Way to Grow is at Sommerfest!

Way to Grow is at Sommerfest! 2560 1920 Maren Nelson

Way to Grow is excited to announce our participation in the Minnesota Orchestra’s summer concert series, Sommerfest. Celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, Sommerfest “explores musical expressions of peace, freedom and reconciliation in a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s Centenary.” It is in the spirit of ubuntu, or “I am because we are,” Way to Grow and other nonprofits and fair trade businesses were invited to install art and engage with Orchestra patrons and the wider community throughout the entire multi-week series.

To celebrate our Way to Grow community community, three preschool classes have combined forces to create a representation of our homes and neighborhoods as seen through the eyes of a child. Each box has been creatively decorated by a Way to Grow child and added to the whole, representing the truth that we are all part of one community promise. The preschool “city” will be on display from July 14–August 1 and is on view on the Balcony B Lobby of Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. The lobby is open to the public two hours before every concert so stop by and explore!

A huge thank you to the Minnesota Orchestra for allowing us to be apart of this amazing event!

A Snapshot of our Preschools this Year

A Snapshot of our Preschools this Year 2560 1707 Ken Story

From a pajama- piñata party to food bazaars, from balloon parties to buildings, our preschoolers have expanded their minds and horizons all while exploring their imaginations. While these moments are now memories, and some of these children are graduates, we wanted to take a trip down memory lane and share with you a few wonderful moments from our two preschools this past school year.

Music with Ms. Nora from MacPhail (North Preschool)

Making up a session that was missed because of weather, Ms. Nora came in with a purpose. Our teachers had informed her that the class was going to the zoo later in the week, so she came prepared with songs about animals and going to the zoo. The children played with different animal toys that she brought, sang different animal songs, and moved around the classroom pretending to be animals. To round out their last session with her for the school year, they played with sand blocks, drums, and maracas.

Music is an important and wonderful part of education and we are so grateful for Ms. Nora and our friends at MacPhail Center for Music!

Advocacy Day at the Minnesota State Capitol

Turning momentum into action, our preschool children accompanied their parents and Way to Grow staff to the Minnesota State Capitol to rally for early education. After boarding the bus and singing songs, a flood of yellow Way to Grow t-shirts entered the rotunda, where parents heard from education professionals and advocates while the children got to sing songs and were read to by legislators. Way to Grow Parent Champion Mina Thao even took the stage to share her story on how access to early education programs like Way to Grow have positively impacted her and her children’s lives.

“Witnessing their parents being active on any front leaves a positive impression on a child,” said Way to Grow Program Director Megan McLaughlin. “It was a great opportunity for the families to learn and experience the State Capitol in very different ways.”

Our families were then taken downstairs, where they were able to enjoy a snack, do some activities, and experience one-on-one time with legislators. We knew it was a long day because on the bus ride back to the preschools, a few of the children fell asleep. Who knew advocacy could be so tiring!

“Building” a Foundation of Learning (South Preschool)

It is always amazing to see the learning epiphany in children when they discover that just about everything they learn can be a career. For example, something as simple as building blocks can lead into a conversation about buildings and structures.

The South Preschool classroom was transformed into a cardboard workshop with boxes and supplies, and our children went from curious to becoming hands-on engineers! They were able to focus their skills individually and also cooperatively working with others to create some incredible structures.

This is a great reminder to always look for opportunities to learn in places you wouldn’t expect them and take action on them!

THE Trip to the Como Zoo

Even though the first zoo in the world was established in 1500 B.C. in Egypt, zoos remain wildly popular in the world and a driving force behind that are children’s interest, curiosity, and love for animals. Our Way to Grow children are no different, and after weeks of learning, singing, and pretending to be animals, there was no better way to finish the school year than a trip to the Como Zoo. We also invited their parents because you are never too old to go to the zoo!

Even though some parts of the zoo were under construction, the children were able to see all the animals they wanted to see on a list they made prior to their visit. From reptiles to mammals, the children got to experience and learn about the animal kingdom first hand. They also got to snack on animal crackers, which was intentionally planned by the teachers.

A huge thank you to our friends at the Como Zoo for hosting our families – and for everything they do for the Twin Cities community!

Sharing and reflecting on all these wonderful memories already has us looking forward to the next school year, we cannot wait to share with you what is to come!

What is it about eating that brings us closer?

What is it about eating that brings us closer? 960 640 Ken Story

These past two months, our preschools and our families have been talking about food. The children’s interest in food started when they read Bunny Cakes, The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza, and then a conversation about how they all ate rice but in different ways. They were perplexed, they were hooked, and we loved every minute of it.

The children came up with things that they wanted to know and learn about food such as  “What is healthy food?” and “What are the foods that are good or bad for our bodies?” The preschool pretend centers were transformed into a grocery store where the children could buy and sell food, and they filled their libraries with fiction and non-fiction books about food.

These activities all built up toward both preschools throwing their own international food bazaar day, where parents and staff were invited in to bring in cuisines from their cultures to share. So, surrounded by decorations made by the children, our Way to Grow families “broke bread” and had an amazing time together.

So again, what is it about eating that brings us closer? We learned that food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.

Find pictures of both events here –

A Visit from Allina Health’s Nurse Marisol

A Visit from Allina Health’s Nurse Marisol 2200 1650 Susan Cossette

Good morning, everyone!  Are we ready to talk to Ms. Marisol?

Mr. Eka, head teacher at Way to Grow’s Preschool Pals center-based school greets his class and introduces a special visitor to the classroom.  While March is National Nutrition Month, the teachers in our two preschools incorporate nutrition education into the curriculum each and every day.  However, last week, our early learners were fortunate to have a special visit from Ms. Marisol.  Ms. Marisol is a nurse who works with Allina Health—and is also the Mom of our teacher’s aide Daniela!

