Early Childhood Education

Meet Aubrey!

Meet Aubrey! 2560 1707 Way to Grow

In a year and half, the confident, go-getter Aubrey went from being a cautious, nervous reader to loving books of every kind. Most importantly, she is now reading at grade level with an infectious smile!

Aubrey’s family educator, Alison, first met Aubrey and her family seven years ago. Through her many accomplishments made alongside Way to Grow, Alison saw Aubrey grow into a bright, happy girl who radiated confidence. But when 2nd grade brought literacy struggles, it was concerning to see how something as simple as a book transformed Aubrey from confident to cautious. 

As Aubrey exits Way to Grow after seven years, her smile—and confidence—is bigger than ever.

Culture to Culture Connections

In addition to the usual tools Alison uses to support literacy, including worksheets, writing, games, and “Reading A to Z,” connecting with Aubrey about their Native American heritage also supported Aubrey’s progress. Megan, Aubrey’s mother, truly appreciated connecting through their heritage, sharing, “Aubrey and I really liked it when Alison would bring books about our culture.” 

Aubrey attends Anishinabe Academy and was thrilled to bring home projects to show Alison what she had created and learned at school. Connecting Aubrey with her culture was important to Alison, and Alison was happy to help her learn.

Aubrey didn’t say “Goodbye” to Alison when she left. Instead, she said, “Gigawabamin,” which translates to “See you later” in Ojibwe. 

As Aubrey finished up 3rd grade, she asked why Alison only visited once a month. The answer was simple: because of the incredible progress she’s made! Monthly visits were enough for Alison to work, connect, and know that Aubrey was ready to move onto the 4th grade, at grade level. These days, Aubrey is working hard on practicing her cursive. 

At Way to Grow, we understand that language and cultural connections play a major role in helping children develop reading skills. Alison knows that Aubrey’s excitement and curiosity about reading, education, and her Native American culture, will take her far. While it’s bittersweet to see Aubrey graduate from our program, we won’t say goodbye. It’s a Gigawabamin to Aubrey and her family!

Early Childhood Education Prepares the Way for Future Success

Early Childhood Education Prepares the Way for Future Success 2560 2048 Susan Cossette

“Becoming a strong reader begins at birth. The cornerstones of reading success – language, knowledge, and curiosity – should be cultivated from infancy, and in every setting.”

Nonie K. Lesaux, PH.D.,Turing the Page

From the moment a child is born, every day matters to ensure they develop the literacy and learning skills required for success in school and life. Starting at birth, children are learning every waking moment.  In fact, babies and toddlers are either learning or sleeping! And between birth to age 5, a child learns at a speed unmatched the rest of his or her life. It is during these years – when more than 85% of a child’s brain is formed – that crucial brain connections are created. These connections help develop indispensable academic, social, and cognitive skills, which are the basis for learning.

In 2019, the Children’s Reading Foundation released a national school readiness study that establishes children’s kindergarten readiness points predict their academic achievement in fifth grade and beyond. These findings have far-reaching implications as communities work to close the achievement gap to ensure that all students are prepared for success.

The study, Readiness for Entering Kindergarten: The Impact on Future Academic Achievement, was authored by Lynn Fielding, Jay Maidment and Christian Anderson and analyzes longitudinal data for 380,000 U.S. students from first to fifth grade. Key findings are as follows:

  • Children’s language and literacy skills on day one of kindergarten range four to five years. Some have the skills of a typical three year old, while others have skills more typical of 7-8 year olds.
  • Students who start ahead tend to stay ahead. More than three quarters (76%) of the students studied who started in the top 20% are still in the top (or second to the top) 20% when entering fifth grade.
  • Conversely, students who start behind tend to stay behind. The majority (71%) of students who began in the bottom 20% are still in the bottom (or second to the bottom) 20% when entering fifth grade.

