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Ivy Marsnik

Mayor Hodges Visits Way to Grow as City Launches Talking is Teaching Initiative

Mayor Hodges Visits Way to Grow as City Launches Talking is Teaching Initiative 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Last week, Way to Grow teamed up with Mayor Betsy Hodges and TPT to launch and promote the City’s “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” campaign. The Talking is Teaching campaign is the first initiative to come out of the Mayor’s Cradle to K cabinet, formed in 2014.

Carolyn Smallwood, Executive Director of Way to Grow and chair of the Cradle to K cabinet explains, “The Talking is Teaching campaign is one of the cornerstone projects of Cradle to K. This campaign encourages the community to talk, read, and sing to our children with the goal of building up rich vocabularies.”

Nearly 60% of American children enter kindergarten unprepared. This sobering statistic stems from the fact that by 3 years of age, there is a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families. This means building rich vocabularies is a vital first step in securing the futures of our young children. Cradle to K is reminding parents the importance of their role in closing the word gap by engaging in simple, everyday interactions with their children. Mayor Hodges notes, “Science has told us clearly that this simple step can help prepare our children for brighter futures.”

By reminding parents of the fact that these seemingly mundane activities are fostering learning and healthy brain development, we can narrow the disparities seen in early childhood literacy that often persist into grade school and beyond.

Way to Grow hosts BrandLab Intern

Way to Grow hosts BrandLab Intern 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Meet Zaq:

Last fall, I had the opportunity to participate in a two week class at my school called The BrandLab. This class was facilitated by an organization that recruits talented young people to be introduced to the world of marketing and advertising. During class, we learned about a program called Helping Us Grow (HUG). HUG helps low income families gain access to diapers, car seats, and other items necessary to raise an infant. We were tasked with putting together a project for them. That project included making posters, filming an advertisement, putting together an event, and a presentation made of posterboard and PowerPoint slides. At the end of it we presented to The actual BrandLab and the program director at HUG. My team did a pretty good job, I think. Everyone in the class did a great job.

At the end of it all we were able to apply for an internship with The BrandLab. I applied with three of my classmates, and then we were interviewed about a week later. I was sick that day, so I was rescheduled for another time. I was really worried that rescheduling would poorly impact my likelihood of being hired. As I waited for their decision, I was sure that I wouldn’t make the cut. But, to my surprise, all four of us were hired on! I was really happy. It was super exciting to have something to do this summer that would positively impact my future. A learning experience like this is something that was granted to only 67 students of 700 who applied, and I am so, so grateful.

During orientation at The BrandLab we had to answer questions about our interests and personalities so that we could be matched with the program or agency that we would do well at. I was assigned to Way to Grow. When I got the email stating where I was assigned I went straight to Way to Grow’s website and read as much as I could to learn about the program. I think what they do, educating young children and their families, preparing kids for school, helping their families live better lives, is wonderful.

I’m really looking forward to interning with Way to Grow this summer. In the two months I’m here, I hope to learn a lot about how nonprofit organizations work, and what it’s like to work in an office environment. During my weekly sessions with The BrandLab, I want to learn more about how to carry myself professionally and how to make a good impression. This summer is all about building a network of people that could help me later in life and experiencing new things. It’s also about learning, which I plan to do a lot of. Education is super important and I want to take every chance I can to learn something new. I think that might be why I was placed here. I really look forward to spending the rest of my summer with Way to Grow.

The BrandLab is on a mission to change the face and voice of the marketing industry by introducing, guiding and preparing students for careers in marketing and advertising. They believe in a future industry that reaches new heights through the creativity of people of any race or socioeconomic background – and so do we. Zaq will be interning with the Way to Grow communications team over the next two months. Please join us in welcoming them to the team!

Way to Grow Welcomes Redleaf Family Foundation Intern

Way to Grow Welcomes Redleaf Family Foundation Intern 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Meet Emily:

The second semester of my junior year abroad in Paris marks the first time I was able to take concrete action towards my future. I started by sending a rather desperate email to my college’s career services office. I explained that I was determined to get an internship this summer, and specified that I would even be willing to move to an entirely new place if it meant finally having the experience of using my time for something meaningful. When the head of career services emailed me back, she told me that if I was looking for something meaningful, I should definitely look into the internships funded by the Redleaf Foundation.

