More than Daycare: Research Shapes New Focus on Early Learning |

More than Daycare: Research Shapes New Focus on Early Learning

Heidi Enninga
February 26, 2015 04:41 PM

When parents drop kids off at daycare each morning they expect their little ones will be in a safe and fun environment, but local providers and early childhood experts now say expectations about daycare are changing in order to make sure kids start kindergarten on par with their peers. 

Daycare providers are the people you entrust to make sure your children not only have enough to eat, but the right things to eat, and that they have lots of time to play and stretch their minds.   

It's all because children under five are already on their education journey even though they're spending their days in daycare and not yet a classroom. Even these early years before kindergarten are some of the most critical for learning. 

Lynn Haglin, Kids Plus Director with the Northland Foundation said research has changed the line of thinking about early childhood.

"We now know so much about early brain development," Haglin said. 

In fact, by the time your child reaches kindergarten age, 90 percent of brain development is already complete. 

"People are becoming more and more aware, from even prior to birth, that learning is taking place."

So some Northland providers are trying to do even more for their kids. April Hall runs Aunty's Daycare in West Duluth. Already she tries to expose the children at her daycare to nutrition and health information. 

"My daycare kids can tell you what vitamins are in a lemon, what part of your body it's good for. that avocados are good for your brain," Hall said. 

These providers are going beyond the minimum health and safety standards required for daycare licensing. 

Mary Young has been a daycare provider in Carlton for 32 years and said there's pressure from schools. 

"The schools want us to get children ready, and that's talked about more and more," Young said.

The Northland Foundation said that in 2003, just 50 percent of children entered kindergarten fully prepared. That number has increased over the years. Now, the Minnesota Department of Education reports school readiness is at 70 percent. That's thanks in part to a big push on healthy development in children birth to age five. 

This month, nearly 370 childcare providers got training in Duluth from a program called Parent Aware Pathways. It teaches those caring for kids how to capitalize on the window of opportunity in early childhood. 

Hall is not yet enrolled in Parent Aware, but was among those at the training and said she's going to get more to add to her tools of the trade. 

She said that up until now, she did not think enough parents understood the star ratings system and would often be wary of one star programs even though that could mean the provider had just started the program. She said she now intends to sign up soon since the program is becoming more well known. 

She said the program will fit in with what she is already trying to do. "We have learning time every morning," Hall said. "Our learning time was about sweet potatoes. I would talk about what it is, pass it around, touch it, feel it, smell it, bite them."

Locally the Northland Foundation is spearheading an effort to raise the bar for daycare in seven local counties of Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis. Now, there are 100 center-based and family-based childcare programs and 168 individual providers involved. Northland Foundation offers incentives and coaching through the Parent Aware program.

"We need to support young children and give them that great start," Haglin said. 

Providers can earn up to four stars, or levels of training, based on the techniques they learn and how they use them. 

"(Parent Aware) makes us more aware, and conscientious of the things we need to do to get kids ready for school and ready for life in general," Hall said. 

"They're going above and beyond what's absolutely required as a child care provider," Haglin said. "We have wonderful child care providers in our area. They do have passion. They do have commitment."

The Northland Foundation also offers all of the trainings for free and offers scholarships of up to $1,000 to help providers earn, maintain or increase their rating level. The financial help for providers is a good investment, Haglin said. 

"They're caring for Minnesota's greatest treasures every single day, our youngest children."

Thirty percent of licensed child care providers in northeastern Minnesota are either rated or in the process of getting a Parent Aware rating. That's the largest percentage of participation in any region of greater Minnesota. Only the Twin Cities Metro is higher. 

Parents can then search for star-rated providers on a statewide online database. 

"I think the word is getting out that they should look for sites that are conscious and purposeful as far as their education for the children," Young said. 

Even though Hall might seem a lot like a real teacher--one with lesson plans, a daily schedule, and kids reciting back what they've learned-- she said she's not, but she is doing what she can.  

"Parents are teachers, everybody teaches. Anyone a child is around at any point during a day. I mean they're just so impressionable."

In the future, what we may have only thought of as daycare, may really encompass a whole lot more. 


Heidi Enninga

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