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.


  • August 28, 2023

    She Started a Preschool in a Nursing Home. Now National Teacher of the Year Brings Unity Message to Thriving Children Conference

    When Tabatha Rosproy was named National Teacher of the Year in 2020, she became the first early childhood educator to receive that honor. “I did not take that lightly. It meant to me that early childhood educators were beginning to get some of the recognition and respect that our K–12 counterparts had been given,” she said. “It’s really exciting for me to bear witness to the beautiful and amazing, important, valuable work that is happening from the ages of zero to 5.” Rosproy said the award also made her reflect on her own journey, the people and programs that had helped her. And she thought of the preschool classroom she helped establish in a Winfield, Kansas, nursing home.  

  • August 14, 2023

    Our Economy Doesn't Work Without the Early Childhood Workforce, Thriving Children Speaker Says

    There are more than 900,000 child care workers across the United States. Think of the impact they have on the millions of young children and families they serve.  Trusted early educators allow parents to work. They help businesses run at full speed. As small business owners, they invest their dollars right back into their communities. And, Buffett Early Childhood Institute Executive Director Walter Gilliam argues, the early childhood workforce just might be the linchpin to our country’s economic recovery post-pandemic. 

  • August 4, 2023

    Homelessness Is Traumatic for Families and Children. This Shelter's Plan to Help: Provide Child Care

    For families experiencing homelessness, it’s easy to get stuck in a loop of hardship and instability. Without reliable, affordable child care, parents can’t get a job. Without a job, they can’t secure housing. Without quality child care, children lack the developmental support they need. “It just feels like a never-ending cycle,” said Ashley Flater, the executive director of the MICAH House homeless shelter in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  MICAH House wants to break that cycle by providing its clients with a valuable resource: on-site, high-quality child care.  

  • June 29, 2023

    Professional Development Resources Created by Nebraska Teachers, for Nebraska Teachers

    It's a Saturday in May, and more than a dozen early educators have given up their weekend morning to share and fine-tune ideas to help their fellow educators and the children they serve. They aren't just going through the motions. They are fully engaged. They are, in the words of Buffett Early Childhood Institute professional learning specialist Melissa Cleaver, "buzzing." "There's always great energy and just a buzz. Everyone's just buzzing to do the work," Cleaver said. The 14 Omaha-area early educators are part of a second Essential Child Experiences Toolkit workgroup.

  • April 18, 2023

    Spreadsheets, Waitlists, and Camp Fees: Welcome to the Summer Care Scramble

    Valerie Kochevar set an alarm for 10 a.m., took a deep breath, and logged on.  She wasn’t competing with thousands to buy coveted concert tickets for Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, or Taylor Swift.  She was trying to snag something that can prove even more elusive and in-demand for working parents: summer camp spots for her two boys. “I don’t think my husband understood,” she said. “It’s Feb. 10, we need to have our summer plan.”  Summer camp might conjure idyllic scenes of canoeing and campfires. But for many modern families, summer camps are actually summer care, a way to cobble together child care for school-aged kids while their parents work. 

  • April 3, 2023

    Celebrate an 'I Love You' Ritual for Week of the Young Child

    It started with a smash cake when she turned 1. A layered sponge cake with pink frosting that started dark on the top and gradually got to light pink toward the bottom. Whipping cream was sandwiched between each layer. This year I will be making my child a frozen vanilla cream cake topped with fresh strawberries from a recipe I found in Nebraskaland magazine. Every year it is a different recipe, but the ritual remains. A custom cake is one of the “I love you” rituals I do with my child to show I care about her. As early childhood professionals, we can show children and their families love, too. “I love you” rituals can be the way we create our curriculum, play, design our environments, and more. The first week in April we have a ritual that shows children how much we love them when communities celebrate Week of the Young Child.

  • March 30, 2023

    Graduate Scholars Program Funds UNL Student's Research Into Safety of Plastic Baby Products

    Plastic is everywhere around us. Its many advantages—it’s cheap, extremely versatile, strong, and lightweight—have led to its widespread adoption in many of the products we use every day. More than 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A lot of that plastic gets thrown away. As plastic deteriorates, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces—eventually microplastics and even nanoplastic particles much too small to be seen by the naked eye. Those particles can be ingested in the food we eat, the water we drink, or the air we breathe. And what about the plastic products that directly come in contact with our food? Is there any risk of ingestion of plastic particles? Is there any health risk? That’s what an engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is trying to find out.

  • March 21, 2023

    Guide Helps Parents and Caregivers Find Quality Child Care

    Jessica Calvi remembers what it was like, scrambling to find what she hoped would be a safe and welcoming child care program for her son Valentino. He was born six weeks early and spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit before she and her husband could take him home. His unexpected arrival led her and her husband to search endlessly for child care before their parental leave ended. Jessica said she contacted about 30 child care centers in Lincoln to check for vacancies. “It was very shocking to see how long waitlists were,” she said. “I cannot emphasize enough how much stress that caused." 

