to meet the demands of families with children six and younger, which is the highest in the state. Additionally, the poverty rate for children under 5 is significant, around 25%. While an increase in access is urgent, it is especially important that those openings are high-quality, in order to give vulnerable children a great start. Continue reading Northeastern Minnesota Addresses Child Care Shortage

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 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.

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