Project for Babies Aids Pre-K Child Development

Throughout the first years of life, infants and toddlers will undergo rapid social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. Intuitively we know that early experience shapes development, but neuroscience shows that 85% of development will happen in the first three years of life. Because this time is so critical, the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) partners with the Project for Babies to improve the health and developmental outcomes for pre-K children (ages 0-5), with special attention to the impact of early experiences. A special initiative of the Minnesota Community Foundation, the Project for Babies began with support from the Bush Foundation. The Project for Babies moved to the University of Minnesota CEHD in July 2011.

State policy should reflect what we know about pre-k child development and adult outcomes. So we work with leading researchers at the University to educate legislators and other state, county, philanthropic, tribal and community leaders on the science of development. Our purpose is to share findings from child development research, including the impact of adverse childhood experiences and explore the implications for policy and practice.

The Project for Babies conducts work with multiple partners* including the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Through the project, Zero to Three Research to Policy (part of the Minnesota Project for Babies) CDF-Minnesota conducted research and published reports on topics like maternal depression and the wellbeing of vulnerable infants and toddlers. As these reports show, many infants and toddlers experience toxic levels of stress in their brains and bodies —sometimes beginning before they are born—making it difficult or even impossible for them to grow to their full potential. In Minnesota, 10% of new moms report serious depressive symptoms the first year of their child’s birth. Low income women, women of color and women with less education are two times as likely to report these symptoms. The Zero to Three research on maternal depression provides ways to decrease its prevalence and impact in Minnesota. It also shows that preventive intervention is more efficient and produces a better outcome than later remedies.

Tips for Parents and Caregivers to Improve pre-K kids’ health and development

  1. From my work, I know many new parents feel a sense of isolation and even hopelessness. If you are a parent or caregiver under stress, outside support is essential. Know that it’s perfectly OK to ask for help or acknowledge a problem. Visit the Parents Know website at Minnesota Department of Education.
  2. I recommend the resource, Mom Enough,from Dr. Marti Erickson and Erin Erickson, which confronts the daily joys and struggles of helping kids grow up well and offers a number of child development resources. I also recommend The Happiest Baby on the Block from Dr. Harvey Karp, nationally renowned pediatrician and child development specialist.
  3. Check out Questions About Kids from the CEED. These info sheets provide answers to important questions that parents and caregivers have on the psychological development of infants and toddlers. They are written by experts at CEHD UMN and are short and easy to read. Some are available in Spanish, Somali, and/or Hmong.

Early experiences affect the development of the brain and lay the foundation for intelligence, emotional health and social development. Do all you can to learn, if you’re involved in the life of an infant or toddler.


Next week we’ll share more about CEED’s infant and early childhood mental health program. Subscribe to our blog for the latest in education and human development research.

*Project for Babies partners include: the Children’s Defense Fund, Council of State Governments, Frameworks Institute, Early Childhood Resource and Training Center, Harris Program at the University of Minnesota, Wilder Research, tribal entities, and consultants David Cournoyer and Sheila Kiscaden.

Jane Kretzmann

About the Author

Jane Kretzmann

  • Senior Fellow
  • Center for Early Education and Development
  • College of Education and Human Development
  • University of Minnesota

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