For Parents

Tips on How to Handle Snowstorms and Extreme Cold

Tips on How to Handle Snowstorms and Extreme Cold 960 638 Ken Story

Snowstorms and Extreme Cold

Winter storms and extreme cold can be difficult to prepare for, especially if you and your family have never experienced one. These adverse conditions create increased risks of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, and carbon monoxide poisoning in homes and cars.

Winter storms and blizzards bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, low visibility, and high winds. These storms and low temperature can last anywhere from a few hours to several days and potentially knock out heat, power, communication services, and cause your vehicle to not start.

Prepare Now

Know our community’s risks for winter storms and cold weather by reading information on our local news outlets channels and websites. By preparing ahead, you ensure that you, your family members, your home, and even your pets are protected from the elements and any potential risks they may bring.

Check out these tips from local and national organizations on how to be prepared during these next couple of days:  

Tips for Extremely Cold Weather

  • Stay inside as much as possible and limit time spent in the cold.
  • Dress in layers and keep clothes and footwear dry.
  • Check on family, friends, and neighbors who are at risk and may need additional assistance.
  • Know the symptoms of cold-related health issues, such as frostbite and hypothermia, and seek medical attention if health conditions are severe.
  • Make sure your vehicle has an emergency kit that includes an ice scraper, a blanket and flashlight, and keep the fuel tank above half full.

Symptoms Of Frostbite And Hypothermia

Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers, and toes.

  • Signs: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin.
  • Actions: Go to a warm room. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. Do not massage or use a heating pad.

Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.

  • Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, or drowsiness.
  • Actions: Go to a warm room. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.

Stay Safe While Staying Warm

The Fire Department wants people to stay safe as they stay warm and offer the following tips:

  • Always turn space heaters off when no one is around and before going to sleep.
  • Keep space heaters 3 feet away from anything that can burn.
  • Never use a stove for heating the home.
  • Once a year, furnaces and fireplaces need to be inspected.
  • Everyone should make sure to have working smoke alarms and carbon dioxide detectors on every floor of their home.

Pets Get Cold Too

Minneapolis Animal Care and Control reminds residents that their pets feel the cold, too. Here are some reminders from Animal Control:

  • Keep pets in proper shelter and out of direct exposure to the elements.
  • Never leave pets unattended in a parked car for any period of time.
  • Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Leaving pets outside in the cold can result in citations of $500 or more, seizure of the animal, or the death of the animal from the cold.

Anyone who sees an animal outside without shelter or in an unattended car can call Minneapolis Animal Care & Control immediately – in Minneapolis, that’s 311 (612-673-3000). If they believe the situation to be life-threatening and the animal is nonresponsive, they should call 911.

Immigration, Loss, & Trauma

Immigration, Loss, & Trauma 2500 834 Way to Grow

by Lori A. Harris, LSW, MSW in partnership with Way to Grow and Mom Enough

Perhaps your family immigration experience was a relatively easy journey, one supported by ample resources and an established, welcoming community. Life in your family’s country of origin may have presented minor challenges or you have immigrated for opportunity, education, or ambition. Perhaps, however, much was sacrificed, even suffered, to arrive here. Perhaps your homeland was a place of deprivation, war, chaos, or secrecy. Your journey may have included hardship and trauma – exploitation, refugee/displacement camps, detention, and scant resources along the way. Or, you or your ancestors arrived via forced migration (slavery, trafficking) or were indigenous people who were terrorized and marginalized. Our country’s history is shaped by the immigrants’ stories. These stories can be difficult, inspiring, harrowing, exciting, or sometimes shameful. We carry with us our stories – and often our stories and their impact carry on into future generations.

A Journey of the Past, in the Present

We often hear from those who undertook the difficult decision to migrate that they did so to make a better life for their children. We wish to pass on so much to our children – our love, our strength, our wisdom, our beliefs and traditions. However, what most of us do not realize, is that along with these hopes and dreams, we may also pass on to future generations some things that are less desirable – the “ghosts” or biological and emotional echoes of our past trauma.

Even when children have not experienced certain traumatic events, they can be affected by the stories that family members tell and recall. These are often referred to as “intergenerational” (or multigenerational) transmissions. They can sometimes remain present in the feelings (anxiety, sadness), emotional patterns (avoidance, emotional withdrawal) and/or beliefs of our offspring – over several generations. These transmissions can also be reflected in the children’s view of the world. For example, they may feel that the world is not a safe place, that people cannot be trusted, that people can abruptly disappear, and that they must always be vigilant (prepared for danger, scarcity, persecution). Sometimes, this can also show up in children in the form of symptoms. These can include depression (which in children can also include “acting out”), anxiety (including fear of separation from parent), physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches, or hypervigilance, such as preoccupation with safety. Depending on a family’s present status, environment, and resources, some of these concerns may of course be relevant (for example being cautious if one lives in a high crime area, concerns about an undocumented parent, etc.). However, absent these apparent risks, these feelings can often be evidence of “leftover” transmissions from difficult family experiences.

