Summer Tutoring Initiative

Summer Tutoring Initiative 3327 1441 Kate Kinkade

This summer, Way to Grow is partnering with Literacy Minnesota’s Summer Reads program! Literacy Minnesota hires AmeriCorps VISTA members and provides literacy education training to young Summer Reads mentors. Way to Grow provides a supervisor, technology, and supplies! The Summer Reads mentors offer virtual small group reading and writing instruction for children in order to maintain and improve their skills during the summer months. With the help of Way to Grow supervisors, Summer Reads mentors will provide each child with 30 minutes of instruction 2-3 times per week!

Summer Reads is just one exciting piece of Way to Grow’s tutoring initiative. During the school year, Way to Grow partners with Reading Corps: Reading Corps tutors provide virtual individualized reading support for children from Kindergarten through 3rd grade. Way to Grow also works alongside Wooddale Church to provide virtual assistance to individual children with reading homework, and reading for fun! Volunteers are trained by Way to Grow and are paired with a specific child to build a relationship and provide support.

Reading can be so many things: imaginative, exciting, educational, and comforting. We’re so excited to continue joining our community partners to help young learners improve readings skills this summer!

Meeting Challenges This Season

Meeting Challenges This Season 8000 3960 Way to Grow

With the holidays approaching, we are reminded that many families are still in need. In addition to the challenges they face with virtual learning, many families are also dealing with unemployment, food insecurity, and social isolation, all of which have an impact on children’s mental health. A recent study by Save the Children has shown that almost 50% of students in the United States have reported feeling anxious or fearful due to current events. 

Way to Grow understands these challenges and we are working hard to address them. Our Family Educators have successfully adopted virtual home visits and creative activities for the families they support, both to continue their education and to provide socialization. This is crucial during a time when children are unable to visit with friends and extended family. In this way, the Family Educator plays several roles – tutor, mentor, and friend!

Our annual Adopt-A-Family gift card drive also looks a little different this year, and we are finding new ways to provide hope and joy to our families this holiday season. In lieu of gifts, our supporters have provided gift cards, allowing the families to purchase winter clothes, books, toys, groceries, and more. Even the smallest gesture can mean the world to a struggling family, and we are so grateful to those who generously contributed to spreading some holiday cheer! 

Give the gift of a bright future by donating in honor of someone special!

Children are falling behind: Here’s what we can do.

Children are falling behind: Here’s what we can do. 1200 600 Way to Grow

by Deedee Stevens-Neal, Director of Education

The early part of 2020 became a great experiment in virtual learning. Experts predict children could have a four to eight month regression in academic skills, and the American Academy of Pediatrics is worried about the social and emotional effects of distance learning. There is further concern with children not having their basic needs met and some may be more at risk of abuse as families experience high levels of stress. Our families are under immense pressure. Here’s what we can do to help.

Staying true to our mission, Way to Grow goes beyond just basic parenting tips to empower families to create a culture of learning in the home. We learned quickly that in the face of unprecedented challenges, we can adapt our current model to provide a deeper level of service. We can provide virtual home visits to families and supply children with books to maintain current reading levels. With the help of our school bus, we can deliver packages of household supplies, books and games, and additional educational materials. We can and will go above and beyond for our families.

Every week brings new challenges. To bolster our work, we are coordinating with other agencies to help our families through this crisis. With the development of tutoring support services, we are finding new ways to reach children. In addition to education support, our staff is specially trained to recognize partner violence, and has learned ways to assist families in this situation. For every challenge, we are working to be part of the solution—one family at a time.

Dear Third Grade Graduate…

Dear Third Grade Graduate… 3334 1459 Way to Grow

Dear Third Grad Graduate,

You did it! You graduated from Way to Grow!

We are so proud of you. You have worked hard in school, even when school closed and class was on the computer. You worked hard to stay healthy, eat good food, and get exercise. You worked really hard to get better at reading so you could learn new things. We want you to continue to work hard and be successful!

Even though you will not have a Family Educator to check in with you, we hope you continue to read for school and for fun. Reading can take you a lot of places that you cannot go in real life. Reading can take you under the oceans, to outer space, or to a different time. Reading can help you feel what it would be like to be a different person or from a different place. Reading can even make you laugh out loud!

Congratulations on your success! We are proud of you and your family!


Deedee Stevens-Neal
Director of Education, Way to Grow

Creating a Virtual Classroom

Creating a Virtual Classroom 1200 600 Way to Grow

By Deedee Stevens-Neal, Director of Education

Spring is definitely here and Way to Grow is keeping busy! Read on for an invitation to join our virtual Education is Power event, see children learning and working hard in our new virtual world, learn how we created a virtual classroom, and to get important updates on 2020 giving.

