Innovation Challenge names 15 finalists with ideas in ECE
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Innovation Challenge names 15 finalists with ideas in ECE

by Freya Lucas

September 26, 2019

An early childhood education initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education announced the 2019 finalists for the Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge yesterday. Now In its second year, the Challenge recognises promising new ideas and strategic approaches that have the potential to accelerate positive change and transform the quality of early education.


The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative, of which the challenge is a part, was launched in 2018, with co-directors Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie Jones saying they found the number and quality of applications inspiring. 


The motivation for the establishment of the challenge, organisers said, was “decades of research, including some of our own through the Zaentz Initiative, showing that parents and caregivers worry a great deal about getting children off to a strong start” and the need for the younger generation to have a bright and bold future. 


“There is an urgent need for new solutions and tools that will increase early education opportunities and positive outcomes for all children. This is the motivation behind the Zaentz Innovation Challenge — to seed the field with cutting-edge ideas that have the capacity to drive lasting, widespread change in early education.”


Finalists were chosen from over 160 applications from around the world, with submissions coming from organisations and individuals, the majority of which came from individuals and teams affiliated with early learning centres and schools, state and local early education agencies, education nonprofits, policy and advocacy organisations, edtech entrepreneurship, and universities.


The 15 finalists, all based in the United States, submitted for consideration into one of three different Challenge tracks: Idea, Pilot, and Scaling. 

These finalists are:




  • Early Learning Centralized Float Pool Application — A first-to-market digital staffing application designed to build short-term and part-time workforce capacity while also offering unusual suspects the chance to enter the early childhood education field. (Indiana)


  • Flourish in Frazer Forest — Bringing inclusive early learning experiences outdoors through a project-based forest learning curriculum. (Georgia) 


  • Strong Families, Mighty South Ward Loyalty Program — An innovative loyalty program designed to motivate and reward Newark families for continual use of the high-quality two-generation resources in their community. (New Jersey)


  • ToyLend: A Library for Play — A community-based library of playthings that supports children’s healthy development through play. (New York)




  • Creating a Deliberately Developmental School Culture — Using research-based tools, interactive retreats, and one-on-one coaching to help early education leaders build a deliberately developmental school culture that supports teacher growth and results in higher quality programs for children. (Massachusetts)


  • The QuickCheck® — A simple tech tool that breaks down teacher professional learning curricula into manageable strategies, helping teachers build their skills and become fluent in effective classroom practices. (California) 


  • SayKid — A screen-less, play-based learning tool that uses voice technology in the form of a plush robot to help kids learn in a safe, natural, and engaging way. (Minnesota)


  • Telepractice Services for Communication Disorders at West Liberty University — Creating a telehealth suite within a university clinic setting to ensure children and families across rural West Virginia have access to high-quality speech, language and hearing services. (West Virginia)


  • Building the Muscle: Arts Integration Professional Learning for Early Educators — Giving early childhood educators the tools and confidence to support children’s learning through the arts. (Missouri) 




  • Healthy Apple Program — Pairing early educators with peer mentors to coach them on best practices for nutrition and physical activity, empowering educators to promote and establish lifelong healthy habits for all children in their care. (California)


  • We Care for Dane Kids — A set of four interdependent, innovative strategies to transform the child care system by increasing the supply of child care, maximizing funding to pay for care, and creating efficiencies of scale for child care programs through a shared services network. (Wisconsin)


  • FASTalk — An evidence-based tool that helps teachers engage diverse families and improve student outcomes through curriculum-aligned text messages delivered in families’ home languages and two-way parent-teacher messaging with automated translation. (California)


  • Connected for Success — Creating a unified statewide framework in Mississippi to improve care and access to services for both children and their families across the state’s mixed delivery system. (Mississippi)


  • Shared Services for Providers — A “partnership, not product” approach designed to help child care providers efficiently manage their business and improve quality for the children and families in their care. (Colorado)


Finalists will pitch their ideas and plans at an event to be held 15 October, at which a panel of judges and a live audience will evaluate the pitches and determine the Challenge winners. 


For more information on the Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge, please visit the website.

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