The good news is there is something that can be done to address this.  From the time a child is born until age 5, home is the easiest place to position a child’s academic trajectory. Communities, schools, caregivers, and parents all have a role to ensure children are ready for school on day one. And at Way to Grow, our Family Educators support and empower families to be their children’s first and foremost teachers—because children who begin school ready will have a rewarding educational experience.

The full study is available at:  https://www.readingfoundation.org/research

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.

Availability of the Revised Early Childhood Indicators of Progress: Minnesota’s Early Learning Standards (ECIPs)

Availability of the Revised Early Childhood Indicators of Progress: Minnesota’s Early Learning Standards (ECIPs) 1161 736 Ivy Marsnik

In the first five years of life, a child’s brain grows to 85% of its full capacity. Children begin to form a sense of what is possible and attainable in their young lives, exploring the world around them and finding their place within it. We know the first years of life are critical to a child’s success, but because this complex and rapid development in young children is accompanied by a very diverse set of early childhood education and care programs, having a shared set of expectations and key milestones is the foundation of a successful early childhood education system. In Minnesota, this set of shared expectations is called the Early Childhood Indicators of Progress: Minnesota’s Early Learning Standards (ECIPs).

Recently revised, the state has just released its 2017 ECIPs now available on the MDE website. The revised standards now include ages birth to kindergarten entrance and are aligned with the Minnesota Kindergarten Academic Standards. The areas of learning covered by the ECIPs include:

  • Physical and movement development
  • Social and emotional development
  • Language, literacy and communications
  • Mathematics
  • Scientific thinking
  • Social systems
  • Approaches to learning
  • The arts

A basis for curriculum, child assessment, and program evaluation in Minnesota, the ECIPs are not only intended to be used by teachers and early childhood education providers, but by families as well. Since learning starts at home with parents serving as a child’s first teachers, the ECIPs also serve as a helpful tool and resource for parents interested in learning ways they can better support their child’s learning and development.

Way to Grow Alumna Receives Full Ride Scholarship

Way to Grow Alumna Receives Full Ride Scholarship 2560 2048 Ivy Marsnik

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! 1200 798 Ivy Marsnik

Last fall, Waabomiimii began attending Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. after her mom met Miriam, one of our Family Educators, at a recruitment event. At four years old, Waabomiimii did not know her ABCs or how to count, but over the last year she has grown tremendously. Making leaps and bounds, Waabomiimii now knows all letter sounds, is counting up to 20, and has passed the nationally recognized IGDI early literacy assessments indicating that she is ready for kindergarten!

Itzel, Waabomiimii’s mom, is very happy with Waabomiimii’s progress and has enjoyed watching her daughter grow. “In just one year,” Itzel tells us, “Waabomiimii has learned the alphabet, how to write numbers, and count. She has learned rhyming words and is now learning how to read!”

Combined with our preschool parent-child classes and home visiting program, Itzel’s engagement has been instrumental in Waabomiimii’s success. “Mom always works very hard between home visits,” Miriam says. “She has done a great job with Waabomiimii over the past year on everything from counting and reading, to following through on rules. When she gets home from work, she now sets aside time each night to practice learning with Waabomiimii.”

During home visits, Miriam continues to work with Waabomiimii and Itzel on reading. “Waabomiimii is working on continuing to build her sight-word recognition – a critical first-step in early literacy,” Miriam says. “When I visit, we do a lot of shared reading, a technique we commonly use in our curriculum.” Shared reading, a strategy where students and adults read aloud together, provides guidance and support to the child as they learn new words. “I usually start by reading a sentence, then engage mom by having her read next. Mom then reads while pausing on the sight-words Waabomiimii knows to allow her to read the sight-words aloud,” Miriam describes. “Now they like it so much that mom is reading with Waabomiimii 10-20 minutes each day! They also visit the library regularly so they can continue to enjoy new books together.”

This month, Waabomiimii walked across the stage at the Way to Grow Early Learner Graduation and in a few short weeks, she will begin her next journey as she starts kindergarten. Thanks to mom’s hard work, and the help of Miriam and the Way to Grow preschool teachers, we are happy to report she is ready to succeed!

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.

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

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!

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