When I read through the list of the funded internships they offered, I was immediately sure that this was what I wanted to do this summer. All of them were outside of New York City (where I normally spend my summers) and in places I had only heard of on TV. Minneapolis stood out to me because it gave me warm memories of watching Beverly Hills, 90210 as I affectionately remembered how the two main characters had moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis. I did a quick Google Image search and saw rich shades green and blue. I spent the summer before this one staying with my grandparents in New York City feeling utterly useless. I knew I couldn’t spend another summer feeling that way and decided that my first internship should be something that contributed to a greater good.

I chose Way to Grow because their cause resonated with me. My mother is a public school teacher, so the importance of education had been ingrained in me since a very young age. I witnessed all the challenges she faced as an educator as well as all the immense rewards of seeing her students’ progress, forming a lifelong bond with a large number of them. Because of her line of work, I was also made aware of how common it is for students of all ages to feel like the school system is leaving them behind and not taking their varied needs or situations into account. The most beautiful aspect of Way to Grow is how it brings the privilege of individualized education to more isolated families, helping a myriad of children to maximize their potential, essentially guaranteeing them a better future by showing them that they do have the ability to accomplish great things.

Despite being here only a short time, I was overwhelmed by the compassion and dedication shared by every member of the Way to Grow family. Their commitment to providing education as well as stability to these families is incredibly touching. In addition to making sure children from low income families are prepared for kindergarten, Way to Grow also makes sure to educate parents as well, dedicating particular attention to cooking and nutrition, acknowledging a direct link between this and the child’s success. I have already learned so much about the work they do for these families and I am so grateful that I have this opportunity to be involved in such an important cause alongside such wonderful people. I’m confident I will continue to learn and will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life no matter which career I choose.

The Paul and Rhoda Redleaf Summer Internship Fund provides financial support for up to 10 undergraduate students who have secured an internship at specific nonprofits. This program inspires college students to explore careers in community organizing and nonprofit programming. Emily will be working with our Program Directors as well as with our Fund Development and Communications team. Please join us in welcoming Emily to Way to Grow!

Why I am a Family Educator

Why I am a Family Educator 2560 1707 Ivy Marsnik

I worked for several years as a Special Education Educator’s Assistant before returning to earn a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education. After one year at a local school, I quickly realized the classroom was not the place for me. I didn’t feel like I could be as effective as I wanted to be without being able to reach families at home.

Today, I bring that perspective with me to the families I serve. I remember what it was like to be a teacher. I also remember the assumptions that came with it. There are many wonderful teachers, but I also think it is human nature for people to assume and to blame rather than to turn that lens on themselves. Teachers are no exception to that and often times, it’s the parents that fall victim to the blame. Meanwhile, parents are also at times relying too heavily on the school.

Way to Grow works to bridge that gap between home and the school. In the home, I start by first and foremost affirming the parent. I do not come in with all the tasks they need to complete and hoops they need to jump through for them to be the type of parent I want them to be. Yes, I set goals for each of my families, but I also encourage them to be open with me about the obstacles they see that could potentially prevent them reaching those goals.

Then we make a plan.

When it comes to getting parents more involved in the school, it helps to remind them that there isn’t a big wall between home and school, and to tell them that teachers actually want you to cross into their classrooms. You’d be surprised how many parents think, “I’m at home. The teacher is at school. I don’t want to interfere with what the teacher does.” A lot of what I do after breaking down that barrier is then encouraging them to be the best advocate for their kids that they can be, even if walking into that classroom means they are reliving the shame of perhaps not graduating high school or revisiting all of their own unmet expectations.

