Early childhood development gains traction

Published 8:30 am Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tim Penny

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

Exciting gains have been made in the area of early childhood development in Minnesota recently. New studies show that 72 percent of children are now ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, up from 60 percent only a few years ago. This means that work being done by schools, communities, and early childhood providers is producing positive results. We at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) are proud to be a part of these efforts which are making a difference in the lives of children in our region.

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However, there is still work to be done. Our goal is that all children of southern Minnesota will enter kindergarten prepared to learn–and we are implementing projects and programs across our region that will help us accomplish that goal.

With the help of new grant funding, we are able to make a bigger impact in this area. SMIF recently received a $66,000 grant from Otto Bremer Foundation to implement SMIF’s programs in Steele County. Three programs will be delivered in Steele County by January 2015. They include Parenting Matters…, a workplace education program, Quality Provider Training, and an Early Childhood Initiative coalition. Through grant dollars, we will be able to create and sustain an Early Childhood Culture of Excellence in Steele County through the layering of the Foundation’s tested programming.

Parenting Matters is a program focusing on children’s social-emotional development which is delivered in the workplace over lunch breaks. Bringing parent education to the parents where they spend their day helps eliminate obstacles to parent involvement. The Quality Provider Training will increase the number of quality early childhood sites in Steele County in securing state rating as well as offering business resources. The Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) is a facilitated asset-based community development approach that engages community leaders in developing and executing projects focused on getting children ready to learn and succeed.

SMIF also received a $20,000 grant from The Mardag Foundation to implement Quality Provider Trainings in Mower County. The grant will be used to offer Quality Provider Trainings to family-based child care providers on the importance of quality, Parent Aware ratings, and business resources. This approach will include group sessions, individual mentoring and curriculum purchases to ensure providers achieve a quality rating by the State. Our first sessions for family-based child care providers are Feb. 22 in Owatonna and March 1 in Austin.

While each of the programs are valuable individually, focusing them within a specific county will have a significant impact on young children. The goal is to give parents, care givers, and the community the tools they need to prepare our youngest children for school and success later in life. Thanks to the Otto Bremer Foundation and the Mardag Foundation for these grants that will allow SMIF to provide more programs and reach more children.

If you are interested in learning more about any of these programs, or our other early childhood work, contact our Senior Program Officer, Rae Jean Hansen at raejeanh@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215. In addition, our Incentive Grant round is currently open. Consider applying for a SMIF grant to bring an early childhood or entrepreneur project or program to your community. Visit www.smifoundation.org for details.