Early Ed

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

Promoting Early Literacy Development – Tips for Parents

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

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

1. Enjoy more conversation

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

2. Avoid baby talk

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

3. Bring back the bedtime story

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

4. Expand on school projects

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

5. Encourage them and express pride

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

Meet Mr. Barry

Meet Mr. Barry 2055 1566 Ivy Marsnik

Every Wednesday for the past year, 12-15 Way to Grow preschool children cannot wait to see Mr. Barry’s friendly smile when they arrive at school.

Mr. Barry volunteers as a Preschool Literacy Tutor at the Way to Grow Preschool in South Minneapolis. “I love reading to the kids,” he says, “I get to the preschool before class starts, and before you know it” Barry cheerfully explains, “I’ll have several children crowding around me; excited to read, to learn and to enjoy a story!”

To say Mr. Barry has a passion for teaching would be an understatement. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” Mr. Barry goes on. “But, one thing led to another, and I wound up with a successful career in retail; but I never stopped thinking I would have liked to be a teacher.” So, even while working full time, Mr. Barry started his equally successful volunteer career as K-3 tutor at Emerson Public School where he served for over ten years. Though Mr. Barry enjoyed the one-on-one time, this school enjoyed a large number of volunteers. He credits this experience with inspiring him, and looked for more opportunities where he could make an impact.

“That’s when I saw a call to volunteer with Way to Grow in the newspaper,” Mr. Barry says. “I looked into the program and was very drawn to the idea of working with a population of students [where a large percentage are] assimilating to America, while simultaneously learning to navigate the school system. It’s hard not to tie this work to the achievement gaps everyone is talking about in Minneapolis, and, well, you can’t keep complaining that kids are undereducated, if you’re not going to do anything about it!” And so, Mr. Barry did, and has been with our Preschool P.A.L.S. ever since.

“I know that the families at the preschool are getting a head start, and that’s very profound throughout Way to Grow,” Mr. Barry concludes. “I, myself have learned a lot by watching these children and families progress and learn new skills. We are getting these kids ready to be successful and well educated. Seeing these results – let me tell you, I am so proud of how advanced these children are. It is what keeps me involved and inspired.”

Mr. Barry thinks about the impact his involvement may have in the future, “Someday one of these children might be our mayor, a successful CEO, a noted teacher or anything else they can dream of – even representing us in the White House!”  And Mr. Barry likes to think he is helping them get there; “Even if just a little bit!”

Looking to the Second Generation – How Transformative is Early Ed?

Looking to the Second Generation – How Transformative is Early Ed? 2560 1707 Ivy Marsnik

Imagine a three-year old girl, born into poverty. Her parents may not have finished high school and statistically, it’s even less likely anyone from her family has ever graduated college. Let’s say she defies the odds and graduates high school on time, but shortly after, she becomes pregnant. She seeks help and finds herself at Way to Grow. As she grows more confident in her ability to create a different path for her child, she decides to go back to school, becoming a first generation college student.

It isn’t easy. She will face many challenges; How can I afford school? Who will care for my child when I’m in class? What about transportation? Where will I find the time to work, study, and raise my child on my own?  The unfortunate reality is that a disproportionately low number of first-generation students succeed in college. However, there is a path forward.

Her daughter already has a childhood that looks much different than her own. She will reap the benefits of a childhood where her mother knows the importance of living healthy, reading with her child daily, and advocating for her daughter’s education. Her mother spends time with her to read and uses everyday experiences as an opportunity to teach. Her mother is involved in her school, and this little girl grows up knowing her mom is the number one advocate for her education. The bar has been raised. Education is no longer simply a choice, but an expectation. With this, a second generation is born. She learns to pick up the torch from where her mother left off, and continues to blaze forward on the path of educational attainment towards greater social opportunities – A hope we all share for our children.

Powerful isn’t it? The daughter in this story is more likely as a second generation college student to persist beyond three years of higher education, and that much closer to earning her bachelor’s degree; arguably the most important rung in the educational attainment ladder in terms of upward social mobility. This is why early childhood education and parent engagement matters. This is why Way to Grow matters.


Dr. Mary Dana Hinton, 15th president of the College of Saint Benedict will deliver a keynote address at the Way to Grow Spring Luncheon.

Join Dr. Hinton as she delves deeper into the power of the second generation >>

U of M Economist Publishes Study on Early Ed

U of M Economist Publishes Study on Early Ed 150 150 Way to Grow

Courtesy of University of Minnesota / MinnPost

University of Minnesota professor Aaron Sojourner recently published a study in The Journal of Human Resources centered on the role that high quality pre-k programs can have in tackling the achievement gap.

In an article published in MinnPost, Educator reporter Beth Hawkins wrote, “By age 3, children from low-income families are typically one standard deviation behind their wealthier peers on IQ tests. The 1,000 children in the study who got the very early intervention had the same cognitive abilities as middle- and upper-income kids at age 3.”

In his interview with Hawkins, Sojourner said, “Status at 18 can be well predicted by status at age 5, so we keep going back earlier,” said Sojourner. “And there is compelling experimental and quasi-experimental evidence that early life conditions have large, lasting impacts on life course.

Hawkins also referenced a study by economist (and Way to Grow board member) Art Rolnick that proposed early ed funding for all low-income 3 and 4 year olds based on the incredible return on investment such funding has shown to have on the economy.

Click here to read: New study: High-quality preschool for poor kids under 3 would eliminate achievement gap

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