The second part of what Way to Grow does is help the parents realize their own role in supporting their child’s education. Children do not just go to school to learn – they learn from you every day. A large part of what I do is to help open, and sometimes facilitate, communication between the parent and the school. Sometimes parents may not feel open enough to share with the teacher they may be homeless or they may not think the school needs to know their car was broken into. That’s where I am able to pick up the phone or send an email to let the teacher know what is going on. So often, there is so much more than meets the eye. To be in the home and to have this line of communication (through the release of information) is very effective. It’s huge to be the eyes and ears for the teacher where the teacher can’t go. Once communication has been established and teachers see that parents are there for their child, things go much better.

Collette is celebrating her 5th year as a Family Educator with Way to Grow. She is currently serving 30 families that collectively include over 100 parents and children! Through her time and work with us, we know she has touched the lives of many more. Thank you, Collette for all you do to give our kids a brighter future.

Minneapolis Summer Programs

Minneapolis Summer Programs 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Summer is just around the corner and we are just as excited as your children are! For many of us, summer is time to get out and have fun. Don’t let it pass you by! Below are a few summer programs that may help your child get the most out of their summer. The programs on this list are either free to participate in, or have scholarship programs for interested families to keep cost from becoming a barrier. Spots tend to fill up quickly and summer programs start soon. If you see something that interests you, act fast. Here’s to a great summer!

Education & Personal Growth
  • Hennepin County Libraries offer free programs for all ages in addition to some parent-child classes. The Library Lab provides a space for children to learn about the wonders and excitement of chemistry; Bruce the Bug Guy presents lively, entertaining, hands on program featuring all sorts of creepy crawlies; The Hennepin County Northeast Library also has baby story time programs, yoga classes, spaceship origami, and so much more! Check them out at or call 612-543-6775. Options vary by location.
  • The Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program helps children in grades 1-6 read books of their choosing to earn a free book of their choice. Visit a store near you or check them out online for more details.
  • The Boys and Girls Clubs (Jerry Gambles Boys & Girls Club of the Twin Cities in Near North and the Southside Village Boys & Girls Club of the Twin Cities in Powderhorn) offer programs for ages 5-18. Yearly membership fee is $5 per child/young adult with breakfast and lunch provided. Programs include academics, sports, arts, nature, teen programing, mentoring, and more. For more contact: Near North – 612-522-3636; Powderhorn – 612-822-3191.
  • Park Avenue Freedom Schools Summer Program accepts children who have finished kindergarten through 8th grade. Weekly themes focus on identity and the ways they can make a difference in themselves, in their families, and in their communities. Find them online or call 612-825-6863 for more information.
  • WE WIN Institute is a free program for K-4th grade children. Students earn school credits while they enhance their math, reading, and writing skills. The program also includes activities such as mural painting, gardening, and dance. Transportation, breakfast and lunch is provided. Upon completion of the program, committed students will be eligible for a trip to Valley Fair! Visit the website at or contact them at 612-721-2364.
Sports & Activities
  • Minnesota Vikings Youth Skills Development Camp is a 4-day, free coed football camp for ages 8 through 18 hosted by the MN Vikings and professional coaches. Spots are limited. For more information, contact Jeff Robinson at 952-828-6500 or Char Davis at 612-230-6448.
  • The Brian Coyle Center & Teen Programs offers school and summer programs for K-12th graders from day camps and fieldtrips, overnight camping opportunities, athletic teams to tutoring services, you’re sure to find something that fits. For more, call Pillsbury United Communities at 612-338-5282
  • Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board has swimming lessons for children of all ages. Locations vary. For questions and more information, call Sahara at 612-655-7564.
Art & Music Programs
  • The Minneapolis College of Art and Design offers summer camps to students ages 5-18. Participants are also offered an extended care option which offers both free play time and organized activities with Chilldren’s Theatre Company. Scholarships are available, but limited. Register by phone at 612-874-3765.
  • MacPhail provides accessible musical learning experiences through over 50 different camps designed to meet the needs of the student. Program is open to ages 3 through grade 3. Contact student services at 612-321-0100 or visit
  • The Loft Library Center Young Writers’ Program advances the artistic development of young writers and inspires a pssion for literature by offering creative writing classes to youth ages 6-17. Located on Washington Ave. downtown, The Loft fosters a thriving literary community in the heart of Minneapolis. Register online at or call 612-215-2575.