  • March 15, 2023

    At UNL, Graduate Scholars Program Funds Research Into a Vexing Problem—Childhood Food Allergies

    More than 5 million children in the United States suffer from food allergies, surveys suggest, requiring parents and children alike to be vigilant about ingesting common foods and ingredients like milk, peanut butter, eggs, and wheat that can trigger uncomfortable and even fatal allergic reactions.  There are few treatments available, and the prevalence of food allergies in children has only increased over the last few decades.  Could answers—and potential treatments—lie in babies’ gut bacteria?  Morgan Cade, a doctoral student in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is studying how bacteria specially suited for infants’ intestinal tracts could help prevent or lessen the severity of food allergies. 

  • March 9, 2023

    Helping Kids Get the Wiggles Out: UNO Graduate Scholar Studying How to Increase Physical Activity in Early Childhood Classrooms

    As a college student in Kearney, J.P. Rech led a physical education program for preschoolers. He knows firsthand that kids in the 3- to 6-year-old age range can be high-energy and rambunctious. But while parents and educators might assume that younger children are blowing off plenty of energy by running around and playing, the hard truth is that most are not active enough, said Rech, now a doctoral student in the School of Health and Kinesiology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

  • March 8, 2023

    Graduate Scholars Program Funds UNL Student’s Research Into Healthy Eating in Child Care Settings

    Parents know that getting young children to eat their vegetables and other healthy foods can be a challenge. Child care providers know it, too. Research shows that preschool-aged children’s dietary intake, especially for fruits and vegetables, does not meet nutritional recommendations. However, researchers have found that positive home mealtime emotional climate—which involves expressions of positive emotion, warm or nurturing interpersonal dynamics, high levels of group cohesion or enjoyment, and positive communication about food—has been associated with higher consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food. Jasmin Smith, a doctoral student in the Department of Child, Youth, and Family Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is looking to study mealtime emotional climate in the child care setting.

  • February 17, 2023

    'Helping All Kids Fulfill Their Potential': Sam Meisels Retires After Long Career in Early Childhood Education

    A groundbreaking new television show called “Sesame Street” was just being developed, with furry Muppets teaching kids to count and otherworldly characters talking about the letter of the day. Head Start, a new program serving preschool-aged children of families living in poverty, had launched and was beginning to capture the nation’s attention. And in 1960s Boston, a young educator and graduate student named Sam Meisels was soaking it all in, inspired by the new science, theories, and energy being devoted to how young children learn—and why it was important to set them up for success early.

  • February 9, 2023

    Bite-Sized Learning: An Innovative New Approach to Professional Development

    Early childhood educators are not immune to the teacher shortage crisis facing elementary and secondary teachers in Nebraska and beyond. School districts and child care facilities are struggling to staff classrooms, substitute teachers are hard to find, and some of the teachers that remain are experiencing burnout. Educators are working at maximum capacity. As an institute that prioritizes the well-being of early childhood professionals, we want to be responsive to the needs of the workforce—and that’s why we decided to revamp our Professional Development for All (PD for All) offerings for 2022-23.

  • February 3, 2023

    Mom Shares How Nebraska Program Helped Her Find Child Care for Her Daughter

    Tosha Wright, an Omaha mom who works outside of her home while raising a 16-year-old and a 4-year-old, is familiar with the struggle of finding child care. She applied for jobs to support her family and pay for child care—her youngest child loves school. But despite all her efforts, her child care search still wasn’t panning out. A part-time job didn’t pay enough. She ran into roadblocks when seeking state assistance. “So, it was like I was getting hired, but I couldn't start because I will have to pay out of my pocket for child care fees, and I couldn't afford that,” she says. Wright was referred to the Coordinated Enrollment Pilot Program, which assists Nebraska parents in accessing quality child care and connects them to additional resources.

  • December 22, 2022

    'It Brought Me Back to My Purpose With Children': Teachers Examine Learning Through the Eyes of the Child

    Nikki Wilson’s day-to-day work as a child care owner and director at TenderAcres in La Vista often revolves around operations—budgets, staffing, logistics. But working on the Essential Child Experiences Toolkit left her feeling like she had returned to her roots—teaching and caring for young children. “It brought me back to my purpose with children,” she said. For the past year, 24 early educators and instructional leaders from the Omaha metro area have gathered once a month on Saturdays, using their expertise to create new resources for classroom instruction.

  • December 9, 2022

    Ralston's Youngest Learners Can Play, Get Exposure to School at Meet-ups

    Two-year-old Theodore Ruckman spends a lot of time with adults. He’s an only child and lives with his grandparents. Like many toddlers, learning to share his toys is a work in progress. His communication style skews a little more toward noises than fully formed words. “At home he just has us,” said grandmother Kate Ruckman. “He really doesn’t have other kids to play with, so he tends to play a little rougher.” But for the past six months or so, Theodore and his grandmother have been getting some much-needed socialization time with a group of fellow toddlers and their families organized by Mockingbird Elementary in Ralston Public Schools.

