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Daycare in a Box: More Than Just Babysitting

Provide online mentoring and effective content to help transform the practice of family childcare providers.

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Through discussions with both representatives of childcare licensing agencies and samplings of family childcare providers, the need for ensuring we are framing this initiative in collaboration with and not to the providers was made very clear. As a result, we re-thought and re-designed two components: (1) the online mentoring component was re-shaped to ensure that the providers themselves could, over time, take on the critical role of peer mentoring, enabling peer leadership, community-building, and sustainability beyond the funded portion of this work; and (2) activities and materials were re-thought to ensure cultural relevance and forge stronger links between the homes of the children and their childcare programs. While follow up discussions indicate both providers and licensers believe these changes addressed their concerns, we anticipate additional refinements as we continue to meet with stakeholders.

Name or Organization

Lead Organization:
The Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN).

Partners include non-profit organizations (You Tell Me Stories), for profit organizations (Mentored), representatives of the NYC Department of Health, and early childhood university specialists.


HITN’s home office is on Brooklyn, NY, with additional offices on Washington, DC, Miami, FL, and San Juan Puerto Rico.

HITN’s broadcast signal reaches 44 million homes across the US and in Puerto Rico. Our online and on the ground initiatives are national, including Puerto Rico.

Our initial work will focus providers in low income communities in New York City, with an emphasis on communities with large Hispanic populations, those most likely to use informal childcare arrangements.

What is your stage of development?

  • New Innovator, with less than one year of experience in ECD


  • Non - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Provide online mentoring and effective content to help transform the practice of family childcare providers.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

High quality infant and toddler care is more than babysitting. Optimally, it supports the healthy brain development that levels the playing field and ensures all children are school-ready. But this requires providers who both understand and can intentionally shape experiences shown to enhance brain development. We support this by providing free access to these activities, to the resources necessary to implement them, and to mentoring support that shatters isolation and enables communication, collaboration and professional growth among the providers

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Family daycare providers, particularly those offering family, friend and neighbor care for infants and toddlers in poor communities, often lack the knowledge and skills to provide early experiences that truly enhance brain development and ensure all children enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and beyond. This situation is further complicated by three facts: (1) the providers, given the nature of their work, are often unavailable for the level of professional learning needed to turn the child’s earliest experiences from babysitting to early learning, (2) the work itself fosters a degree of isolation that inhibits ongoing, informal professional learning and support, and (3) providers, those charged with caring for our most vulnerable children, are grossly underpaid, exacerbating the frustration expressed by so many.

This project focuses on changing providers’ practices by providing: technology-enabled mentoring; free evidence-based activities and materials, in digital, print and hands-on formats, that support early experiences shown to enhance brain development and school readiness; access to virtual communities of providers and mentors to encourage ongoing communication and collaboration; and, leadership opportunities by training some providers as peer leaders and mentors, providing support for others and building sustainability of the initiative.

Together, these will build the capacity of providers to offer higher quality experiences for young children.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Poverty, stress and the resulting impoverished early experiences of young children impacts early brain development and later life outcomes. With almost half of children birth to 3 in care, the quality of their early experiences can level the playing field. Yet national studies indicate a shocking lack of quality in daycare homes, shaped by the providers' lack of sufficient, professional learning opportunities and support to help them provide quality early experiences for young children.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

What if every home-based childcare provider offered infants and toddlers the high quality early experiences shown to enhance brain development, eliminate early learning gaps, ensure school readiness and build the critical foundation for lifelong success? What would this take?

HITN believes it would take an affordable, scalable and replicable approach that respects and incorporates the interests and needs of the practitioner, the family childcare providers, and provides them with the knowledge, skills, materials and support they need to transition their practice. This begins by ensuring the voice of the practitioners is heard as Daycare in a Box is fully developed, implemented, assessed, refined and scaled.

Daycare in a Box is the result of three intersecting events: a federal Ready to Learn grant awarded to HITN in 2010 to develop effective early learning content for preschoolers, their parents and their teachers; the growing sense in communities, including NYC, that Universal PreK was often too little, too late to yield the expected benefits; and the surge of attention to brain development for children birth to three. It was further informed providers and parents at a Head Start conference who made two compelling comments: (1) ‘We are always given ‘ideas’ of things to do with our children, but no one gives us the stuff we need to do it.” and (2) “I try a lot of new ideas, but I never know if I am doing it right. I am on my own all the time.”

From these seeds, HITN decided to turn its efforts to ensuring that young children in care, particularly those in low-income Hispanic communities, would enter kindergarten on a level playing field with their more affluent peers. We knew we would need to leverage technology to do this.