Of course, this expression of trauma from one generation to the next is not unique to the families of immigrants – it can affect any family. However, it can be complicated by immigration due to the challenge of processing these experiences across time, distance, language, and different cultural norms.

Another emotional challenge for families can be the experience of loss. Despite the opportunities provided by immigration (which may result in an increase in actual safety), there is also the experience of leaving behind a country, culture, and perhaps family members and friends. The migrant’s story is often described as a form of ambiguous loss, living with grief, and homesickness that is not readily acknowledged. Pauline Boss, retired University of Minnesota professor of Family Social Science described in her groundbreaking 1991 book that ambiguous loss is one that is “incomplete” or partial. It can, however, be a source of great stress or sadness, a feeling of being psychologically stuck between two worlds. Someone may think, “well my mother is still alive, why should I grieve her?” or “my family has a new life and has left behind a difficult experience, so why am I sad?”. This form of loss can sometimes result in a parent or grandparent who feels deeply conflicted and not fully present emotionally. It can also be a source of confusion for a child who may see a mostly happy family life — but experiences a perpetually grieving or disconnected family member.

Coping and Growing through Family Rituals (Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future)

In many cultures and religions, ritual plays an important role in helping to process loss and grief and strengthen families. From birth to death and all the many occasions in between, rituals provide us a critical vehicle for connection, acceptance, coping, celebration and growth. Noted family therapist Evan Imber-Black defines family rituals as activities or behaviors that typically involve most of the family and are carried out for a variety of occasions (1992). They are valued by the family members and the expectation, or hope, is that they will be carried out in future generations. They include celebrations such as holidays that are special to the family, such as weddings, funerals, baptisms, or bar or bat mitzvahs. They not only provide the opportunity to identify as a family unit but often to connect with the wider community and culture. Rituals can also include traditions such as family vacations, birthday customs, storytelling, blessings offered at meals, special food, clothing, or music at parties. Rituals are important for family members because they emphasize continuity and identity, transmit family values and beliefs, and provide an opportunity to express and share strong emotions.

We know from research the importance of rituals in helping families remain connected and heal from loss, trauma, or major transitions. Immigration, however, may disrupt family rituals in a significant way. There may be family members “back home” who cannot join the family, or the person who immigrated may not be able to return to their home country for a death, burial, birth, or holiday. Family roles and traditions are difficult to maintain with separated families, and even joyous celebrations can serve to emphasize the loss or absence of family members. It can also be difficult to maintain family rituals in a new place, with challenges including a lack of a common community, difficulty accessing special foods or decorations, inability to visit family burial sites, or other sacred sites. Also, newer generations of family members may reject tradition (instead prioritizing assimilation), or a marriage or partnership with someone from another culture or religion may introduce new beliefs.

Moving Forward with Resilience and Hope

Despite these challenges, how do parents help themselves and their families remain connected and move forward with resilience and strength?

If your history includes trauma and you feel that it still impacts you and/or your children in a noticeable way (nightmares, difficulties with relationships, addiction to substances to help with coping, symptoms that make it hard to live an “ordinary” life—for example going to stores, using transportation, etc.), then you may want to consider talking to a professional counselor. If possible, it would be helpful to find someone who is familiar with, or willing to learn about, your culture. A professional counselor can help you evaluate whether past trauma may be negatively affecting your health or well-being. Much has been learned in the field of trauma and the treatment of post-traumatic stress (PTSD). There are a variety of ways (including some that do not require you to tell your trauma story) to help you and your family heal from a difficult past.

Denying feelings of loss can also get in the way of moving ahead with your life and affect the well-being of family. Acknowledging and accepting your complex feelings of loss can be important to personal growth and enhancing connectedness with others, including children. Oftentimes, people feel shame over their grief, particularly if it is prolonged. But grief is a natural process and does not follow a rigid schedule. If grief is overwhelming, you might consider talking to a spiritual advisor, a counselor, or joining a support group. Many libraries also have books on loss and grief. It doesn’t matter how long it has been; it is never “too late” to pursue support and healing.

In addition to professional or community support, you can also maintain or reintroduce family rituals to promote family healing and connection. You may also wish to find a way to unite old family traditions with new traditions. Maybe add a traditional dish or blessing to a new occasion, for example reciting a traditional family blessing in your native language at Thanksgiving dinner or introducing traditional family dishes to the Fourth of July barbecue. Integrating and sharing these traditions will help to ease a sense of loss and create a bridge between the two worlds. This may also increase the possibility that your cherished traditions will be carried forward by future generations.

