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Terrie Rose and Baby’s Space model how to raise kids from a child’s point of view

“The brain research is clear: Parents matter, early experiences matter in what we become as adults,” says child-development specialist Terrie Rose.

“The ability to regulate emotions, to make friends, to transition from one subject to the next; these are the things that a child needs to succeed not only in school but throughout life,” says Baby's Space founder Terrie Rose.
Courtesy of Baby's Space

While covering important events in our civic and cultural life, journalists typically focus on facts, controversies, issues and their impact. They rarely look through the lens of understanding leaders and leadership: who is leading the causes and creating change, how those leaders were motivated to tackle tough problems and create opportunities for their communities, and how they worked through the challenges that arose.

In this series, “Driving Change: A Lens on Leadership,” MinnPost is profiling such leaders in order to provide new insights — and, we hope in some cases, inspiration — for our readers. Each profile is paired with comments from a leadership expert. (See ” ‘Driving Change’ panel: Rose uses 21st century tactics to lead.”) The project is made possible by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

Terrie Rose calls herself a “baby geek,” and that’s exactly what she is. She has spent 30 years studying babies, and has developed a unique system to improve the way we rear our children. More impressive, she has put these methods successfully into practice and created a model that others can learn from.

And here’s the kicker: The methods are developed from the baby’s point of view.

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“It really makes a lot of sense when you look at it from the child’s point of view,” Rose says. She offers an example: “Say you are a parent starting at a new child care center and you want to ‘drop and dash’ because you know your toddler will cry when he sees you leave. So you wait until he’s interested in something and you leave. From the child’s point of view, his parent has simply vanished. There was no transition. It’s very important to teach adults about transitions and saying goodbye and letting the child be reassured you will return.”

Separation and transition are keys to emotional development, Rose says. Without the ability to separate effectively, kindergarten can become a nightmare for the child, teacher and parent. A good child care system works with parents and children on separation along with the other necessities of emotional – as well as intellectual and physical – development.

“The ability to regulate emotions, to make friends, to transition from one subject to the next; these are the things that a child needs to succeed not only in school but throughout life,” Rose says.

“The brain research is clear: Parents matter, early experiences matter in what we become as adults. Why wouldn’t we be paying attention to babies?”

A place to help babies and parents

Rose has created Baby’s Space, which can best be described as a neighborhood-based care center for children from birth to age 8 and their parents. The child-to-staff ratio is kept well below the state mandated one staff member to seven toddlers or one staff member to 10 preschoolers.

It’s important to keep the child-to-staff ratio low, she says, because if a day-care provider is in charge of too many children, the provider will make unrealistic demands of the children.

“If you have seven 2-year-olds and one staffer, that person is going to need those children to stand in line, work with others, wait their turn – in other words, act like kindergartners when they’re only 2 years old.”

Knowing what is age appropriate not only requires knowledge of child development; it requires empathy. And according to Glenace Edwall, the director of the Child Mental Health Division at the state Department of Human ServicesRose has it in spades.

“Nobody makes you get inside a baby’s head the way Terrie does,” Edwall says. “She has extraordinary empathy for those who don’t have voices for themselves.”

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The idea for Baby’s Space was an evolution for Rose. She graduated from high school in Denver and earned her bachelor’s degree in child development from Tufts University in Massachusetts. She received her doctorate in child psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1990. Her children were born in 1989, 1990 and 1992, so she stayed at home with them while working as a freelance statistician. One of her projects was to help develop a model for home visits for mothers who used alcohol or drugs when they were pregnant.

While describing the need for Baby’s Space, Rose pauses for a moment to put the issue into a larger context. In the 1960s, the War on Poverty included the creation of Head Start, a half-day program based on the idea that even though one parent was still at home, children 3 years old and older could benefit from some help with nutrition, health care and education to make them ready for school. Not a bad plan, Rose says.

In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. “The Welfare to Work program of the 1990s has changed our culture,” Rose says. “We’d like to think someone is at home with the children, but that’s almost never the case.” The legislation was a way to get parents to work, which, Rose points out, is a parent-work engagement strategy, not a child-development strategy. 

In 1995, after her youngest was in kindergarten, Rose took a job in program development at the Community University Health Care Center at the University of Minnesota. She used that experience to help develop the Baby’s Space model. Then she was hired as director of the Harris Center for Infant and Toddler Training at the U, where she was engaged in training professionals and further developed her ideas for Baby’s Space.

In 1999, she gathered a group of nine organizations to help her implement the model she had created for infants and toddlers, and looked for a place to open shop. “Space opened up in the Little Earth Neighborhood Learning Center (in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis). Baby’s Space was in business.”

In the early 2000s, the Educare program tried to organize in the Twin Cities. Educare uses money from philanthropists, foundations and the public to create early-learning centers that tackle the achievement gap and poverty. As director of the Harris Center, Rose was aware of the group’s intentions. She saw Educare as a way to increase Baby’s Space’s network, funding base and outreach.  “But the idea never made it to the Educare table,” she says. In any event, Educare never took root in Minnesota, although it is active elsewhere in the U.S.

terrie rose with baby
Courtesy of Baby’s Space
Baby’s Space is a neighborhood-based care center for children from birth to age 8 and their parents.

But Rose knew the Baby’s Space idea was too good to let it go. She decided to make a complete commitment to the plan so she quit her comfortable, secure job at the Harris Center (“You know, nobody ever leaves the university,” she says), and dove full time into Baby’s Space.

