Factors influencing success in early childhood development include high-quality learning experiences, secure interpersonal attachments, healthy environments, and safe and affordable housing.
The grantmaking initiative supporting work in the area of early childhood development is called Growing Up Healthy. The goal of this initiative is to build strong and connected communities where children can thrive and grow up healthy, especially in low-income communities.
Growing Up Healthy is designed to help communities throughout Minnesota work across sectors in new ways to create an environment that nurtures the healthy growth and development of children under the age of 5.
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Involving children in the design of a project is a great way to increase the likelihood that you’ll create a product that appeals to children. The Pope County Collaborative, based in Glenwood, Minnesota, first received a multiyear grant through the Growing Up Healthy Initiative in 2011. The goal of its Early Childhood Thrive Initiative is to achieve optimal health for all children in Pope County.
After receiving two buses through the United Way, the group invited children to give them ideas for a theme for what would become mobile learning centers. Based on their ideas, a local artist designed the Traveling Treehouse Mobile Learning Center. The treehouse bus features the four seasons with a treehouse incorporated into the design. The interior has been completely remodeled with storage spaces for books and educational supplies.
The buses travel to where families congregate in the summer — at festivals and events, child care homes and centers, and housing complexes. They are packed with kids’ activities and parent information — about the importance of early learning and health topics such as asthma triggers and environmental toxins and fun physical activities for kids as well as fitness and nutrition resources.
The buses extend learning opportunities for children beyond the school year. The better the early education, the better the odds are of positive outcomes when it comes to health. Educational attainment is linked to everything from lower rates of heart disease, stroke and hypertension to lower rates of diabetes and obesity.
In addition to the early learning focus, the collaborative is working with public health staff to distribute a healthy homes checklist, and with landlords and renters to educate them on the importance of healthy housing to children’s optimal development.
Imagine you’re a new parent. It can be overwhelming at times, trying to keep up with all the things you need to do to ensure that your child grows up healthy and happy. Now imagine that you’re new to the country and speak limited English. It’s intimidating to ask for help, and you don’t know who you can trust.
St. Cloud State University, in partnership with other area organizations, is working to create a warm and welcoming environment for immigrant and refugee parents to help ensure equal access to high-quality early childhood learning opportunities for their children. The project also includes the creation of an educational pathway with scholarships for immigrant college students to become parent and youth educators.
The Access Project’s goals are to continue to build relationships between and across cultures; increase the number of immigrants and refugees who are licensed in early childhood special education, parent education and speech language pathology; and to increase the quality of services by interpreters to families and early childhood professionals.
Project lead Jane Ellison says, “We want all children to have the opportunity to connect to anything that will help them have a healthy development so they’re ready for kindergarten.”