Start Early. Start well.

Matthew Hansen Columns

Matthew Hansen, an award-winning Nebraska columnist, is now a managing editor at the Buffett Institute. He is tasked with telling the stories of the Institute's work and early childhood care and education in Nebraska. On this page, which will soon be redesigned and named, you will find columns, interviews, videos, and photos 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.

Read about Matthew's hiring.


  • 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 21, 2019

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