  • October 12, 2022

    From Staff Member to the Classroom: Dedicated Art Teacher Shares His 15-Year Journey and Passion for Educating Young Learners 

    If you were to walk into Raydell Cordell III's classroom, you would see an array of colorful children's art and students captivated by the excitement and joy he incorporates in his teaching practices. “That’s what we’re going to do today, Kindergarten friends, we’re going to actually use the art materials,” he says. Working with students has been his lifelong dream since he was 10 years old, and he doesn’t take for granted the position he holds as an educator in his hometown of Omaha. 

  • Sept. 7, 2022

    Learning Through Family Engagement, Partnership, and Practice

    An eager father holds his baby son in his arms while watching his oldest climb up and down the red jungle gym at the park. “Look at brother,” the dad says while gripping the youngest tight. The baby is also reaching for the bar handles on the playground set, concentrating on what is in front of him. “You can do it too, buddy,” he says, holding the little one and encouraging him to mimic his older brother. This simple play experience is an example of the “grasp and grab” concept on the parent curriculum site, ReadyRosie. It showcases the importance of hand-eye coordination for babies, which later in life is essential for play and skills like getting dressed, picking up toys, and self-feeding. ReadyRosie is a national family engagement resource available in Nebraska to serve children from birth through elementary school.

  • Sept. 6, 2022

    Thriving Children Speaker Says U.S. Can Stay Competitive by Investing in Children

    In 2021, the New York Times published a startling bar graph showing how much governments across the globe spend on care for young children. Norway topped the list, spending, on average, nearly $30,000 per child each year. Where was the United States? All the way at the bottom, below Chile, Slovenia, Germany, Australia, and a lengthy list of other countries that invest more in early childhood care and education. By comparison, the U.S. spends about $500 per child annually.

  • August 29, 2022

    'Education Begins on the First Day of Life,' Says Surgeon Who Wants to Build Kids' Brainpower

    When Dr. Dana Suskind takes a child from the arms of their worried parents and heads into the operating room, she knows the great responsibility of performing surgery on the delicate structure of the ear won’t fall on her alone. To conduct cochlear implant surgeries, the pediatric surgeon relies on a team. Nurses. An anesthesiologist. A surgical technician. Everyone pitches in and has a critical role to play checking instruments or monitoring vital signs. All work together for the good of their tiny patient. So why, she wonders, are parents in America too often left to their own devices when it comes to their important job of raising young children?

  • August 22, 2022

    Westside Offers Fun, Support for Families at Back-to-School Event

    Pamela Young breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the booth offering free haircuts at Westside Community Schools’ back-to-school celebration. She’s been busy getting three kids ready for elementary and middle school, so plans to get 10-year-old Asher a back-to-school trim had gotten lost in the shuffle. Hairstylist AmberRose Shaske, a Westgate Elementary parent, came to the rescue, giving Asher a few snips so he can start the school year looking good.

  • August 11, 2022

    UNK Professor Marisa Macy Is New Buffett Institute Community Chair

    Marisa Macy has spent her professional life on the move. The Seattle native has worked all over the country—Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, and now Nebraska. She and her family were living in Orlando when the Cille and Ron Williams Chair of Early Childhood Education opened at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Quarantined at home during the pandemic, she interviewed remotely and accepted the job without visiting the state. After a three-day drive, they arrived last August at what Macy describes as her dream job, a place where she can put down roots.

  • August 5, 2022

    Home Visiting Program Is Getting More Diverse Books Into the Hands of Millard Families

    The feedback from families is encouraging. Given books to read to their young children by home visitors from Millard Public Schools, several parents have noted the engaging storylines, the diverse characters, and how their children can relate to what they see on the page. “I love that my daughter can see another little girl that looks like her in this book,” one wrote...

  • July 27, 2022

    Educare Winnebago Teachers Sharing Tribal Language With Young Children

    Years ago, when federal assimilation policies ruled the day, Amy LaPointe’s great-grandmother risked punishment, even beatings, if she attempted to speak the Ho-Chunk language of her Winnebago Tribe. But inside Educare Winnebago in northeast Nebraska on a hot July evening, LaPointe, the education director for the Winnebago Tribe, is watching about one dozen early childhood teachers and community members recite the once-forbidden Ho-Chunk words. The group is carefully practicing their pronunciation, forging ahead and laughing even when they stumble.