The teachers at our Way to Grow Preschool Pals are using creative ways to help keep both teachers and students connected during this peacetime emergency. Shortly after the stay-at-home order was placed, the team created a private Facebook group for the parents and children of the preschool. The teachers began creating videos from their homes that continued some of the children’s daily routines (such as discussing the calendar and letter of the week) and downloading them onto the private Facebook page. The families could respond via comments or send videos back. The teachers then incorporated these responses in their next video. The teachers also created videos of themselves reading books and giving ideas for easy activities that the families could do together. The books being featured are both in English and Spanish.

The preschool teachers then began scheduling virtual home visits to allow each child an opportunity to actually interact with the staff members. The teachers create a lesson plan that focuses on basic literacy skills and offers both quiet, sedentary activities and more active movement. Families sign up for visits at times that are convenient for them. Each child can have one visit per week so that they can continue their relationship with the teachers and continue to progress with their learning. These visits are in addition to virtual visits with their Family Educator.

The preschool virtual home visits have been a success! The teachers have had opportunities not only to connect with the children enrolled in the preschool, but also re-connect with older siblings that have attended in the past and younger siblings that may enroll in the future. Several children are using their families as part of the lesson. For example, one child was asked to name something that starts with a “W” and they ran out of the room to get their sister who was wearing a watch. Others have used their baby as an example of something loud and their moms as something that is beautiful.

It is important in this trying time to keep some stability and normalcy in the lives of these young learners. By giving the children these opportunities to remember their routines and practice their skills, we hope to come out of this time with children that are mentally healthy and developmentally prepared for kindergarten.

Snapshots: Virtual Home Visits!

Snapshots: Virtual Home Visits! 1200 800 Maren Nelson

Learning hasn’t stopped at Way to Grow! At recent home visits, kids were learning about Ancient Egypt and animals, they counted cars, and worked on color identification. We’re seeing progress every day. Great job, friends!

Way to Grow is online!

Way to Grow is online! 2500 1459 Melissa Meyer

The world looks very different today—children are learning at home, many people are unable to work, and a network of services is more important than ever. To meet the increased needs of our families and still keep everyone safe and healthy, on March 16 Way to Grow moved to virtual home visits for our families. Family Educators are now staying in contact with the families they serve through whatever virtual platforms the family can access. Through their screens, our staff continues to provide valuable home visits to families—connecting them to critical resources, teaching activities to families, and answering important questions during a frightening time.

Our Program Manager Patricia, tells us that although this change happened quickly, families are so grateful to make connections despite isolation and still receive the services of Way to Grow. “They are just so joyful that they are still able to communicate with their Family Educators by FaceTime!” she said. “The kids get such a kick out of it and we didn’t miss a beat with any of our activities.” Usually staff bring materials with them to the home, so they have had to get creative. “We started to send everything to the families through email and the mail the second all of this started,” Patricia explained. “We got the materials and curriculum right out to the parents so that we could continue to work with our families.”

Even our preschool has turned into a virtual classroom. Closed along with other schools in Minnesota, our teachers have had to improvise with daily videos to maintain the rhythm of classroom life, as well as reading stories and posting activities. The best part is that families are still engaged—posting photos and videos of their kids doing the activities, commenting with answers to recorded “lessons,” and forming an online community at the same time.

Things might look different right now, but we continue to work tirelessly on behalf of our parents and children each and every day. Despite being physically distant, we are still providing stability in the midst of change and uncertainty. It is because of your generous support that Way to Grow is able to continue our work. We couldn’t do this without you!

#BeerForBetter: Join Us For A Night Out!

#BeerForBetter: Join Us For A Night Out! 2400 1256 Angelique McDonald

Way to Grow is excited to announce our partnership with Lakes & Legends Brewing Company as their February #BeerForBetter campaign recipients! On February 27, Lakes & Legends will be donating $1 of every beer sold from two of their specialty taps from 5:00–10:00pm. Stop by after work for happy hour or after dinner for a night cap and support Way to Grow!

Come early and visit with Way to Grow staff, get your adult crafting on and test your skills with some of our preschool curriculum activities, plus a surprise raffle! We promise, it’s a goodie! Mark your calendar and make sure that you bring a friend (human or four-legged). We can’t wait to see you there!


Beer for Better! Sponsoring Way to Grow


Thursday, February 27, 2020
5:00 – 10:00 pm


Lakes & Legends Brewing Company
1398 Lasalle Ave, Minneapolis

2019 Advocacy Day for Children

2019 Advocacy Day for Children 2560 1920 Ken Story

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 come together and be a voice for Minnesota’s children.