Writing your family story together or building your family tree can also be a unifying exercise for families. Your children can see their place in the family history and their role in its continuity. This can also be an opportunity to recognize family strengths, a source of pride and inspiration. Family histories often reveal stories of devotion and courage, daring and adventure. Much as children may carry the stresses and fears of difficult family experiences, they also embody the determination and fortitude of their relatives. This new perspective can be empowering, granting us a true appreciation of what it took to get our family this far and inspiring gratitude for the possibilities that still lie ahead. Roots and wings – we need both to thrive, and to fly.

Want to learn more?


Family therapist Evan Imber-Black, PhD, explores the importance of family ritual in great detail in her writings, especially Rituals in Families and Family Therapy (Harper Collins, 1992).

Minnesota native and gifted therapist and professor Pauline Boss originally wrote Ambiguous Loss in 1991 (Harvard University Press), and her work is still highly relevant today.

The validity of multigenerational/intergenerational trauma continues to be supported by ongoing/new research. Primary influences are Murray Bowen, Charles Figley, Bessel van der Kolk, and Rachel Yehuda.


For those parents also dealing with the challenges of being undocumented, this is unfortunately made more difficult by the current political and social climate. Our expertise is not legal expertise, so I can only say here that we recognize that this can be a tremendous source of stress for your family. Having a plan, understanding your rights, and being prepared are some practical things you can do to help manage anxiety and uncertainty. There are many excellent immigration advocacy organizations that offer advice on how to cope with these issues. Also, if emotional symptoms interfere with coping and everyday life, it may be helpful to seek a counselor for yourself or your children. Licensed counselors are bound by confidentiality laws and do not concern themselves with issues related to immigration status. (Confirm counselor or agency policies before engaging with their service.) A good resource for helping children cope with immigration stress and family separation may be found at:

Download this article here: Immigration, Loss, and Trauma 

Raising Healthy Kids in a Digital World

Raising Healthy Kids in a Digital World 2560 1700 Maren Nelson

With smart phones, tablets, e-books, TV, apps, digital games, and videos being a part of everyday life, creating screen-free time for children is more important than ever. It can be intimidating to try and cut down screen time, especially since technology is such a vital part of your family’s day-to-day activities, but you’re not alone. There are many things you can do as a parent to help limit your family’s screen time and encourage your child’s development.

Screens and your child’s development

Many parents are concerned about the amount of time their children spend with screens. Research shows that screen time gets in the way of activities good for young children, like playing creatively and interacting with caring grown-ups. Screen time takes away from their ability to socialize appropriately with their peers and does not teach socialization to neuro-typical children.

Developing children thrive when they are talked to, read to, played with, and given time for creative play, physically active play, and interactions with other children and adults. In addition, there’s no research showing the benefits of introducing children to new technologies in the first years of life. In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding screens for children under 2 and no more than 1 to 2 hours of screen time a day for older kids.

Limit screens, maximize family time

Parents are a child’s first teachers, yet changing children’s screen habits can be a challenge for both kids—and their parents. Way to Grow has compiled some helpful strategies for getting young children to spend less time with screens and more time engaged with the world around them.

1. Rearrange the furniture

Turn the living room into a place for family interaction and play by arranging the furniture so the TV isn’t the focus of the room. Don’t forget—your living room isn’t the only room in your home with a screen. Remember to keep screens out of bedrooms: Kids who use screens at night have more problems with sleep.

2. Start the day screen-free

Create a morning routine that does not involve screens. Try not to turn on the television to entertain children while getting ready to start the day. Children will learn to entertain themselves and play on their own. In addition, parents should model screen-free behavior by avoiding computer time or checking mobile devices first thing in the morning. Those emails can wait until after breakfast.

3. Enjoy screen-free meals

Mealtime can be stressful, but having the television on during meals creates even more noise and distraction and does not promote family interaction. What’s more, screen-free family meals encourage healthier eating!

4. Encourage sensory and pretend play

Young children learn through exploring with their whole bodies, including all of their senses. Instead of relying on screens, provide children with easy play options for sensory play—which gives them the chance to explore using their sight, touch, and other senses—to engage children while you get things done around the house. Set up water and toys at the kitchen sink, and you can accomplish things nearby while keeping an eye on your child. At different times throughout the day, introduce basic art supplies or play dough to your child’s playtime to keep things fun and tactile.

