The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 23, 2013

Early Childhood Initiative turns 10

Every child who goes through screening for early childhood education in Brown County goes home with a basket of goodies — crayons, glue, scissors and lots of activities for parents to do with their children.

That's about 330 baskets per year, and it's just one example of the positive impact the Early Childhood Initiative has had in Brown County during the past decade, said Betty Uehling, director of early childhood and family education programs in New Ulm.

For the past 10 years, the Minnesota Initiative Foundations have collaborated on an initiative that has worked to help the state's youngest residents. The Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative has grown to include 90 community and county coalitions based in more than 300 sites, said Sara Carlson, program officer for the Southwest Initiative Foundation. And each coalition is tailored to its region's unique needs, she said.

For example, a need in one community might be a new playground or an indoor play space. In the past in rural communities there was a need for safe baby-changing stations, she said.

“It looks unique in every community,” Carlson said.

Uehling, who has headed up Brown County's coalition since the beginning, said the goals have remained consistent — to look at the social and emotional needs of children and to provide support for child care providers.

A main priority over the years has been to offer training to child care providers.

“We had a speaker who did a wonderful presentation on, 'What are some things they already have in their homes that they can use to get their kids ready for school?'” Uehling said.

Uehling said the initiative has helped pull those in the Early Childhood Education and Family Education closer to child care providers.

“They don't see us as someone who's looking down at them; they really see us as a partner,” she said.

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