As part of Way to Grow’s My Voice Matters initiative, led by the MinneMinds Coalition, our staff and members of families we serve rallied at the Capitol in support of equitable, child-centered, parent-directed, mixed delivery approaches to state policies affecting families and children.

The 2019 policy agenda of MinneMinds leads efforts to improve and support: 

Quality: Parent Aware and Kindergarten Entry Profile

  • Fully fund Parent Aware to continue the expansion of high-quality early learning programs throughout Minnesota with a priority on stronger recognition and incorporation of culturally relevant needs.
  • Support and fund state-wide expansion and implementation of a culturally and linguistically relevant Kindergarten Entry Profile (KEP) via approved assessment tools.

Access: Early Learning Scholarships

  • Support efforts to expand scholarships that meet the needs of low-income children from birth to 5 years old and prioritize children with the highest needs.
  • Make early learning scholarships more flexible to ensure children and families have access to quality early learning.

Access: Home Visiting

  • Increase access, flexibility, and funding for targeted home visiting programs.
  • Increase collaboration and coordination among home visiting and early childhood providers to improve outcomes for families.

Access: Provider Pipeline and Workforce Growth

  • Increase funding for grants, tax credits, and policies for early childhood providers.

Access: Childcare Assistance Program (CCAP)

  • Support family and provider-friendly provisions of federal reauthorization and serve more CCAP eligible families.
  • Ensure CCAP eligibility and access for families who are experiencing homelessness.

Way to Grow attendees received a tour of the Capitol, heard from legislators, experts in the education field, and other parents on the impact that early education has on their lives and our communities. Lastly, everyone in attendance was given a call to action and tips on how to contact their legislators when advocating for early education.  Find those tips here, and to learn more about Way to Grow’s My Voice Matters initiative, contact Megan McLaughlin at 612-874-4740, or at

Join Us at Play to Grow!

Join Us at Play to Grow! 2560 1707 Ken Story

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Playtime is one of the most important ways to promote healthy child development. Children learn, flex their creative ability and curiosity, interact with others, grow, and most of all have fun! Both children and adults benefit from playtime, especially in an open and shared environment that allows each individual to hone in on and improve their social, behavioral, and emotional skills.

Way to Grow is proud to offer such an environment to the community through its Play to Grow program.

Offered free of charge, Play to Grow is a weekly early learning class that provides curriculum-based learning opportunities for children under the age of five and their parents. During these sessions, families have access to Family Educators for home visits, health, early education, and to Resource Advocates for connections to services. Play to Grow not only offers great socialization opportunities for children, but is an environment where parents can socialize with one another.

The group is held every Wednesday from 10:00-11:30 AM in the Way to Grow Family Room at Lucy C. Laney at Community School in North Minneapolis and is open to the public. Each Play to Grow session contains five elements:

  • Free play
  • Circle time
  • Snack time
  • Table activities/sensory play
  • Free play (repeated)

While Play to Grow officially starts at 10:00 AM, parents and children may arrive as early as 8:30 AM for extended free play while our Family Educators set up.

Free play is an important part of our program because it encourages children to interact with the environment around them on their own terms. It allows children to use their dexterity, creativity and imagination, and motor skills. Additionally, it helps them build their confidence and teaches them to work in groups, so they learn how to play with others through sharing and the occasional time where a conflict needs to be resolved.

Circle time is a group interactive time where the children and adults come together to focus on one activity, led by a Family Educator. Usually, circle time will consist of an interactive story, singing, or reading. This time is important because it allows the children to bond as a group over a common interest, but in a setting where they are being taught by an educator.

Because childhood is a crucial time for development and growth, Play to Grow provides a snack time with healthy and nutritious foods to supplement the children’s midmorning needs between meals. Plus, who didn’t love snack time as a kid (and even as an adult now)!

The program then leads into table activities and sensory play held in different stations throughout the room. Typically, there is a sensory table, play-doh, and a craft project for the children. Sensory play is valuable because these activities stimulate the children’s senses of touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight, and hearing. It leads the child to learn more complex tasks and supports cognitive growth.

As the day circles back into free play and winds down, this time allows the parents more time to interact with one another as well as with Family Educators. While Play to Grow is valuable for children, it is equally as valuable to adults as it allows time for socialization and peer networking. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Here’s what parents are saying about Play to Grow:

To learn more about Play to Grow, contact Ronel Robinson at or at 612-874-4740.

Read more about the development of social skills in young children:

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