Pretend (or dramatic) play is important as well, since children learn as they play and play as they learn. When your child engages in pretend play, they are actively experimenting with the social and emotional rules of life, which is especially important for preschoolers as they harness these skills. Pretend play also reinforces language skills, which is important as your child learns to read. To encourage pretend play, consider creating a prop box or corner of the home filled with everyday objects to spark your preschooler’s fantasy world. You might include:

  • Large plastic crates, cardboard boxes, or a large empty box for creating a “home”
  • Old clothes, shoes, backpacks, and hats
  • Old telephones, phone books, or magazines
  • Cooking utensils, dishes, plastic food containers, and napkins
  • Stuffed toys and dolls of all sizes
  • Fabric pieces, blankets, or old sheets for making costumes or a fort
  • Writing materials for taking phone messages, leaving notes, and making shopping lists

5. Explore the outdoors

Spending time in nature is important for healthy child development. Plan outdoor activities that the whole family can enjoy together. You don’t have to be “outdoorsy” to spend time outside. Do small activities together like watching the clouds and asking your child what the shapes remind them of, splashing through puddles, and collecting leaves for arts and crafts projects. Get creative and a little messy together and draw with sidewalk chalk or dig in the mud. Feeling adventurous? Try a family activity like hiking or sledding, camping in the backyard, or hitting the local playgrounds and parks in your community!

6. Create activity kits

It can be hard to come up with spur-of-the-moment ideas, so keep a few on-hand for when you need them most! Make activity kits using supplies you already have in the house to keep children busy during transition times between daily activities, or at other tricky times of the day. One idea: Gather up shoe boxes to decorate with your child. Organize toys and games in each box. Instead of reaching for a smartphone or tablet, or turning on the TV during transitions or downtimes, grab an activity kit!

7. Limit your own screen time

Take a break from your smartphone and other screens throughout the day to give your child your uninterrupted attention. Having your full attention, especially in the evening hours when children are tired and may be cranky, helps you interact more successfully and will keep things calmer.

Remember, no television program, app, or computer program is as interactive as a teacher, parent, or playmate!

Screen-free week is April 30–May 6, 2018. Find out ways your family can participate at


Need some ideas for fun activities to do with your family away from screens? Check out the following sites for tons of screen-free activities for the whole family:

Getting your child outside is important for their development. Read more about why kids need to spend time in nature at Child Mind.

Eating Well to Learn Well

Eating Well to Learn Well 600 400 Ken Story

While Way to Grow has spent the past month celebrating National Nutrition Month, our commitment to weaving education, wellness, and nutrition throughout all our programming continues every day of the year through our Growing Strong program.

Research demonstrates strategies that target young children are more effective when parents are involved in learning about and preparing healthy foods.  Parents who lack knowledge about healthy foods and nutrition are less likely to make healthy food choices for their family.

According to Wilder Research’s study on Nutrition and Students’ Academic Performance, “Minnesota youth face a number of food-related concerns, such as poor nutrition, obesity, and hunger.”  Additional studies show that nutritional deficiencies early in life can negatively affect overall health, cognitive development, concentration, and academic performance.

Way to Grow’s Growing Strong childhood nutrition program serves low-income, at-risk Minneapolis families through a holistic model of home visiting, center-based preschools, and community-based classes and events.

We are working to foster changes in nutrition behavior among our families and to close the gap of access to healthy foods among communities of color.  Barriers to good nutrition include lack of knowledge about healthy foods, lack of access to healthy foods, and lack of skills in preparing healthy food.  To reduce these barriers, our Growing Strong program:

  • Increases direct access to healthy foods
  • Increases knowledge about healthy eating and food preparation
  • Changes nutrition behavior.

Through our programs and services, our ultimate goal is to systematically change nutrition behavior in our children’s homes, our preschools, and in the community at large.

Using an evidence-based approach, Growing Strong improves childhood nutrition by increasing parents’ and children’s nutrition knowledge and ensuring direct access to healthy food to support long-term nutrition behavior changes.  Additionally, the Growing Strong program is implemented through a family-centered, multi-generational approach over multiple years that allows us to weave nutrition education throughout all we do for our families and children.

During our home visits, family educators teach families about nutrition using such resources as USDA’s My Plate, Food Labels-Nutrition Facts, 10 Tips to A Great Plate, Daily Food Plans for Adults and Toddlers, and other educational materials.

Way to Grow’s Preschool Pals and P.A.L.S. children engage in hands-on nutrition games and activities and have the opportunity to hear from guest speakers.  The snacks and meals we provide meet nutrition requirements and help supplement our curriculum, as well as the nutrition education their parents receive.   In addition, Way to Grow partners with the University of Minnesota Extension to offer our Cooking Matters classes to families.  (Learn more about this exciting initiative in a previous blog post.)

“Healthy choices and habits make for a healthy mind and overall better quality of life,” explains Megan McLaughlin, Way to Grow Program Director. “Starting with the parents allows us to build a strong foundation and instill values about nutrition that they can easily apply at home and in their everyday lives.”

Healthy kids who eat well are ready to learn—and we are working each and every day to ensure that all children have an equal opportunity to succeed in school and life!




A Healthy Mind Needs Fuel – National Nutrition Month!

