More than Daycare: Resarch Shapes New Focus on Early Learning


Heidi Enninga, WDIO – Duluth
February 24, 2015

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.