Go Far to See Close

October 19, 2015

MCF’s Early Childhood Delegation to Sweden

I think we sometimes have two conflicting ideas of travel. One is personal travel, the romantic idea of going to an exotic location and exposing yourself to new flavors, sights and ways of thinking. Travel as a pause button on our often hectic lives, so we can refresh and re-enter the fray with a new sense of purpose.

The other is business travel, which for those of us in the social sector means cramped airline seats, quick trips to conferences held in look-alike hotel ballrooms and plenty of rubber chicken dinners. There are sparks of great ideas, but they are easily extinguished as you try to focus on both the session at hand and the unrelenting emails that drag you back to the office.

When I proposed to my staff that MCF lead an early childhood delegation of funders, practitioners, researchers and civic leaders to Sweden, I think many of them envisioned the business trip described above on steroids. What we got instead were the sparks of brilliance that business travel can bring enriched with the relationship building and wonder more often associated with personal travel.

What does it mean for kids in Minnesota?
In September 2015, 20 delegates – including funders, elected officials, professors, representatives from early childhood programs, members of MCF’s staff and others – traveled with me to Sweden. We spent five days meeting government officials to begin to understand the infrastructure and funding tied to Sweden’s world-renowned education system.

We also met university professors dedicated to educating the next generation of early childhood teachers, and we toured three types of pre-school programs to better understand the classroom experiences of Swedish children. The visits were thoughtfully curated by our tour guide in Sweden, and they gave us time to really dig in and ask questions to help us answer our most pressing question: What does this mean for kids in Minnesota?

While the official visits were critical, I think the moments that felt more like personal travel will endure. Walking through Old Town Stockholm to help a fellow delegate find just the right souvenir for her new grandchild while conversing about what outdoor preschool education looks like in Duluth. Standing together on a city bus and being asked politely but loudly to move from the baby carriage section, and realizing that society is very different when children and families are at the center. Sitting in a restaurant built in the 1300s on the grounds of Uppsala Cathedral and watching delegates with very different ideas of what early childhood should look like discover how much they actually had in common.

All of these experiences are what one delegate member, originally from Denmark, called hygge – the warm feeling of connection and hospitality that opens you up to new ways of being with each other. This space of hygge creates the conditions where trust, respect and mutual joy become the foundation for doing something very different in our local communities.

I believe experiential travel has an important place in our work. By leaving our little corner of the world and exploring what can be learned from a very different corner of the world, we grow and our communities are better off because of it. We get sparks of brilliance enriched with wonder and relationship. Säker resa!

Trista Harris, president, Minnesota Council on Foundations

Engaging Families in Early Childhood Programs and Policies

May 8, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 3.46.24 PMThe Start Early Funders Coalition champions affordable, accessible, high quality care and education for children in Minnesota by leveraging the group’s funding interests to advance public policy and community supports for early childhood education and programs.

Last month the coalition convened community leaders and practitioners to provide information on effectively engaging families in early childhood programs and policies.

The convening focused on two questions:

  • What exactly does “family engagement” mean?
  • How can we implement effective strategies for developing family partnerships, particularly across diverse cultures and varied early childhood programs?”

Family & Community Engagement for Healthy Child Development

Betty Emerita, consultant, Development and Training Inc., and Richard Chase, senior research manager, Wilder Foundation, examined family and community knowledge systems — the informal and formal ways that children learn at home and in their community.

The Family and Community Knowledge Systems Project:

  • Underscores the importance of how programs recognize, interact with and support these important systems in which children are embedded.
  • Aims to expand how we define and support healthy whole-child development and program quality from the perspective of family and community knowledge systems.
  • Highlights and measures ways to strengthen family and community engagement with formal systems to improve early childhood programs, policies, and practices — particularly for low-income children and children of color.

For more on their research, read the resulting publication: Promoting and Measuring Family and Community Engagement for Healthy Early Childhood Development.

Barb Fabre, director of White Earth Reservation child care, and Carolyn Smallwood, executive director, Way to Grow, reflected on their experience using the family and community engagement tool and noted that it increased positive family engagement outcomes and deepened the engagement and understanding of the children and families they served.

Family Engagement Programs and Best Practices

Christine DeGroote, early childhood education specialist, Head Start, presented the organization’s engagement framework for parents, family and community and its success measures. She highlighted the importance of crossing contexts at home, in early childhood programs, school and community to ensure success for children and families.

Mi Yang, parent leadership trainer, Cross-Cultural Leadership Action Program (C-Clap) presented curriculum that her organization used to train community leaders, relatives, parents and providers to educate and empower parents. She encouraged the audience to consider the following:

  1. All parents want their children to succeed
  2. We must believe in parent’s best intentions
  3. Change begins with knowledge

Andre Dukes, family academy director, Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), presented NAZ’s ending multigenerational poverty approach, highlighting the role of the Family Academy’s parent curriculum, which builds upon a family’s existing strengthens and then adds tools to parents’ skill sets to increase positive parenting practices.

Ellen Haefner, early childhood family educator, reviewed Faribault’s Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) program structure and highlighted initiatives surrounding parent education and opportunities for children and families.

Cisa Keller, director of government and community relations, New Horizons Academy, noted implications for effective family engagement with regard to public policy, including an increase of early learning scholarships and multiple federal efforts such as, Early Head Start Child Care Partnerships, proposed CCDBG changes and more.

Rae Jean Hansen, senior program officer, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, closed by encouraging attendees to use the research and best practices of the panelists to further work for effective family education and high quality early care.

Tiffany Wilson-Worsley, MCF public policy and government relations fellow



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