A Healthy Mind Needs Fuel – National Nutrition Month! 2560 1920 Ken Story

Way to Grow is happy to celebrate National Nutrition Month through our Cooking Matters classes for our children and parents! National Nutrition Month is an annual nutrition education and awareness campaign held in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In a partnership with the University of Minnesota Extension Services, Way to Grow offers Cooking Matters, a six-week cooking and nutrition course for parents and their children. Skills for healthy cooking, eating, and shopping are presented throughout the sessions. This course teaches families how to use healthy recipes and plan meals on a tight budget. A professional chef demonstrates how to prepare healthy meals, and participants are given the opportunity to cook their own healthy meal after each demonstration. In addition, participants take home the recipes and groceries to prepare the meal on their own at home.

There is no singular diet that is right for everyone, so it is important to establish a healthful eating plan specific to your lifestyle and budget. Positive eating habits and a nutritious diet offer many physical and mental health benefits, including:

  • Disease prevention: Healthy eating lowers the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome by reducing blood fats and helping your blood flow smoothly. The more healthy foods you eat, the better your “good” cholesterol levels will be, helping prevent disease.
  • Better sleep: Nutrients found in many healthy foods promote quality sleeping habits. Certain foods can calm your nervous system and trigger sleep-inducing hormonal response, helping you rest better.
  • Improved brain function: Consuming a variety of nutritious foods boosts memory, concentration and overall brain function.
  • More energy: Eating certain types of food in particular can help prevent fatigue. Vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from nutrient-rich foods are important for increasing and maintaining your energy throughout the day.
  • Strong immune system: You can boost your immune system and help reduce the chances of catching the common cold or flu with balanced diet that includes such healthy foods as spinach, broccoli, and yogurt.
  • Improved mental health: Food choices have a direct effect on mood and attitude, and research has found that a healthy and balanced eating plan is as important to mental health as it is to physical health. When your diet is full of healthy nutrients, you significantly lower the risk of depression and help support mental and emotional well-being.


To find more information on National Nutrition Month, as well as tips on healthy eating, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website at

Fun and Learning: It’s in the Bag!

Fun and Learning: It’s in the Bag! 2560 1707 Susan Cossette

“Welcome to today’s class!  Is everyone ready to get started?”  Head Teacher Eka Nagoya is ready to start a Parent-Child class at Way to Grow’s Preschool Pals center in North Minneapolis, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

In addition to its home visiting program that served nearly 1,500 children and 761 families last year, Way to Grow has two NAEYC-accredited center-based preschools, where 50 students are enrolled.

“Our parent-child preschool classes are a really unique model,” explained Ashley Saupp, Way to Grow’s Manager of Education. “In addition to attending preschool four days a week, all of the children enrolled in our preschools also receive home visits from our Family Educators.  Once a month, we bring the parents into the classroom to participate in learning activities with their children, alongside our teachers and Family Educators.  This holistic approach helps the parents understand how and what the children are learning in school— and to take that learning back home.”

Today’s class focuses on early literacy skills.

Mr. Eka passes an activity bag to each family.  Parents and children will be playing brief 5-minute games that focus on such skills as letter identification, letter sounds, rhyming, and alliteration.  Each activity bag contains items that could be found in any home—an empty egg carton, a spoon, a stone, or a small toy car, just to name a few.

“Turn the egg carton over and write the first letter of every item in your activity bag on the underside of the egg carton,” Eka explains.  “Have your child pick and item, name it, and identify the letter of the alphabet it begins with.  Now, have your child find the letter on the bottom of the egg carton.  OK, Moms and Dads, I want to see you play!”

The next game focuses on rhyming sounds.

“Find the picture card with the blue border,” says Eka. He points at a picture of the moon on the card.  “Can anyone tell me what in your bag rhymes with this?”

“Spoon!”  A little girl shouts from the back of the room, proudly waving a spoon from her bag in the air.

These are the kinds of games parents can play with their children at home using common household objects—or, when the weather gets warmer, outdoors in the park or playground.  Families who don’t have the financial resources for high-priced educational toys can still create fun games to play with their children that boost their literacy skills.

“The kids really don’t care what they are playing with,” says Ashley. “What really matters is that it’s fun, and engaging, and that their parents are interacting with them.”


Playing with Your Child Promotes Brain Development and Long-term Growth

Playing with Your Child Promotes Brain Development and Long-term Growth 2560 1707 Lisa Bryant

Did you know making faces and smiling at your baby, responding to gestures, or playing “peek-a-boo” during the first critical years of life, has a profound effect on your baby’s overall growth, brain development, and educational achievement? Your playful interactions, which may seem insignificant to you, actually are helping to develop the building blocks for your baby’s brain. This ultimately forms the neurological connections that establish the cognitive and emotional skills children need later in life.

