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Traveling Treehouse: Bringing the Learning to MN Kids

PHOTO: The Traveling Treehouse brings education and activities to child care centers, festivals and housing complexes. CREDIT: Pope County Family Collaborative
PHOTO: The Traveling Treehouse brings education and activities to child care centers, festivals and housing complexes. CREDIT: Pope County Family Collaborative
May 30, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The arrival of summer vacation doesn't mean learning has to stop, and a program in western Minnesota is bringing the classroom to the children.

The Traveling Treehouse Mobile Learning Center is a former bus that's been converted into an educational tool. Jeannie Pederson, coordinator of the Pope County Family Collaborative and Early Childhood Thrive Initiative, said it's packed with kids' activities and parent information, and it visits such places as child-care centers, festivals and housing sites.

"Families need us to have different resources for them in different spots at different times and that are especially convenient to them, too," she said. "So, this allows us to actually go to them and set up in their yard."

In addition to education, another focus of the Traveling Treehouse is on childhood health.

Pederson said the health effort ranges from educating families about things such as asthma triggers and environmental toxins to promoting fun physical activities for the kids.

"So when they see the Traveling Treehouse coming down the street, they all smile," Pederson said. "We've had children, our parents have told me, that kids walk by and say 'That's my bus,' and we've seen that on their faces when we come down the street. So, it's really been an exciting project."

Funding for the Traveling Treehouse comes from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation. Its executive director, Carolyn Link, said this is just one of many programs the foundation has supported as part of its Growing Up Healthy initiative. For example, she said, the better the early education, the better the odds for positive outcomes for a child, including when it comes to health.

"Everything from lower rates of heart disease and stroke and hypertension, and rates of obesity and diabetes are all really linked to educational attainment," she said. "We think it's really important and we're pleased to be able to support local communities as they help give kids that healthy start."

The Growing Up Healthy initiative began in 2006 to bring together leaders in various sectors to support communities in crafting local solutions for improving childhood health.

More information is online at bcbsmnfoundation.com.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN