Start Early. Start well.

Early Years Matter Columns

We are committed to telling the stories of the Institute’s work and early childhood care and education in Nebraska. On this page, you will find columns focused on the work of the Buffett Institute and its partners as we strive to make Nebraska the best place in the nation to be a baby.


  • Sept. 21, 2021

    Child Care 'Front and Center to Our Economy,' Thriving Children Speaker Says

    There's a social theory called the "curb cut effect." During the nascent disability rights movement in the 1970s, activists in Berkeley, California, poured concrete under the cover of darkness to create their own makeshift wheelchair ramp on a public sidewalk. They pushed for curb cuts in sidewalks so wheelchair users could get around the city easier. Berkeley officials installed a curb cut at one intersection, and soon more followed suit across the country as people with disabilities demanded more access and accommodations to navigate everyday life. As outlined by policy and equity expert Angela Glover Blackwell in a 2017 article, the successful curb cut campaign wasn't just a win for people with disabilities.

  • Sept. 9, 2021

    Thriving Children Speaker Says Early Childhood Can Be Life-Changing, and Communities Can Play a Key Role

    Rosemarie Allen, one of two keynote speakers at this year's Thriving Children, Families, and Communities Conference, believes in the power of early childhood education to change lives, and she wants you to believe, too. You can hear her message at this year's virtual event, scheduled for Sept. 27. Learn more about the conference and register here. She wants to remind people of one compelling finding: that every dollar spent investing in quality early education programs pays dividends in the future, helping kids grow up healthier, better educated, and less likely to turn to crime.

  • Sept. 9, 2021

    Institute Begins Meeting With Child Care Professionals Across the State - 'We're Coming to Learn'

    The Buffett Institute has launched a statewide learning tour with early childhood professionals. The tour, which began last week with a visit to 11 Lincoln child care professionals and which will continue through the fall, has a simple goal—to learn from the people who are educating and caring for young children in Nebraska. "We're not coming with an 'ask,'" said Cama Charlet, manager of early childhood workforce initiatives at the Institute. "We're coming to listen."

  • August 12, 2021

    Nebraska School Builds Connections With Families, One Visit at a Time

    With a smile and a knock on the door, Tyler Hottovy is building connections with families. As summer winds down and the new school year approaches, the Westbrook Elementary principal in Westside Community Schools and some of his staff go the extra mile to introduce themselves to new students and families. They visit the homes of each incoming Kindergartner—there are 54 in this year’s class—to say hi, hand out treat bags with books and small toys inside, and answer any questions Mom, Dad, or Grandpa might have about school. “We talk so much about partnerships,” Hottovy said. “For the longest time, I didn't realize that partnership kind of goes two ways.”

  • July 29, 2021

    As Parents Return to Office, COVID Underscores Importance of Quality, Affordable Child Care

    Many working families need child care again. But some aren’t eager to return to the pre-pandemic status quo—late nights at the office, long commutes, less family time.

  • July 29, 2021

    Providers Scramble to Find Enough Staff to Meet Demand for Child Care

    Enrollment is picking back up again at the Imagination Station child care centers in Omaha.

  • May 20, 2021

    Nebraska Experts Show Path Forward to Fund Better Early Childhood Education

    A state lawmaker, a researcher, and a half-dozen other business and education leaders sat on hard chairs inside a university conference room, having a collective Eureka moment that could eventually help change the way we fund early childhood education in Nebraska and the United States...

  • April 9, 2021

    Are the Kids All Right? Experts and Educators Seek Answers After Year of COVID-19

    The first grader did not understand. She had been kept home from Gomez Heritage Elementary, and switched to the school’s remote learning option, after her mother tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year. That made perfect sense for the health and safety of her classmates and teachers. And having her mom isolate in another room of the house, away from her, made sense for the safety of the first grader herself. But it didn’t make sense to the first grader, who stared into the iPad screen, her eyes brimming with tears...