Back-and-forth play with your baby is called a “serve” and “return.” Your baby “serves” by babbling or making a gesture. You “return” by talking to your baby and smiling, or pointing to a specific object and saying its name.

Here’s how “serve” and “return” works in the development of your baby’s language: Your baby babbles or gestures and you respond by saying, “momma” or “dadda.” Each time you repeat this action, your baby’s brain associates a sound with a respective object. As your baby’s level of cognition develops, your “serve” and “return” interplay becomes more deliberate. For example, your baby says “momma” or “dadda” and reaches for you. You respond by smiling, picking up your baby and saying, “I’m momma” or “I’m dadda.” Each stage of language acquisition builds upon the previous stage. In the preschool or kindergarten classroom, this similar interplay with teachers helps children associate sounds with the letters of the alphabet and the formation words and sentences.

This back-and-forth interplay not only nurtures language development, it also teaches your child how to engage in social interactions, fosters positive relationships with others, and encourages your child to recall experiences and associate sounds and objects – all are essential to your child’s development.

Consider these steps when you use the “serve” and “return” technique during your play with your child.

Be attentive to your child’s “serve”

Is your child looking or pointing at something? Making a sound or facial expression? Moving their arms and legs? Each of these actions is a “serve.” The key is to pay attention to what your child is focused on. Look for small opportunities throughout the day to engage with your child, such as when you’re dressing them or waiting in line at the store.

Why is observing your child’s actions important in play? By noticing serves, you’ll learn a lot about their abilities, interests, and needs. You’ll also strengthen your parent-child bond by noticing these serves.

Support and encourage your child by returning the “serve”

After your child “serves” to you, you can encourage them by offering comfort with a hug and gentle words, or by simply acknowledging your child. These acknowledgements could include facial expressions or sounds, a smile to let your child know you see the same thing, or picking up the object your child points to and giving it to them.

Responding to your child is important. By showing interest, encouraging them, and supporting their exploration, you reward their curiosity. If you do not return your child’s serve, you may cause undue stress and frustration. Returning serves lets them know you’ve understood their thoughts and feelings.

Name the object

When you return your child’s “serve” by naming the object, you are making important connections in her brain, even before she is able to speak or understand your words. You can name anything – a person, thing, action, or feeling. Naming is important. When you name what your child is focused on, you help them understand the world around them and what to expect. Naming also gives your child words to use and lets them know you care.

Create a back-and-forth interaction … and wait for your child

Every time you return a serve, give your child a chance to respond. Taking turns can be quick or may continue, going back and forth several times. It’s important that you wait for your child. Children need time to form their responses, especially when they are learning new things.

Why is waiting important? Taking turns helps children learn self-control and how to get along with others. By waiting, you give your child time to develop ideas and build confidence and independence. Waiting also helps you understand their needs more clearly.

Share your child’s focus

Children signal when they’re done or ready to move on to a new activity. Your child might let go of one toy and pick up another, turn away to look at something, or walk away and say, “All done!” When you share your child’s focus, you’ll notice when they are ready to end one activity and begin another. When you can find moments for your child to take the lead, you support them as they explores the world, making more “serve” and “return” interactions possible.

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. 2010. Three Core Concepts in Early Development., MA: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. 2011. Five Steps for Brain-Building Serve and Return., MA: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children. 2014. Let’s Grow Kids Campaign: Focus on the First Years. “Serve” and “Return” for Strong Brain Connections. Middlebury, VT: Vermont Community Foundation.

You are Your Child’s Best Advocate

You are Your Child’s Best Advocate 2560 1700 Lisa Bryant

One of the most important responsibilities of a parent is to advocate for your child—being their cheerleader on the sidelines, a defender against their opponents, and a voice when their words seem muted. Every day, you strive to provide your child with the best so that their journey in life is a little less bumpy, with fewer twists and turns. As a parent, you have a profound impact on their success. A study on parent involvement concluded that a single overriding factor—parent involvement—determined a baby’s future opportunities for success or failure in life (Tough, 2016). Similarly, studies conducted on student achievement suggest that a student with parents who are involved in their education is more likely to do better in school, have better social and behavioral skills, stay in school, and graduate (Henderson and Mapp, 2002).

Your child’s years in school are when they need you to be an advocate the most. Each school year, they will meet a new teacher, navigate the teacher’s expectations, adapt to a new classroom culture, get to know new classmates, and participate in after-school activities. School will demand your child be skilled at getting along and working with others, negotiating, working hard, and coping with failure and success. With your help, your child’s school career—from pre-k to graduation—will be some of the best years!

