Quality childcare choices: a brief review of options


How do you decide where to send your child for preschool child care? With multiple choices available, you will want to take the time to find what best fits your needs and those of your family. We looked into three options that can help you decide: Way to Grow, KinderCare, and PICA Head Start. Each organization provides the community with many opportunities to meet family needs.

Way to Grow

Way to Grow (WTG) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization led by CEO Carolyn Smallwood for the last 13 years. What began in 1989 as a partnership with the Minneapolis mayor’s office, Honeywell and United Way is now a leader in early learning for children-centered programming serving over 67,000 parents and children.

Smallwood has a degree in marketing and finance from the University of St. Thomas; she has worked in corporate settings with US Bancorp and ADC Telecommunications. She said she feels blessed to be leading her second nonprofit, Way to Grow.

When she started with Way to Grow, it connected families with basic services such as food, clothing, housing and medical. But, said Smallwood, “We wanted to figure out a way to make a bigger impact in the community.”

In 2005, WTG took on a more holistic approach with the Great by Eight program, providing home visits centering on literacy, math and health curriculum, parent education, child development and school expectations.

Great by Eight is also helps families locate health and wellness education; provides educational supports for early childhood and elementary-age youth; offers teen parenting support services; and  opportunities for parents to be a part of their child’s development.

When asked why she does what she does, Smallwood replied, “First, the reason why I am here is because I am very passionate about children obtaining a great education so [that] they can be successful in their lives. Secondly, I believe I was actually placed here by the Divine to be a part of this community to help and serve.”


KinderCare is another preschool option for families. It is a franchise operation with locations nationwide. Shawnda Dozie has led KinderCare’s downtown St. Paul location for two years. She has an associate degree in child development and is working on her bachelor of education degree.

Dozie said, “[We make] sure this is a great place for children, ensuring they are safe here, they are learning here, and the families grow each day as well as the children in a healthy, safe way.

“We have different resources from inclusion services to helping children with behavior and positive child guidance. We also have children [who] have [different medical needs] and we put different plans in place to help children meet their specific needs.

“The KinderCare curriculum includes social and emotional skills, cognitive development, art, writing, math and science. They also have cooking classes and phonics programs to help foster the child’s independence while meeting their progress and growth.

When asked what distinguishes KinderCare from other programs, Dozie said, “I would say our curriculum, because it just guides them to give them [valuable] information for our families and children to make sure that we prepare them for the next step in their life’s journeys.”

PICA Headstart

A third option is PICA Head Start, founded in 1969. Rico Alexander is Head Start’s director of Parents in Community Action (PICA). PICA Head Start is a private nonprofit organization covering most of Hennepin County with 12 locations and serving nearly 2,500 children and families. Alexander has worked with PICA for 24 years and has been the director for nine years.

PICA Head Start is parent-driven and family-focused, offering child-centered programs. “We provide comprehensive services to children and families. Families are coming in with more needs.”

Alexander pointed out how children are hungry, but parents often don’t have the resources to feed their children throughout the month. “Families are hungrier toward the end of the month. [With the population we serve], we see this all throughout the month. Now poverty is deepening. Because we are a program that takes a comprehensive approach, we have provided a food shelf monthly.”

PICA Head Start also provides parent training programs, child development, clerical, and transportation work training programs, so parents can have access to the trades. With PICA, parents can enroll children in preschool care. Parents can also enroll in programs to assist parent and child concurrently.

PICA has teachers in the classrooms who resemble the children they serve. “We believe that success is relationship-based. We believe to do that you must have people in the classroom who look like you, people who understand your culture… Head Start was founded to serve and meet the needs of low-income children and their families.”

Alexander shared how important it is for people to know how PICA serves the comprehensive needs of the family. “We get to know them one-on-one and work with them to create a plan that is sustainable for the [long term] holistic health of the family.”

Our diverse community has many childcare choices for families. Way to Grow, Kindercare, and PICA Head Start all provide the community with opportunities to meet family needs holistically. These programs not only provide childcare and preschool services, they also provide opportunities for families to grow together.

Whether you are looking for home visits, parent education, social skills development, or access to resources, preschools in Minnesota are a good place to start before your child starts kindergarten.


For more information, visit the programs’ websites at Way to Grow (waytogrow.org), KinderCare (kindercare.com) and PICA Head Start (picaheadstart.org).

Brandi Phillips welcomes reader comments to bphillips@spokesman-recorder.com.