The Minnesota Department of Human Services provides Minnesotans with a variety of services intended to help people live as independently as possible.
Finger-paint can be more than messy fun. At Amanda Rupar’s Family Child Care in Sartell, Minn., it’s the perfect medium to learn what happens when two colors are combined, practice drawing shapes and express creativity.
The child care program recently received a four-star rating, the highest possible, from Parent Aware. Parent Aware is the state’s tool to help parents find high quality child care and early learning programs that help children prepare for kindergarten. Child care programs that volunteer to be rated may receive quality improvement grants and help from consultants who coach them through the improvements needed to increase quality.
Rupar, a child care provider for seven years, said when Parent Aware expanded to Stearns County last year, she was eager to join to ensure that she was doing all she could to prepare children for school.
“The education gap is the biggest reason. It’s so important we address that from the beginning,” Rupar said. “Making sure my kids are starting off above or with their class means they’ll have the tools to maintain that throughout their education.”
Rupar said she practices Creative Curriculum and finds learning opportunities in everyday life experiences. For instance, she said students learn about math and numbers by measuring ingredients to bake cookies. Finger painting helps develop motor and thinking skills.
Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson joined the fun when she visited Nov. 1 to celebrate recent investments in early childhood education, and progress in increasing the number of high quality Parent Aware-rated programs like Rupar’s.
“Nearly half of all Minnesota 5-year-olds arrive at kindergarten not fully prepared to start school, and so it was very exciting to see these young children so engaged in learning,” said Jesson. “By investing in quality early education like Amanda Rupar’s four-star program, we can give more Minnesota children a chance to get a great start in life.”
More than 1,000 quality early education programs have now been rated by Parent Aware. Ratings are currently available to accredited child care, Head Start and school-based pre-kindergarten programs statewide, as well as licensed family child care programs and child care centers in 22 counties and on seven reservations. Parent Aware will expand to 23 new counties and one reservation in 2014, and reach statewide in 2015.
Investments by Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature are also helping increase access to high-quality care. Beginning March 2014, the department will use part of a $19.4 million investment to incentivize providers to achieve high quality Parent Aware ratings by paying higher Child Care Assistance Program rates to those with three- or four-star ratings. The budget invests another $40 million in scholarships, administered by the Minnesota Department of Education, to help 8,000 children from families with low incomes enroll in child care and early learning programs participating in Parent Aware.
Visit ParentAwareRatings.org to locate quality child care in your community. Providers interested in joining Parent Aware can also call 1-888-291-9811 for more information.