Advocating for your child is not always easy, but it shouldn’t be avoided. The key to being an effective advocate is to maintain a strong relationship with your child, understand how to approach the teacher or school administration, and recognize when to intervene on your child’s behalf. Way to Grow suggests you follow these four key guidelines to empower you as a parent to effectively advocate for your child:

1. Establish positive, consistent lines of communications at home

As a parent, you are your child’s first and foremost teacher. Formative years at home teach your child how to interact with others and develop motor, language, and cognitive skills. These skills are best nurtured by positive, quality interactions and consistent communication with adults. Whether it is helping your child name their feelings, listening to a recap of their day, or talking out a problem, your everyday interactions should be built on a solid foundation of trust. When a home environment is based on strong communications and supportive relationships, your child will feel safe coming to you when they have a problem at school. You can’t be with them every moment of the day, but you can be the person they go to after the school bell rings.

2. You are the expert when it comes to your child

No one knows your child better than you. When school starts, it is your job as a parent to make teachers, coaches, and school administrators aware of your child’s special talents and skills, as well as any needs or special considerations they may have. At home, children can receive one-on-one support, but in school they are one of many. While teachers and staff work hard to ensure every student succeeds in the classroom, nothing can replace the insight of a parent. By working with school staff, you can ensure your child is able to utilize their strengths in school, as well as get vital support when needed. Children are more likely to gain confidence and thrive in school when they employ their talents and have their needs supported by the adults in their life—parents and teachers alike.

3. Develop and maintain communication channels within your child’s school

Establish a good rapport with your child’s teacher, school principal, and any other administrator who may be able to provide you with insight or advice. If you only rely on parent nights or parent-teacher conferences to start the conversation, you may be missing out on ways to help your child excel. Schedule meetings often to meet with teachers and the principal, and remain in constant communication with them regarding your child. The beginning of the school year is a great time to ask about the best way to communicate, whether by phone, email, or in-person.

Beyond academics, try getting involved with the regular goings-on of the school and take time to learn the school culture. Consider volunteering in the classroom or at events to increase your involvement. In doing so, you will also meet other parents, enhance your relationship with school staff, and become even more connected to your child’s educational experiences.

Check with your school to see how you can be involved. Remember, you don’t have to do it all—commit to something that fits in your schedule and is best suited to your own skill set. Some activities may include:

  • Attend Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) meetings
  • Become an in-classroom parent volunteer or chaperone a field trip
  • Volunteer to be a tutor or mentor
  • Help with a major in-school project
  • Attend your child’s after-school activities
  • Volunteer for evening events
  • Assist with a fundraiser or organize a drive


4. Create a network of other parent advocates

There’s power in numbers. To strengthen your ability to be an advocate for your child, find and connect with other parents who are also advocates. Identify a time to meet as a group and meet often to discuss and learn from one another. Together you can talk about strategies that may or may not have worked an identify teachers and administrators willing to support parent advocates. By building a network, not only will you gain new perspectives and allies, you may also find a greater support system for yourself as a parent. Your child doesn’t need to be the only one to make friends at school!

Advocating for your child takes time and looks different for every parent. As you develop new tools and resources, nurture relationships with teachers and school administrators, and increase your visibility within the school setting, remind yourself that you don’t have to do it all. Like your child, you are your best self when you are playing to your strengths. That said, remember to stay involved! Always keep in mind, you are the first and foremost advocate for your child—you are the key to their success throughout school, as well as in life.

Additional Resources:
Looking to make a greater impact on your child’s education? Check out and download a couple of our other resources for parents below and then connect with Way to Grow to receive updates on our programming!

Henderson, A.T. and Mapp, K.L. (2002). A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement. Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Tough, Paul. “To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents,” New York Times, May 22, 2016, p. SR1.

Rallying for Minnesota’s Children – Advocacy for Children Day 2017

Rallying for Minnesota’s Children – Advocacy for Children Day 2017 960 638 Ivy Marsnik

Advocacy for Children Day celebrates early learning and gives parents, teachers, early care and education professionals, and communities from across the state an opportunity to stand up and be a voice for children. Led by the MinneMinds coalition, which Way to Grow is actively involved in, our staff and several families we serve are gathering at the capitol in support of equitable, child-centered, parent-directed, mixed delivery approaches to state policies affecting families and children. The 2017 policy agenda MinneMinds leads includes:

Ensuring Quality Care Through Parent Aware
  • Fully fund Parent Aware to continue the expansion of high‐quality early learning programs throughout Minnesota.
  • Support existing rated providers and grow from 3,000 programs to 4,400.
  • Ongoing support for rated providers and implementation of improvement strategies, with a priority on stronger recognition and incorporation of cultural competency.
Increasing Access to Quality Early Learning Through Scholarships
  • Increase funding and access of State Early Learning Scholarships for in need children birth‐to five to attend high quality early childhood development programs (Prioritize children with highest needs, including those facing homelessness and in foster care).
  • Complete efforts to fully‐fund scholarships for low‐income 3‐ and 4‐year‐olds to serve 7,000 new, at risk preschoolers.
  • Add funding for high priority groups for 0 to 2‐year‐olds (siblings, homeless, foster care, child protection) to serve 3,400 new, at risk babies and toddlers.
Assisting More Families In Need Through Home Visiting Programs
  • Increase access and funding for targeted home visiting programs to include 7,000 children in high poverty.
  • Provide community‐led solutions to high‐risk families to help stabilize them and give them a strong start.