  • April 8, 2021

    Catching Kids Up After Pandemic's Disruption Will Take Time, Parents and Educators Say

    Becky could picture her twin boys' first day of Kindergarten. She and her husband would walk them into their classrooms at Saddlebrook Elementary in northwest Omaha. They'd snap photos, meet teachers, show the boys where to hang their backpacks. But like so many other things in 2020, the pandemic turned their family's big Kindergarten milestone upside down...

  • March 4, 2021

    New Plan Would Pull Children Out of Poverty—and Help Early Childhood, Too

    Money talks. But money also may be able to do something else, something that has early childhood experts cautiously optimistic that we might soon improve the lives—and the futures—of millions of young American children. “Everyone might not know that money helps grow brains,” says Sam Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska. “But that’s true. It does.” A new Biden administration plan seeks to greatly expand direct payments to American families...

  • February 16, 2021

    COVID-19 Exposes That Nebraska's Child Care System Needs Fixing, Says Key Lawmaker

    COVID-19 is bad enough. Our state's child care reality is making it worse. That's the message many Nebraska parents and employers sent to a key state lawmaker in a recent statewide survey that reveals the pandemic's impact on Nebraska child care. And that's the message the lawmaker, Sen. John Stinner, delivered to the Nebraska Legislature on Tuesday, when he revealed the survey's results and told his fellow lawmakers that Nebraska needs to build a better early care and education system...

  • December 21, 2020

    A Silver Lining in 2020: Nebraskans Team Up to Help Families, Early Childhood Educators

    Dave White, a second grade teacher at Grand Island’s Shoemaker Elementary, has been doing temperature checks, reminding students about mask wearing, and perfecting his air high five as his young pupils leave the classroom each day, even though he wants to hug them like it’s 2019. Alicia Melo, the owner of Little Explorers Daycare in Geneva, has been caring for children of essential workers, sanitizing religiously, and praying her staff and business make it safely into 2021. Melo, White, and thousands of Nebraska teachers and child care providers have put themselves at risk during a pandemic to help young children and families make it through this brutal year...

  • November 30, 2020

    A Nebraska Small Town Has Created Its Own Child Care Miracle

    Kelsey Carlson calls me from the road, as she drives the quiet ribbon of highway connecting the hospital where she works to the small-town child care that has changed her life. Not long ago, when her daughter, Avery, went to a different child care, Kelsey would sob while driving to pick her up. She worried her daughter wasn’t safe. She dreaded the thought that Avery was planted in front of a TV. And Kelsey cried because she felt the terror that too many working parents—especially working moms—too often feel. She felt terrified that she was failing at work and failing her only child. But today, as Kelsey drives to pick up her daughter from child care, her fear has vanished...

  • October 27, 2020

    Remote Learning Has Been a Learning Experience for Omaha Kindergarten Teachers, Too

    On day one, they practiced setting up their iPads. When the 6-year-old students logged onto the first day of remote learning summer school this June, several in teacher Lauren Barr’s class had their iPad cameras pointed at the carpet. Others had them pointed out the window. One little boy was lying on his bed with a blanket covering his head. Barr did not crawl back into her own bed and pull the covers over her head...

  • October 9, 2020

    Nebraska's Child Care Problems Hurt Businesses and State's Bottom Line, Lawmakers Learn at Hearing

    A Lincoln child care provider whose business teeters on the brink of closing showed up at the Nebraska State Capitol recently. So did University of Nebraska President Ted Carter, to tell state lawmakers that a college student’s future success is tethered to early childhood education. A business leader showed up, because she knows her employees quit when their paychecks don’t meet the cost and stress of finding child care. A bevy of experts did, too, to deliver state senators economic research showing that Nebraska is losing hundreds of millions each year because of inadequate child care...