10 Tried-and-True Family Game Night Ideas

10 Tried-and-True Family Game Night Ideas 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Throughout the year, Way to Grow hosts Family Game Nights as part of our Great by Eight program. On average, over 30 families attend and each family receives a game to take home. These events have become a favorite for Way to Grow families. We feature a different game each time and wanted to share a few educational games we have found to be kid tested, and educator approved!

  1. Brain Quest 
    Brain Quest is the perfect bring-along game for those trips out of town. Play it in the car, or make a night of it by hosting your own trivia night. Skill areas: Critical thinking, information recall, and listening
  2. Farkle
    Farkle is a fun game of strategy and luck! Take a risk and keep rolling to build your score, or play it safe so you don’t lose your points. Skill areas: Math and critical thinking
  3. Memory
    This classic game is easy to play with children of nearly any age. Print your own like this fun shape version, or create your own using paper and markers. Try using letters of the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, or pictures tailored to what your child is learning. Skill areas: Critical thinking, information recall, and topic you choose!
  4. Pictionary
    Pictionary is an easy game to play with no supplies (other than a pen and paper) required! Draw the first thing that comes to mind or create your own word bank for children to draw from. Then, set the clock! Skill areas: Fine motor skills, creative thinking, and vocabulary
  5. Puzzles
    Puzzles have many benefits to early childhood development. They promote not only cognitive skill development, but social-emotional skills such as concentration and patience as well. Skill areas: Fine motor skills, memory, critical thinking and problem-solving
  6. Qwirkle
    Qwirkle was a huge hit at our most recent Family Game Night. Players take turns adding blocks adjacent to at least one previously played block. The blocks must match either the color or shape of the previous block. Skill areas: Color and shape recognition, pattern building
  7. Spot it!
    Spot it! is played with 31 cards that are each decorated with colorful images. The images may vary in size and position, but there is always one, and only one, match between any two cards. The aim of the games is always the same: be the first to spot it. Each game includes variations for all skill levels. Spot it! Jr. is for ages 4-7, though we think this game is just as fun for adults, too! Skill areas: Vocabulary building, cognitive processing speed, visual perception, and motor skills
  8. Story Cubes
    This compact, pocket-sized game packs a lot of fun! Practice your creative storytelling skills together, or alone. Story Cubes come in many themes from prehistorical times to enchanted fairy tales. For older children, practice writing out the stories to increase the target skill areas. Skill areas: Creative thinking and storytelling
  9. Uno
    Uno has been a family favorite for decades and for good reason. Easy for children to pick up and hard to put down, this game is fun for all ages. Skill areas: Strategic thinking, color and number recognition
  10. Zingo
    Another Way to Grow Family Game Night favorite is Zingo. Practice matching images and words to your Zingo card. Fill your card to win! With two levels, this game is perfect for ages 4-8. Skill areas: Vocabulary, matching, and sight word recognition

Way to Grow Spring Luncheon Recap

Way to Grow Spring Luncheon Recap 5000 2638 Ivy Marsnik

Dr. Mary Dana Hinton, President of the College of St. Benedict delivered a keynote address focusing on building pathways to hope, to opportunity, and ultimately, to success.

Dr. Hinton also stressed the importance of starting early.

That gap follows many children into elementary school where by first grade, poor children are already, on average, a half grade behind their wealthier peers. Dr. Hinton’s keynote highlighted the importance of the work of organizations like Way to Grow in challenging and reconstructing the many systematic pipelines and pathways of disenfranchisement.

At the Luncheon, we also heard from Shania, a current student at the University of Northwestern and Way to Grow alum. Shania illustrated the importance of starting with hope and following through with hard work and dedication. “My brother went through the program as a young child and he also graduated from it. It was the first time my mom saw one of her kids in a cap and gown and she always tells me how much she will remember that day. And how that day has given her hope to one day see her children in caps and gowns as college graduates. And here I am years later as a freshman at the University of Northwestern two weeks away from finishing my freshman year. So, Mom, thank you for making that phone call to Way to Grow.”