Prior to her visit, the children compiled some questions for her:

Why do doctors give you a check-up?

Why do doctors and nurses give you shots?

Why do we have to eat vegetables and fruits. . . all the time?

Why do fruits and vegetables make us strong?

Do you do check-ups on animals?

Ms. Marisol was ready to answer them all, and to talk more with them about healthy eating. Our children have been learning about food all year, and today we reviewed the food pyramid and each of its components. Ms. Marisol talked about the importance of a balanced diet, and together we made a fun arts and crafts project with our own balanced diet plates.

The children loved Ms. Marisol, and we hope she will come and visit again in the future.  Thank you for being a part of our classroom’s day!




So, What Exactly is an IGDI?

So, What Exactly is an IGDI? 2560 1707 Susan Cossette

IGDI [ig – dee]


IGDIs, or Individual Growth and Development Indicators, are frequently discussed here at Way to Grow.

“The IGDIs are next week.”

“Don’t eat those snacks in the fridge; they’re for the IGDIs!”

“When do the IGDI results come in?”

More than an third of America’s young children lack the skills crucial to school success.  This means that every year, over a million children enter kindergarten behind on Day 1 in literacy and numeracy development.  Meanwhile, research shows that these early years of education can be directly linked to odds of long-term success.

This is where the IDGIs come in, and why we use them in our work at Way to Grow.

Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDIs) are brief, easy-to-use measures of early language, literacy and numeracy designed for use with preschool children (ages three to five). Part of a long line of research at the University of Minnesota (and elsewhere), IGDIs focus on general outcome measures of educational and developmental growth. Teachers, parents, and others can use these measures to monitor children’s progress in important areas, identify children who need additional support or interventions, and track the effects of these interventions over time.

All of the children enrolled in Way to Grow’s programming who will be entering kindergarten next year take the IGDI assessments three times a year:  at the start of the school year, mid-way through, and then right before they begin kindergarten.

“After the IGDIs scores come in, we are able to engage with families individually and share areas where parents can work with their children to ensure they will be fully prepared for kindergarten,” explains Ashley Saupp, Way to Grow’s Education Manager.

This approach pays off:  Last year, 87% of Way to Grow’s children were deemed ready for kindergarten!

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.”


Different, but the Same

Different, but the Same 2100 1575 Ivy Marsnik

While February may be Black History Month, Way to Grow’s early learners in our Preschool Pals and P.A.L.S. (Parent-Child Activities Lead to School-Readiness) preschools celebrate diversity all year long as part of their day-to-day curriculum.

At the start of the school year, we talk about ourselves as being “different, but the same.” We may have different skin colors, we may come from diverse backgrounds, we may eat different foods, but we are all friends—and we are all here to learn! We play together, we help each other, and we treat each other nicely. We talk about the places that our parents or grandparents are from by placing our pictures on the world map. The students may not yet fully understand the states and countries or the significance of the map, but they learn about differences—and diversity.

Throughout the school year, we discuss the beautiful traditions of all our classmates: African Americans, Hmong, Somali, Native American, and Latino. From the books we read, the songs we sing, and the foods we learn about, our classroom is a rich tapestry of culture and customs. Every day, we learn new things from each other’s differences.

Recently, during our “Baby Project,” students brought in their baby pictures and shared them during show and tell. They proudly showed off their pictures, which demonstrated the diverse cultural backgrounds of Way to Grow’s children.

All these differences make our classroom rich and full of knowledge that we may not otherwise have gained!

Check out more photos from our preschool class:

Seeking Preschool Literacy Tutors

Seeking Preschool Literacy Tutors 500 334 Ivy Marsnik

If you are passionate about education and early childhood education, join us at Way to Grow! You can make a difference in the lives of young children by becoming a Minnesota Reading Corps Preschool Literacy Tutor. Tutors will work with our students in small groups and one-on-one using specific interventions developed by educational experts to develop early literacy skills. Previous experience working with children is not a requirement – Minnesota Reading Corps and Way to Grow will provide all the training you will need in addition to ongoing coaching support throughout your 11-month term of service.

Way to Grow has three part-time Reading Corps positions open for the 2017-2018 school year including one at our South Minneapolis preschool at Urban Ventures and two at our North Minneapolis preschool at Center for Families. The two positions in North Minneapolis could be combined to make one full-time position for the right candidate.

A Day in the Life

View the Job Description and Apply

Preschool Literacy Tutor – Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. (South)
Preschool Literacy Tutor – Way to Grow Preschool Pals (North)


Craig Allen
Way to Grow Education Coordinator
Minnesota Reading Corps Internal Coach
Cell: 612-267-6283

South Preschool Earns Full Accreditation and Highest Possible Rating

South Preschool Earns Full Accreditation and Highest Possible Rating 2560 1707 Ivy Marsnik

Congratulations are in order! Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S., located in South Minneapolis, was recently awarded both NAEYC Accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and a Four-Star Parent Aware rating! Joining our already nationally accredited and highly-rated Preschool Pals classroom in North Minneapolis, our South education team developed a classroom portfolio to provide supporting program evidence based on high-quality early learning standards connecting practice, policy, and research.

Earning full NAEYC Accreditation reflects the high quality programming provided in Way to Grow’s center-based preschool classrooms when assessed on areas including student and family relationships, early learning curriculum, teaching methods, school-readiness assessments, health, community relations, physical environment, and leadership. Both the NAEYC Accreditation and a Four-Star Parent Aware rating reflect that Way to Grow is committed to implementing best practices and quality care in the areas of early development and school readiness for Minnesota children and their families as they prepare for kindergarten and beyond.

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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