  • September 30, 2020

    Message From Thriving Children Conference: We Must, and We Will, Fix Child Care in Nebraska

    The state of Nebraska loses $745 million a year because of inadequate child care, Sen. John Stinner told a virtual audience of more than 700 people during the recent Thriving Children, Families, and Communities Conference. He paused for a moment after mentioning this bleak economic reality. He let that large number sink in. Then Stinner acknowledged what much of the crowd already knew: Child care is in an even worse place in 2020...

  • September 11, 2020

    'There Are Lives at Stake Here': Inside the Massive Undertaking to Reopen One Nebraska School District

    The boys and girls in Mr. White’s second grade class entered the classroom on a recent Tuesday with their masks on, no big deal, as if wearing a three-ply face covering struck them the same as putting on jeans or a T-shirt. They waved hello—no hugging, no touching—and immediately washed their hands in the classroom sink. They sat down in spaced-out desks to start the day’s lessons, some of which Dave White is teaching for the first time on online platforms so his students will be ready to learn virtually if Shoemaker Elementary School shuts down, as it did in March...

  • August 4, 2020

    The COVID Spring and Summer Have Wounded Nebraska's Child Care System. The Fall and Winter Might Kill It.

    Steph Allen has already weathered one unimaginable crisis, the nightmare scenario that struck Grand Island and her new Teaching Tree child care center this spring. She had to close Teaching Tree in late March, and stay closed for eight weeks as the COVID pandemic hit Hall County earlier and harder than almost any other spot in Nebraska. When she reopened in June, her enrollment and revenue plunged by nearly 40 percent. It is only now, in late July, that enrollment is back up and daily operations are starting to feel somewhat normal. The good news is that both Steph and her high-quality child care center are still standing. The bad news is she can already see another crisis looming on the horizon...

  • July 23, 2020

    Summer Slide, Worsened by COVID-19, Must Be Addressed, Experts Say

    Imagine a young student going back to school this fall wearing a backpack filled with weights. There are old weights in the backpack, because the student has grown up in poverty. And there are new weights straining the backpack, because the student's mother lost her job during the pandemic, and the student's uncle died of COVID-19. And our student must also carry yet another new and particularly heavy weight: She hasn't attended school or fully participated in education since mid-March, an unprecedented break that experts believe could set her back a year academically...

  • June 17, 2020

    Our Preschoolers Can Help End Racism—If We Help Them First

    The mother figured it was time to talk to her eldest son about race, and how Americans put people in categories based on skin color. This mom is of South Asian ancestry, and has brown skin. Her husband is white. Their 5-year-old son’s complexion is like his mother’s. “What color is Daddy’s skin?” she asked the 5-year-old. “Kind of pink,” he said. “Yes it is! And what does that make him?” she asked the 5-year-old, trying to get him to see the link between Dad’s skin color and his racial identity. The boy paused for a moment, struggling for an answer. “What does that make him?” she asked again. “Better than us?” the boy replied...

  • June 2, 2020

    Here's the Safest Way to Reopen Nebraska Child Care—While Giving Children What They Need

    He imagines a group of young children playing with their new toys in the house area. A boy pinballs in, grabs a mask off a hook and struggles to place it on a doll. Then the girl pulls the mask off and fumbles to put in on herself. Then two other children loudly direct each other on how to take a doll’s temperature using a toy thermometer. Surgical masks aren’t the normal toys that Sam Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, hopes that young children use to play. But they are exactly the toys young children need right now...

  • May 19, 2020

    Distance Learning Is Hard for Everyone. It's Harder for Low-Income Families

    You can hear it in Dorothy's voice, understand even before she explains what it's like to juggle the distance learning of her four children, her job as a janitor, her disappearing income, and a global pandemic. She sounds bone-tired. She sounds frustrated. She feels like she is juggling fire, and she's afraid she will drop it...

  • April 28, 2020

    'We Could Help With One Thing. So We Did': Nebraskans Aid Child Care Providers in Crisis

    It seems like such a small thing, this 6-ounce bottle of alcohol and aloe vera they would normally mindlessly grab for $2 at the grocery store. But these are not normal times, and the 16 Ogallala-area child care providers who recently pulled up to the U-Save pharmacy drive-thru and drove off with a small bottle of free hand sanitizer didn't consider it a small thing...