Thank you to our wonderful speakers and to everyone who attended our Spring Luncheon. Together, we are building pathways to greater hope, opportunity, and success for Minneapolis families.


Preschool Reading Book Wish List

Preschool Reading Book Wish List 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Way to Grow Preschool teachers compiled this list of preschool reading books essential to any little one’s library. You will recognize many of these preschool reading books as early childhood favorites. Unfortunately, we know many of the children in our program lack access to these books and many like them. We also know that a pathway to success begins by ensuring every young person has access to books from the moment they are born. In response to this need, insurance professionals attending the 2016 SITE conference will be collecting these titles to benefit Way to Grow families. These books will supplement our home visiting curriculum and to help encourage parents to read to their preschoolers daily by fostering an early love for reading.

  1. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
  2. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson
  3. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Eric Carle
  4. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
  5. Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel
  6. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  7. Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant
  8. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
  9. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  10. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
  11. Swimmy by Leo Lionni
  12. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
  13. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
  14. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  15. It’s Mine by Leo Lionni
  16. Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus

Print this list of preschool reading books!

Parent Education – Our Message to Parents

Parent Education – Our Message to Parents 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Way to Grow Partners with Local Newspaper in Launching Parent Education Section

Way to Grow is happy to announce our partnership with the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. As a contributing partner to the new parent education section, Message to Parents, we will focus on the most critical issues affecting the communities we serve. In order for parents to fulfill their roles as their children’s first teachers, they need access to the tools and information critical to their children’s success. Each month, we will be sharing parent education tips to encourage parents by saying we can do this; we can give our children better opportunities to succeed in school and life – and here’s how.

The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder was a natural partner for Way to Grow in this endeavor. The hearts of our organizations are united by the same goal: to empower the second generation by working with and through their parents. Way to Grow has been working with parents in isolated communities for over 26 years. Through this project, we aim to cast our knowledge of early childhood and parent education far and wide, sharing the best information and advice we can to help each family rediscover and achieve their highest potential.

Read more about this exciting project and hear from our fellow contributing partners. And, don’t miss our first Message to Parents: Choosing the Right School for Your Child.

Promoting Early Literacy Development – Tips for Parents

Promoting Early Literacy Development – Tips for Parents 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

At its core, early literacy development begins with what children know about reading and writing long before they themselves can read and write. Here are a few tips to help promote early literacy development at home:

1. Enjoy more conversation

Make the most of the time you spend with your child by simply talking and listening to them more. Listen to children’s songs in the car or use this valuable time together to talk about anything from the alphabet to the weather.

2. Avoid baby talk

Stick to more grown up language to build a long lasting foundation for literacy development. Many activities can promote rich language use, such as visiting a museum, zoo or other exhibit. You’ll find yourself using words to describe your surroundings in these settings that you may not often use in routine conversation.

3. Bring back the bedtime story

Researchers estimate that less than half of children under the age of five are read to daily. Reading with your child from birth is one of the best ways to promote early literacy development. Just a few minutes a day makes a big difference, so take a trip to the library and make sure you aren’t forgetting those bedtime stories!

4. Expand on school projects

If you don’t know what your child is working on in school, ask their teacher to share their unit plans. Once you know what your child is learning, build on those lessons at home to help deepen their knowledge and draw more connections to them. Have fun with this! If, for instance, your child is learning the letter “B” this week, take them to the beach (weather permitting), or create a collage using magazine and newspaper clippings of items or activities that start with the letter “B”. If your child is a little older, and perhaps learning about the environment, check out a really cool book about the rainforest, and talk about the differences between that environment and the one in which they live.

5. Encourage them and express pride

Nothing fosters a love for learning faster than the encouragement of a proud parent. Whether your child just learned their ABCs or finished their first chapter book, be sure to tell them what a great job they have done. Recognizing their hard work paying off will set healthy patterns for the future.

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