Making Baby’s Space financially viable

From the first, Baby’s Space was meant to provide care from the child’s point of view. The Phillips neighborhood “is an area of incredible violence, both then and now,” Rose says. “We’ve had several parents who have been murdered, OD’d on drugs or who are in prison. This changes the way both a parent and a child trusts, engages and reacts to other people, so our consistently engaged, high-quality center is a place where parents can count on finding proper care for their children.”

Today, there are about 60 preschoolers at Little Earth with about 20 staff, for a three-to-one student-to-staff ratio. About 75 percent of the staff are Native Americans who live nearby and have children in Baby’s Space, Rose says.

The road to success wasn’t immediate. While the Baby’s Space model is effective at the Little Earth center, Rose’s idea that other child-care centers would buy into the program never happened. She thinks there are two reasons. The first is that parents are very attached to their child-care providers and the methods they use, despite the existence of more effective models.

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“Frankly, parents don’t want to hurt their local child-care center director’s feelings by suggesting they try a different method,” she says.

The second reason is that “retraining adults is hard in any occupation, but it’s really difficult in early education,” Rose says. People become day-care providers because it fits their schedule and they enjoy working with children. They accept that there’s little money in the business and they have come to expect very little government oversight. If they have a full roster, there’s little incentive for providers to change their methods.

Time to retool the plan

So, met with underwhelming interest from the day-care community, Rose retooled. First, instead of envisioning Baby’s Space as franchise-style, brick-and-mortar centers with a nameplate, she decided to maintain the center as an example of how her methods can be used — which other early-childhood centers can appropriate and develop in their own time and in ways unique to their specific neighborhoods and clientele.

However, this required stabilizing the center’s finances. Rose spent the next five years shoring up Baby’s Space’s finances. The U of M was Baby’s Space’s fiscal agent from 1999 until 2006, when the center received nonprofit status.

“I’ve spent about five years working almost exclusively on making Baby’s Space financially stable,” she says.

Two alliances are key to its long-term stability. One is with Social Venture Partners Minnesota, which brings donations and, more important, the experience and network of executives at some of Minnesota’s biggest businesses to bear on subjects such as early-childhood education.

The second alliance is with Ashoka, which calls itself “an international association of social engineers.” Begun in India nearly 30 years ago, Ashoka puts prospective fellows through a rigorous professional and ethical vetting process and, if successful, gives them access to a global network of innovators and funders. Rose is one of only about 3,000 Ashoka fellows in its 30-year history, one of about 100 in North America and the only fellow in the United States working on early education, according to Jen Aspengren, Ashoka’s director in the Twin Cities.

“So with these two, I came up with a really strong business model,” Rose says. Baby’s Space is now a $1.5 million organization that looks after about 115 children and their families at two sites – the first site at Little Earth Learning Center is for infants and toddlers, and the second, in space at the former Tuttle Elementary in Northeast Minneapolis, is for elementary school children.

Is the program working? Rose says there are too few students who have come out of the program to cite definitive statistics, but she says that when Minneapolis Public Schools screen kindergartners for their level of school readiness, 90 percent to 100 percent of her students are ready for kindergarten.

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On to the next stage

With Baby’s Space financially stable and showing success, Rose shored up the business’s marketing. She made sure that if any early childhood providers want to use the Baby’s Space model, it would be easy to assimilate and adapt to that center’s individual needs.

“Early-child-care centers have to be neighborhood-based,” Rose says, “and every neighborhood is different. That means the program has to be flexible enough to fit many neighborhood needs.”

She also designed a “hub and spoke” method of fundraising so that one Baby’s Space center would be in charge of funding for, say, six others and would handle back-office tasks such as payroll and accounting, leaving the others to focus only on child care.

Baby’s Space also has developed a line of products that promote emotional as well as academic readiness for school.

“Early-education teachers are well skilled at academic readiness, so we provide products that help with emotional readiness,” Rose says. Say a teacher is having her class make snow pudding and is using the recipe as an exercise in math and reading. The Baby’s Space material shows teachers how to  use the same exercise to help kids learn how to share, work with others and control their emotions – all crucial to school success.

The next target

Rose has her sights set on her next target: early-childhood mental health. She has written a book “which will be titled ‘Emotional Health,’ subtitle to be determined,” she says, and it will be released this summer as an e-book through

“There are a lot of books that focus on the ABCs, but kindergarten teachers need children who pay attention and are ready to learn and get along with other kids. This book will be about working with kids and getting them ready for school.”

Rose also has set her sights set on making mental-health screening available in early childhood. “I want a model that is timely and effective and accessible, like going to the doctor to check for an ear infection,” she says.

True to her lifelong goals, Rose insists that the screenings see things from the child’s perspective. She offers this true story from her upcoming book:

“There is a boy who’s two and a half years old and his mother is pregnant. When the baby is due, the parents leave in the middle of the night to go to the hospital and leave the boy with a neighbor. The baby develops spinal meningitis and the baby and parents go away to a hospital for three and a half weeks. No one tells the boy what’s going on, everyone speaks in hushed tones, and he gets passed from house to house until his parents come back home. Now they’re back, but dad has to go to work and mom has a very ill infant to deal with, and the boy needs attention – he wants to be held all the time and he’s not toilet trained anymore. What does everyone tell the two year old? ‘We need you to be a big boy now.’ By the time he’s five, he’s been kicked out of two child-care centers and he’s being evaluated for special education. He had no place to go, no one to ask him how he was feeling, no one to look at the situation from his point of view.”

The story illustrates Rose’s philosophy and her new goal:

“I want parents to get the tools they need to be the best advocates for their child’s mental health at an early age so they can avoid bigger problems later in life.”