  • April 9, 2020

    Nebraska Child Care's Excruciating COVID-19 Decision: Can I Afford to Close? Can I Afford Not to?

    Last week, two children at Erika Felt’s in-home child care sweetly hugged one another. It was the sort of hug that normally makes Felt, a longtime Omaha child care provider, smile with satisfaction. Last week it made her want to cry. “The children want to stay close together,” Felt says. “They are scared. We all are..."

  • April 1, 2020

    What Children Need During These Troubling Times

    Howard Liu is making time to sit on the floor with his preschooler. Dr. Liu, like most doctors, is terribly busy these days. And Liu, like most adults, is feeling stressed, anxious, afraid. He's worried about his 100-year-old grandmother stuck by herself in a nursing home. He's worried about his employees. He's worried about a global pandemic...

  • February 11, 2020

    'It's a Crisis If You Get Pregnant in This Town'

    The people who are changing the future for the children of Albion, Nebraska, sit together at a table, explaining why they had to change it. Parents in Boone County had been pleading for more child care for years, citing it again and again in community meetings as the area's most desperate need...

  • January 31, 2020

    Nebraska Is Building Momentum to Solve Early Childhood Education's Biggest Challenges

    You sat in the room, and you could feel it happening. The state senator who runs the Legislature's powerful Appropriations Committee could feel it. He leaned into the microphone in front of a packed hotel ballroom Thursday morning and argued that a newly released report can aid Nebraska's working families...

  • January 28, 2020

    Early Childhood Education Matters. The Science Says It Does

    Ninety percent. That's the giant part of a child's brain formed by the time she blows out the candles on her sixth birthday cake. Ninety percent. Those are the first two words that pop into Sam Meisels's head when the founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska is quizzed by a stranger...

  • January 16, 2020

    Brain Game 'One Heck of a Reminder' of Teachers' Role in Building Children's Brains

    On a recent morning, the Mount View Elementary School principal and four of her teachers gather around a table and stare down at the imaginary student they have just created for a game meant to help them better understand their real students...

  • December 17, 2019

    Under Superintendents' Plan, School Is Like a 'Big Family' Helping Mom and Her 3-Year-Old

    The mother and daughter reach the bus stop just after dawn each school morning. On some mornings, like this one, it snows and the No. 14 bus is late. Sometimes it takes Shana Wilkins and her 3-year-old, Artellia, an hour and a half to get from their home to 30th and Ames, the temporary location of Pinewood Elementary. It doesn't matter...

  • December 10, 2019

    Nebraska Needs to Solve Its Early Childhood Conundrum

    It is midmorning in Miss Chelsea's classroom. Time to paint. The eight infants and toddlers in Chelsea Perry's class at Omaha's Child Saving Institute get out the paints and some large Lego blocks and begin to stamp their papers with swirls of color. These budding Picassos range in age from 9 months to 3 years...

  • October 28, 2019

    The Audacious One: After 50 Years in the Field, Sam Meisels Is Taking a Big Swing at Solving Some of Early Childhood's Biggest Problems

    Sam Meisels's face is flushed. His tie is slightly askew. He's nearing the end of a speech to state board of education leaders from across the United States. His voice is rising...

  • September 23, 2019

    Cattle Ranchers, Police Chiefs, and Business Leaders: An Unlikely Group of Allies is Fighting for Early Childhood Education

    The police chief came because he can't forget the family he once knew too well. The father of the family sold drugs. Bryan Waugh, then an Omaha narcotics detective, would often go to his house to arrest him. When he did, he would sometimes see children in the home...

  • September 13, 2019

    Nebraska's Early Childhood Teachers Love Their Jobs, But They Can't Afford Them—and It's Hurting Nebraska
  • August 20, 2019

    A 'Godmother' of Early Childhood Education Sees Progress, Potential
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