As my oldest is on the brink of kindergarten, I can’t help but reflect on these past five years of her early childhood education, while looking forward to the future years (although they could slow down a bit). One of the many reasons my husband and I decided to raise our family in Minnesota was the state’s top-notch educational opportunities. Minnesota consistently ranks among the top states for education quality. Just this week, CNBC ranked Minnesota the second-best state for education in America in 2017, just behind Massachusetts.
Similarly, U.S. News & World Report ranked Minnesota the third most-educated state in the country in 2017, just behind Colorado and Massachusetts. Although districts and schools vary, generally we Minnesotans have an abundance of high-quality schools, and we have open enrollment–so we are free to choose schools outside our districts. On top of that, we also have a number of private schools. Needless to say, choosing a school that was a good match for our daughter and her unique needs was more stressful than my college application process.
Minnesota’s top-tier education is not limited to grade school; the state also has exceptional Early Childhood and Family Education (ECFE) services. Had it not been for ECFE, I do not know how we would’ve made it to kindergarten. ECFE is unique to Minnesota families from birth to kindergarten (and some programs go beyond). These classes are more than just “Mommy and me” singing and playing–they truly educate children, and more importantly, they educate parents. Children do not come with instruction manuals, but thankfully we have ECFE teachers!
I participated in ECFE classes with both of my children almost from birth, and with those early months being such a stressful blur, it was incredibly helpful to have a weekly class to look forward to. Getting out of the house, bouncing ideas off other parents, and learning from teachers well-versed in up-to-date expert research taught me volumes more than I could glean from any “new baby instruction manual.” Every child is different and what may work with one child does not always work with another. Plus, with research and best practices changing so frequently, how could any sleep-deprived parent possibly keep up? Having a set time every week to focus solely on parenting skills was a sanity-saving life raft.
In those early months I learned about tummy time, swaddling, breastfeeding, supplementing, solid foods, and sleep. Throughout the later months and years, I learned about potty training, language development, social-emotional development, temperament, power struggles, sibling relationships, and (again) sleep. (ALWAYS sleep, apparently.) No single answer was correct–all parenting styles were respected. Our teachers met us at our level to offer education without judgment. They learned the up-to-date research for us and taught us tricks and tips to make parenting more manageable–from sleep techniques to the perfect slime recipe.
I was fortune to have amazing ECFE teachers. They taught me the “perfect mom” was just a construct in my head–and so was the “bad mom.” They taught me outside of the classroom, too. I learned how to explain the death of our dog to my then-toddler. They supported me, provided resources, and helped me cope with postpartum depression. They taught me about “toy jail” and other age-appropriate discipline techniques. They looked out for my children when something seemed “off,” whether gifted traits or possible speech delays. Our teachers did more than teach; they supported, inspired, uplifted, and encouraged us as parents. They taught me how to be the parent I always wanted to be and to accept myself as the parent that I am.
It’s not too late to sign up for ECFE in your area! There is a sliding fee scale, which is lower if you are a resident, but you do not have to be resident in your desired school district to attend. Most districts also have evening and weekend classes, as well as sibling care. Our state provides this incredible resource for parents–use it (and enjoy it)!