We believe that early childhood services that are created with parents instead of for parents are much more likely to meet their needs.

That’s why the Early Learning Lab is launching the Philadelphia Parent Innovation Institute in 2021.

How the Program Works

The Philadelphia Parent Innovation institute will bring early childhood organizations and the families they serve together to learn human-centered design so they can strengthen family engagement in early literacy and language programs for Philadelphia’s youngest learners.

During the year-long institute, organization representatives and parents they support will work collaboratively in small teams and identify a challenge they would like to solve together. The teams will be guided through a design process that involves co-designing and rapid-cycle learning to create high impact solutions that support quality early childhood experiences — and meet the real needs of families with young children. 

After the institute, teams will work with a local continuity partner, First Up, to continue to support an ecosystem of innovative family engagement in Philadelphia.

What Participating Organizations Get


Testimonials from the first Parent Innovation Institute

“When I first started, I felt like a regular person. Now, I feel like a superwoman.”

Parent Participant

“We’re taking parent feedback and working together as a team on how we improve what we’re doing and provide exactly what they want.”

Staff Participant

“Too often we leave out the parents’ voices, and giving them that opportunity to voice what their desires are is so important.”

Staff Participant


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How are applicants selected?

The application deadline passed on February 13, 2020. With support from our advisory committee, we reviewed and selected staff members from organizations to join the institute based on the following selection criteria:

  • Organizational focus on supporting families of children 0-8 and strengthening outcomes in early literacy and language development
  • Desire to be part of and engage in a learning community 
  • Culture of continuous improvement and willingness to explore new ways of working
  • Leadership support for participation in the institute and openness to changing the way programs are developed
  • Interest in partnering and co-designing their programs with families
  • Ability to meet the time and team commitment requirements for participation (see next section)

What’s it take to be part of the Philadelphia Parent Innovation Institute?

To ensure we and the four teams make the most of our year together, we ask that all applicants agree to the following time and team commitment requirements. Our staff will provide support and guidance proactively and on request to help you achieve these commitments:

  • Build a design team with both staff and parents who can commit to the whole institute experience and all required activities listed in this section
  • Attend and engage in a launch event and human-centered design training from April 13-15 with my entire design team (2-3 staff members + 2 family participants) present
  • Engage leadership, decision-makers, and stakeholders in my organization about this initiative and our learnings and process
  • Participate as a team on monthly virtual coaching calls
  • Engage in year-long design work with my design team which involves approximately 1-4 hours per week of activities between coaching calls.
  • Attend and share my team’s work in the final virtual share out in February 2021 and the capstone showcase celebration in April 2021

To help us learn how the initiative is operating, organizations selected to join the institute will be asked to participate in various evaluation activities, including:

  • Surveys for program administrators, staff, and families you serve about the experience with the Parent Innovation Institute
  • Completion of reflection tools and goals setting activities
  • Quarterly calls with the Parent Innovation Institute’s evaluation partner

Why early literacy and language development?

The first years of life are the most rapid period of brain development, influencing how children learn throughout the rest of their lives. Children’s early literacy and language skills are proven to be critical in laying the foundation for reading and school success. 

Engaging interactions and conversations with children from infancy through preschool have been shown to make significant and meaningful differences in their development of language and literacy skills. When children are provided a wide variety of oral language and literacy experiences, and are spoken with vs. spoken at, they gain a better understanding of language structure and from there can build strong skills in reading, comprehension, concept development, and listening. 

Parents and family members who are primary caregivers have the most influential role in how quickly and how well children’s early literacy and language skills develop, and can help shape a bright future.

Who can I contact about the institute?

If you have any questions, please email Mansi Kakkar at mkakkar@earlylearninglab.org.

About the Early Learning Lab + Parent Innovation Institute

The Early Learning Lab works to ensure children’s healthy development and kindergarten readiness. We identify and spread smart innovations and technology solutions that equip parents, caregivers, and teachers with better ways to help children from birth to age 5, when it matters most. 

In 2017, the Lab launched the first Parent Innovation Institute in Oakland, California to explore how human-centered design could better meet families’ needs. See the outcomes and insights from the Oakland Parent Innovation Institute in our interactive case study. 

The Philadelphia Parent Innovation Institute Advisory Committee


Executive Director
Read by 4th Campaign


Director of Learning & Community Impact
The Scattergood Foundation


Family Peer Specialist with the STEP program
The School District of Philadelphia


Parent Power

Director of Community Engagement
The Barnes Foundation



Local Continuity Partner