We envision developing and deploying both processes and products to build the capacity of the providers and support them in their critical work of preparing children for school and for life by:

1. Providing mentoring support by using the existing Mentored platform to link experienced child care specialists with providers, at times convenient to both, to help coach and guide them through the transition to highly effective, brain-based practice
2. Building communication and collaboration among the often isolated providers through anytime/anyplace access to the Mentored platform
3. Offering leadership opportunities by training and supporting a cadre of providers as peer coaches, laying a foundation for sustainability
4. Aggregating existing evidence-based materials, such as the You Tell Me Stories app and storybooks, VROOM, and the Too Small to Fail materials, to support evidence-based development experiences
5. Developing, testing and refining new content to promote the physical, cognitive and social-emotional skills critical for success in school and in life
6. “Pushing” daily suggestions, tips and techniques to the cell phones of the providers, incorporating their successful strategies with those from the experts
7. Providing aligned activities and materials for families to use at home
8. Monitoring the readiness of the children in care as they enter kindergarten

Careful integration and ongoing refinement of these eight strategies will, we believe, significantly inform the practice of the providers and provide the early experiences needed to enhance brain development and ensure school readiness.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Beneficiaries of this approach include the family daycare providers, the young children in care, parents and the early childhood field. (1) Providers benefit by: developing the knowledge and skills to re-assess and re-think the childcare experiences they offer; participating in online coaching and mentoring as they try new brain-based and proven strategies, becoming part of a community of practice; and having the opportunity to be peer leaders. (2) The children benefit from the high quality early learning and care offered by the providers that enhances their brain development and helps set them on appositive trajectory of success. (3) Parents benefit by learning about activities and experiences they can provide at home and receiving the materials and implementation support they need to be successful. (4) The early childhood field benefits by learning more about what works with providers and low-income children in care, and can promote and replicate these effective practices.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

As cities and states move towards ubiquity in preschool for all children, there is a concurrent push to provide high quality early learning for younger children, from birth to age three, to ensure a better start and to support working families. Much of this will take place in family daycare.

The impact we envision focuses on the outcomes of this initiative on the children, the providers and the children’s families. The ultimate impact we anticipate is making long-lasting positive changes in outcomes for low income children in family childcare. Our lever of change for this is the impact this initiative will have on the providers’ abilities to offer early experiences that focus squarely on what matters most – brain development and school success. We further expect that success with these cohorts will create the ‘buzz’ necessary to scale effective practices beyond this initiative to the childcare providers and the children they serve across the country.

This will be tracked through an independent third-party evaluator charged with providing formative studies to inform development and summative studies to show impact.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Educators in the K-12 world have long recognized that children who begin school ‘behind’ their peers in the cognitive and social-emotional skills associated with success in school rarely catch up. In too many of these instances, the children are among our most vulnerable, particularly those living in low-income communities.

HITN’s is proposing this innovation to offset the early failure that so often persists throughout a child’s school years. We propose doing this by building and nurturing the capacity of the family childcare providers to offer vulnerable children high quality early experiences. We further propose to do this by leveraging technology on an intentional way that respects the adult learning needs of the provider population. In all instances the focus will be squarely on building provider capacity for one reason – to prevent early failure and improve outcomes for vulnerable children.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

HITN’s project is innovative in three ways:
1. Co-development - Conceived through the voice of practitioners, Daycare in a Box will continue to engage practitioners in designing, developing and prototyping the products and the processes of this initiative. Our experience tells us that there is a wealth of expertise among the providers that often goes unrecognized and untapped. We intend to turn this around by developing with, not just for the providers.
2. Technology –Leveraging technology intentionally to provide knowledge, support, communication and collaboration, while common in other worlds, is not common in the word of family childcare. Leveraging the ubiquity of cell phones, this effort offers both scheduled mentoring sessions and on-demand access to other providers and to content. We further envision encouraging providers to use their phones to capture the children’s activities and share these with their parents.
3. Building on Existing Resources – Content for this effort will rely heavily on some of the incredible materials already in place, developing new content to fill existing gaps. Experts and practitioners will collaboratively review existing content, select content for inclusion, identify gaps and recommend development to address these gaps.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

As a non-commercial, Spanish-language television station, HITN is in a unique position to scale information to existing and/or potential end users. We have discussed, for example, developing a Better Beginnings Moment, could be aired multiple times each day. This segment would promote evidence-based practices, benefitting both providers and families, and include a ‘call to action’ for non-participating providers to join the effort.

We further anticipate scaling outreach through two additional mechanisms: (1) engaging state/local childcare licensing agencies in promoting the use of effective practices with young children; and (2) working with unions who are increasingly active in organizing childcare providers. Together with the HITN broadcasts that can reach 44 million households, these two mechanisms will offer efficient and effective outreach to large numbers of potential end users.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

As New Stage Innovators, we are not required to present a full feasibility plan, but we full believe that this concept is feasible.

Daycare in a Box is designed to build knowledge and skills and promote communities of practice to help childcare providers offer the experiences and activities proven to impact children’s brain development and school success.
• Knowledge and Skill Development - Professional development can be costly and time-consuming. For family childcare providers, this disincentive is exacerbated by the fact that substitute providers are far from common, constraining participation in professional learning during the typical work day. By leveraging the technology, HITN and its partners can provide access to knowledge and the mentoring and coaching needed to develop implementation skills in a convenient way and at times that work for the provider, increasing the feasibility of its success.
• Changes in Practice – As we heard in our discussions with providers, knowledge and skill without the tools and products to implement these, are simply insufficient. We will make the implementation of the effective practices more feasible by (1) providing the materials and resources necessary to implement the new practices; and (2) building a community of practice so the providers can share their experiences with these and propose changes

Individuals at HITN and among our partnering organizations have years of experience using online coaching and mentoring, coupled with the development and dissemination of user-informed content, to change practice. We know it is feasible.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

Our business model is viable based on Four factors:
1. Scaling online development by adding users is essentially cost-free, whether it includes scaling within a city or across the country
2. Licensing organizations and unions provide funds for training providers. Since we expect our technology-mediated approach will be less costly than face-to-face sessions, some of the founding could be re-directed to pay for the coaching services described in this model
3. Fees for materials and supplies will be minimal, since we expect to build on OERs and existing free or low-cost content. These fees can be picked up by licensing agencies, organizing entities or school systems, as appropriate
4. Outreach is greatly enhanced by using HITN’s broadcast capacity, promoting additional users which builds in further economies of scale

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

Yes. We have incorporated HCD throughout this design process:

• Clarifying - As indicated, this entire effort was launched by the requests of providers. From that early start we have met providers, academic experts, and child development specialists to have conversations and solicit their input into what they want and need.
• Ideating – As we continue to listen, propose solutions, and request feedback on these, we have learned a lot. We learned, for example, that data costs are too high for many providers, so we have re-framed communicating and sending content from an e-mail approach to a text messaging approach.
• Developing – As New Innovators, we are just beginning this phase and expect to continue to inform the work through ongoing discussions and collaboration with the end users.
Implementing – This part of the cycle has not yet started.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

For more than 30 years, HITN has addressed its mission of improving outcomes for Hispanic populations in the United States and Puerto Rico by providing high quality content and services – on the air, online and on the ground. Some examples of these services include: (1) providing professional development for K-12 educators and childcare providers (birth-three); (2) launching community-based afterschool programs to improve student achievement and support working families; (3) emphasizing the highest quality programming for children and for adults; (4) engaging community-based organizations in capacity-building through technology-mediated sharing of best practices; (5) developing research-based, proven digital and non-digital content for young children and their teachers; (6) developing research-based School Readiness Kits for families that include three and four-year-olds to strengthen social-emotional and cognitive skills and help ensure school readiness; (7) providing English language development services for adults; (8) participating with the District Attorney’s office in programs to address online bullying; and (9) using the vast power of HITN’s broadcast outreach to coalesce national populations around issues such as financial fraud, voter registration, responses to natural disasters and a range of other critical issues.

Maryann Marrapodi, Chief Learning Officer for HITN, has more than 30 years experience as an educator. Eight of these years included overseeing and supporting the improvement of early childhood services across New York City by working with the three entities charged with the care and early learning of young children: the NYC Department of Education, the NYC Department of Health, and the NYC Department of Human Resources. She also managed the Ready to Lear grant, overseeing the development, testing and revision of digital and non-digital content. Our current partners bring their expertise to this project as well.

You Tell Me Stories provides free apps and storybooks, in English and Spanish, for parents and childcare providers to use in developing the language schools of our youngest children. By modeling dialectic reading, these materials ensure that story time is intentionally warm, loving, and impactful for the children and for the adults.

Mentored provides a scalable coaching and mentoring platform that will be customized to the needs of the providers. They also offer training for the mentors, both for the experts initially selected as mentors and, later, for the providers who will become peer mentors.

As New Innovators, we are still in the process of adding both organizations and individual partners to the team. We have approached licensing agencies and the unions representing many providers, and they have expressed interest in continuing the discussions.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

We have the essential partners for this stage of the development process. We look forward to adding to these, including an Advisory Board comprised of daycare providers and noted experts in the field.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Although we are clearly making inroads, we would appreciate help in identifying cohorts of informal childcare providers who are not on our radar. The television outreach will certainly help, but actual introductions are an even stronger way to create linkages.

We are also looking for organizations/people to partner with that have experience and expertise in family childcare who will join our initial group of mentors to help the providers transform their practice

Would you like mentoring support? [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

  • No

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters) [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

This is not an Early Submission

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? [Relevant only for our early submission participants] (1500 characters)

Not applicable

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Please note the websites for the initial three partnering organizations:

You Tell Me Stories (
Mentored (mento

1 comment

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Photo of Nicola Doherty

I love this inspirational idea! Thanks for sharing and good luck with your innovation