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Local view: Quality child care is worthy focus during Week of Young Child

Lynn Haglin

Fact: 90 percent of brain development happens in the first five years. Young children are making connections in their brains when being read to and talked to, cuddling, looking at pictures, playing with blocks, listening to music and singing, learning nursery rhymes, and dancing and running. When provided in a secure and nurturing environment, these activities, and more, help them get ready for kindergarten.

This week is National Week of the Young Child, a perfect time to celebrate high-quality child care in our region. Nearly 80 percent of young children in Northeastern Minnesota live in households where parents work. The efforts of child care providers benefit not just children but also families, employers and communities. Whether it is family- or center-based, early care and education help lay the foundation for children’s lifelong learning.

This week, let’s thank providers while urging them to keep learning, too. Thanks to research, we know that high-quality child care can make a powerful difference in children’s readiness for kindergarten. The adults who care for young children should have a deep understanding of early childhood milestones. They also should know and use best practices and do all they can to give youngsters the best start.

Parent Aware, Minnesota’s early education quality rating and improvement system, offers child care providers a pathway to increase knowledge and improve skills. Parent Aware providers can earn one- to four-star ratings and move up the scale over time. Parent Aware standards are consistent with what is needed for children to be more kindergarten-ready, and children from low-income households can make the most gains from high-quality care and education. Those early gains can help narrow the achievement gap over time.

Although Parent Aware works to build quality, providers face time and financial challenges to participate. Child care providers work long hours at modest pay. Taking part in training to gain star ratings can be difficult, especially in our large, rural region. This is why the Northland Foundation created Parent Aware Pathways in 2013.

With generous funding from the Mardag, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Sheltering Arms and Lloyd K. Johnson foundations, we partnered with Child Care Aware Minnesota-Northeast District to make Parent Aware training available in all seven counties, on evenings and weekends, for free or discounted fees.

We already have made great progress in helping licensed family child care providers and child care center employees participate in Parent Aware. More than 30 percent of programs in our region have or are working toward a Parent Aware rating, compared to just 18 percent statewide. In fact, Northeastern Minnesota has the highest ratio of Parent Aware participation outside of the Twin Cities east metro district.

Yet 30 percent participation means another 70 percent need to be reached. The Northland’s annual Child Care Providers’ Appreciation and Training Seminar attracts more than 350 providers to spend a Saturday receiving Parent Aware training. Providers clearly are interested in high quality. With encouragement and support, they will continue to reach for new heights.

The Northland Foundation has focused on improving the well-being of children and families for 30 years. We understand that change takes the long-term investment of money, people, and time.

During Week of the Young Child 2016, join us in applauding providers and parents, early childhood professionals and teachers, and policymakers and funders who are working to ensure that all our precious young children spend those first crucial years surrounded with high-quality care and learning opportunities. Thank them and encourage them. They have our future in their hands.

Lynn Haglin is vice president and Kids Plus director at the Northland Foundation (northlandfdn.org) of Duluth.

To learn more

To learn more about Parent Aware, including how to participate, go to parentaware.org/providers

Find star-rated child care providers at parentaware.org

Kids Plus is approaching 25 years of serving the Arrowhead Region, leveraging resources and rallying community members around the needs of children and youth. To learn more, go to northlandfdn.org/kids-plus/

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