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Child care program piloted in New Ulm

BROWN COUNTY — A new child care pilot program has come to New Ulm called SMART Steps.

The program was created by A Chance to Grow, a Minneapolis non-profit. A Chance to Grow started a program called Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training (SMART) that helps children’s brains and bodies get ready to learn by building the foundation for basic readiness skills.

The Assistant Director of the Minnesota Learning Resource Center Katie Hansen said the SMART program was made for preschool and kindergarten teachers and paraprofessionals. Through a series of sessions, early childhood educators could learn methods to get kids ready to learn.

Hansen said the SMART training was popular with early childhood providers, and many instructors were receiving a request from child care providers for similar training.

“Child care providers wanted to know when we adapt a program for them,” Hansen said.

The SMART Steps pilot program is designed to adapt the training to family child care.

Hansen said many child care providers were already working to prepare kids in their care for education, but many wanted to learn how best to stimulate minds and bodies.

SMART Steps is in its first year and is only being offered to limited counties in Minnesota. New Ulm’s Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) had a previous relationship with A Chance to Grow. Many of the teachers and paraprofessionals have gone through the training. For this reason, Brown County was chosen as one of the pilot counties.

ECFE Director Betty Uehling said she knew Brown County child care providers would be interested in the program. She said “Brown County providers are hungry for information and they want to try new things. I knew when they asked, our providers would be interested in taking the session.”

The interest was high in Brown County. SMART Steps had to limit sessions by applications, but providers from across the county have participated.

This year, SMART Steps is hosting six in-person training sessions with providers and three virtual sessions.

The first couple of sessions focused on brain development. The fifth session held Monday night focused on developing vision. The final in-person session will focus on auditory development.

A Chance to Grow hopes to expand the program to more child care providers over the next few years. For now, the program is available on a limited basis through an application. Brown County providers will be able to apply for the fall session later this summer.

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