  • May 26, 2022

    Setting the Stage for Kindergarten: Nebraska Launches New Transition Toolkit

    It’s the first day of Kindergarten—kids get dropped off at school, where they meet other children for the first time, encounter new teachers, and experience a brand-new schedule and structure—all in a setting that is likely unfamiliar to them. This transition can be a whirlwind for children, families, and educators. The Nebraska Transition to Kindergarten Toolkit and Resource Guide was created to support the process between preschool and Kindergarten. It’s a new guide for families, school district staff and Kindergarten teachers, as well as early child care professionals.

  • May 24, 2022

    COVID and Care for Youngest Nebraskans

    As the director of a child care program trying to hire staff, Dana Sutton faces a formidable foe: the Costco warehouse 10 minutes away. Sutton has worked in child care for two decades. She can’t remember a job market as bad as last year’s. At Zac’s Place at Cornerstone Christian Church in Lincoln, several workers couldn’t handle the stress of caring for children whose worlds were turned upside down by a pandemic. Other applicants were lured away by better pay, like Costco’s offer of roughly $18 per hour. “As a small business, I can’t do that,” Sutton said.

  • April 20, 2022

    Have Questions About Your Child's Development? 'Help Me Grow' Offers Free Support

    Parents whose children struggle with early learning or show signs of behavioral issues or developmental delays may not know where to turn. Or they may face barriers to making sure their needs are being met and finding resources. One organization wants to help. Help Me Grow is working to assure families that children can thrive regardless of their developmental stage. The national organization, piloted in Nebraska, acts as a framework and connection point for families and lives out its mission to “nurture every child on the path of success.”

  • April 12, 2022

    The 'Workforce Behind the Workforce' Needs Our Help

    Early childhood educators are sometimes called “the workforce behind the workforce.” Parents can’t work if they don’t have loving, trusted care for their children. Businesses can’t run at full speed if their workers don’t have reliable child care. Communities can’t thrive when young families leave because there are no child care providers or preschools nearby. Early childhood professionals provide a critical foundation for child development and the economy. The health care providers, grocery store workers, and teachers that we relied upon during the pandemic? Child care providers allowed them to keep working their essential jobs, secure in the knowledge that their kids were being cared for, taught, and nurtured.

  • March 25, 2022

    Program Provides Hands-on Strategies to Promote Relationships Between Children, Educators, and Parents

    Nebraska parents and families deserve the best, especially when it comes to their children. The Preschool Development Grant (PDG), a multi-year, statewide effort funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has become a catalyst for change, opportunity, and growth in early childhood care and education. The grant facilitated an updated version of Learning Begins at Birth, a booklet with information and resources for new parents and families.

  • Feb. 22, 2022

    Information Booklet on Child Development Is a Great Resource for Nebraska Parents

    Nebraska parents and families deserve the best, especially when it comes to their children. The Preschool Development Grant (PDG), a multi-year, statewide effort funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has become a catalyst for change, opportunity, and growth in early childhood care and education. The grant facilitated an updated version of Learning Begins at Birth, a booklet with information and resources for new parents and families.

  • Feb. 16, 2022

    Pandemic Brings Renewed Emphasis on Mental, Physical, and Emotional Needs of Educators

    A funny thing happened when staff at several Educare schools were trained to promote mindfulness and executive function in kids. It wasn't just the 3- and 4-year-olds who benefited from "belly breaths" and exercises to center their mind and focus. There was a spillover effect. Early childhood teachers and staff who were teaching kids to pause, take deep breaths, and relax their muscles realized the same strategies worked on adults.

  • Jan. 24, 2022

    Graduate Scholars Program Funds UNL Researchers Studying Children's Sleep Problems, Healthy Eating

    Two University of Nebraska-Lincoln doctoral students are researching some of the biggest battlegrounds for parents and caregivers of young children: sleep and convincing kids to eat their vegetables. Anna Johnson and Saima Hasnin are 2021-22 recipients of Graduate Scholars fellowships from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska.

  • Jan. 24, 2022

    Institute Fellowship Supports UNMC Student's Research Into Mental Health of New Mothers

    As a nurse in an Omaha hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, Morgan Staver witnessed just how difficult a sick baby's prolonged hospital stay could be for families, who often cycled through feelings of guilt and worry. "There was a lot of anxiety, trauma, post-traumatic stress, just a lot of other mental health issues that we weren't necessarily able to catch," she said. "And so I dug into the research, and I decided that I wanted to be a person who would be driving the research that drives the evidence-based care."

  • Jan. 6, 2022

    Federal Money Is Available to Help the Struggling Child Care System. Investing in the Early Childhood Workforce Can Pay Off Long-Term.

    Susan Sarver and Cathey Huddleston-Casas envision the early childhood system as a quilt. Soft, rubbed worn by love and use, but fraying at the seams. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, child care workers dealt with low pay. High turnover. Less respect. The pandemic added more strain, leading to further unraveling. How do we piece this quilt back together? How can we make it stronger?

  • 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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