What You Can Do

Attend the Rally

Join over 500 fellow early learning advocates as we fill the rotunda at the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday, March 2, 2017. Activities for children begin at 9 am with the rally beginning at 9:30 am. From 11 am – 4 pm legislators will be available for visits.

Register Here

Submit a Letter and Children’s Art

Whether or not you are able to attend the rally, we encourage you to submit a letter to your senators and representatives and tell them why our state’s youngest learners matter to you. Greater Twin Cities United Way  will collect children’s artwork to accompany the letters submitted.

Mail your artwork to:
Lulete Mola
Greater Twin Cities United Way
404 S 8th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Download Letter Template

Meet with Legislators

Meeting with legislators can be easier than you think. Follow these simple steps:
1) Find out who your legislators are
2) Set up a time to meet
3) Identify your main message and a personal story supporting that message
4) Follow these tips for holding a successful meeting

At-Home Learning Activities for Toddlers

At-Home Learning Activities for Toddlers 2560 1707 Ivy Marsnik

The world is one giant playground for toddlers, but it is also one enormous classroom! Toddlers love to learn new things and master new concepts, making it the perfect time for creating a solid foundation for future skills like reading and counting. One of the best things you as a parent can do is to continue to build upon your child’s interest in learning by engaging in lots of fun, everyday activities.

Learning Letters

Children generally begin to recognize the letters in their name around age two making the letters in their name a natural starting point. Display your child’s name nearly everywhere imaginable at home: on the bathroom step stool, in magnets on the fridge, on their bedroom door, in foam letters on the shower walls. Seeing their name displayed and pointed out to them will build recognition over time.

From there, you can also point out and say each letter in his or her name aloud, one-by-one. Once your child has their own name mastered, move on to learning the letters in words like mom or dad, and eventually to the other letters of the alphabet.

Learning Numbers

Numbers are easier incorporate in everyday activities than you may think. You can count buttons on a shirt as you get dressed, orange slices at snack time, or the number of bananas in a bunch the next time you grocery shop. Most toddlers will be able to recite numbers one through ten before they are truly able to count, so having them repeat those numbers aloud, recognize them on flashcards or in a book, or elsewhere may be a good place to start.

Once your child recognizes numbers and is able to count up to ten, you may be ready to move on to critical math skills such as grouping, sorting, and identifying more than/less than concepts. A good activity to try is sorting stuffed animals or other toys by type or color. After your child places all the bears in one pile, cats in another, and elephants in a third, you can then ask questions like, “Which pile has the most stuffed animals?” and “Which has the least?”. A good way to give a hint and to encourage an estimate is to ask which pile is the biggest pile and which is the smallest. From there, test your hypothesis by counting all the animals in each pile.

Learning Shapes

Shapes can be learned by relating them to everyday objects. Next time you have pancakes for breakfast, talk about the shape of a circle. On your next walk, look for things that resemble a circle, such as the wheels of the stroller or on passing cars. You may also cut foods into those shapes by, for instance, taking a square slice of cheese and cutting it into a circle. Be sure to take photos of all the objects in a particular shape you found throughout the day to review before bed. Being able to relate shapes to real-life examples will help in not only solidifying the lesson, but also in shaping critical thinking skills.

Learning Colors

A good way to start learning colors is to designate a color of the day. If the color of the day is green, maybe we wear green socks, eat lots of green beans and green grapes, drink green milk (with the help of food coloring) or out of a green cup, practice pointing out all the green toys we have or other green things we see, read a story about green alligators, and end the day with green fizzy bath tablets.
As you begin incorporating colors into your day, it will become a bit of a habit to point colors out throughout the day by asking your child questions like, “Would you like to wear a purple shirt, or a yellow one today?”, “Would you like more of the red apple or orange sweet potatoes?”, or “Can you find the matching blue sock?”

Once basic colors are mastered, you will be able to move on to hues. Talk about all the variations of blue from sky blue to midnight blue – so dark it’s almost black! Practice sorting items in various hues, or arranging items from lightest blue to darkest, and naming something else they can think of that matches that particular hue. For older children, experimenting with color mixing can be a lot of fun and easily done at home with paint or by using ice cubes and food coloring.

By incorporating learning activities in everyday life, you will see your child’s enthusiasm for learning continue to grow. The best part is, in doing so, you are preparing them for school and setting them on a path towards a successful future.

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