Early Learning

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!

Abubakar: a reading superstar!

Abubakar: a reading superstar! 3986 3000 Payton Gresczyk

Maryan and her four children have been enrolled in Way to Grow programming for over seven years! They have worked closely with their warmhearted and dedicated Family Educator, Shany, since 2014. The youngest of the four children, five year old Abubkar, has been excelling in school and Shany has been very impressed with his desire to learn and engage in educational activities.

Abubakar was set to start kindergarten in the fall of 2021, but his pre-k assessments indicated he had surpassed kindergarten levels and was moved up to first grade! Throughout his visits with Shany, he has soared through his A-Z leveled readers and has is now reading at second grade level. On top of his exceptional reading skills, Abubakar stays very active, playing football and baseball. “He is a very lively little boy, always happy!” says Shany.

Abubakar is supported by his mom and three older sisters, but especially his sister Ameera. She takes time to read with her little brother and play with him. They are best buddies! Ameera is very nurturing and patient with Abubakar, listening to him practice his reading skills and helping him understand the new vocabulary.

We are so proud of Abubakar for his superstar accomplishments! We look forward to watching him continue excelling and succeeding in school and life.

2019 Graduations!

2019 Graduations! 1250 834 Angelique McDonald

Summer at Way to Grow is always an exciting time. Read on to hear about our recent 3rd Grade and Early Learner Graduations, and don’t forget to check out all those great smiling faces below!

3rd Grade Graduation

In June, we honored over 60 third graders and their families as we celebrated their graduation from our Great By Eight program. For some, it was bittersweet as they said goodbye to Family Educators that had worked with them since infancy. Yet for many others it was a time to say “see you soon,” knowing their younger siblings would keep their Family Educators busy for years to come.

Families were invited to a fun night of games, crafts, food, and celebration. Each child was presented with a certificate, goodie bag, and a book, and parents and caregivers were recognized for all the work the entire family put in to getting their kids set up for success. It truly takes a village.

Congratulations, 3rd graders! We have loved having you in our program and know you will go on to do amazing things in this world!

Early Leader Graduation

One month later on July 28, over 100 preschoolers graduated from our early learner program. With over 500 people in attendance, we had a blast as our preschoolers walked across the stage, families ate a meal together, and everyone played games, made crafts, and put temporary tattoos everywhere!

This event is always a highlight of the year because it truly reminds us of the importance of the work that Way to Grow does every day. For these children, this is the first of many graduations and it inspires families to keep working towards a brighter future. We are so incredibly proud of the work these families have done so far and cannot wait to see how they continue to grow in the years to come!

We want to extend heartfelt thanks to all who made these wonderful celebrations possible:

Thank you to all the Way to Grow parents and guardians for your work and commitment to your child’s education. To our Way to Grow Family Educators and staff, thank you for all your hard work, enthusiasm, and dedication. None of this could happen without you. Finally, thank you to our volunteers, the Way to Grow Board of Directors, and our funders for your continued support.

A special thank you to Books to Grow and Minneapolis City of Lakes Rotary Club for providing books for our graduates and families!

Way to Grow Celebrates the Achievement of Early Learners enrolled in ‘Great by Eight’

Way to Grow Celebrates the Achievement of Early Learners enrolled in ‘Great by Eight’ 150 150 Lisa Bryant

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!

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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