Early Learning

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!

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!”

Emril’s “E”

Emril’s “E” 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Emril is a very energetic three-year-old who came to Way to Grow just seven months ago. Marie, Emril’s Way to Grow Family Educator, noticed he was having trouble sitting still and focusing on tasks.  He wasn’t responding to questions and wasn’t sure how to hold a pencil. In an effort to get Emril ready for preschool this fall, Marie got straight to work on teaching Emril to write his name.

In September, Emril began attending Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. The talented teachers there build on the skills Emril learns at home. The preschool experience has been beneficial for Emril’s Mom as well.  While Emril is at school, she attends ESL classes to continue her education in hopes of earning her GED. During the preschool’s parent-child days, Emril’s mom enjoys the opportunity to play and learn with her son. “I am learning so much new stuff [from the home visits and preschool lessons],” Mom says, “Things I never knew before!”

Thanks to parent, classroom and home visiting support, Emril is now able to sit for longer periods of time and concentrate more on his learning. He also comes home cheerfully singing the songs he learns at school and enjoys telling Mom and Marie all about what he did that day. Between home visits, Mom practices writing lessons with Emril. In fact, when Marie returned two weeks later, Emril was eagerly writing the letter E!

“Preschool P.A.L.S. has definitely had a tremendous impact on Emril’s social-emotional skills,” Marie says. “Emril is already more engaged at visits and is responding to questions more readily.  When I would ask who his friends were at school, it was initially very difficult to get a response. Now he’ll happily tell me, ‘Sanja..  Josephina.. Mohammed..’ His progress over such a short amount of time has just been a lot of fun to watch. I am excited to see both Mom and Emril continue to grow.”

Cradle to K Cabinet Releases Final Plan to Address Early Learning Disparities in Minneapolis

Cradle to K Cabinet Releases Final Plan to Address Early Learning Disparities in Minneapolis 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Mayor Hodges and the Cradle to K Cabinet released the final Cradle to K report outlining policy, legislative and collaborative recommendations for 2015 and beyond.

“As much as possible, these recommendations are based on research and the prevailing best practices in the field and in our community.  We want to focus on what works.”
-Mayor Betsy Hodges

The Cabinet, focused on eliminating disparities for children in the City of Minneapolis from prenatal to age three, released the draft report earlier this year.  “I want to thank the community for the serious and heartfelt response we received to the draft report.  I think you will find we took many comments to heart and incorporated your feedback into the final report,” says Mayor Betsy Hodges, “These recommendations are grounded in our three goals and have been labored on not just by our 28 Cabinet members but also by our subcommittees and additional community members.”

The Cabinet is recommending systems alignment, leveraging existing resources, and increased investments in children in the areas of targeted home visiting, housing for very-low income families, child care assistance and early learning scholarships, and service funding for our most vulnerable children such as homeless children and children with special needs.  “The Cabinet’s work is not done,” states Cabinet Co-Chair, Peggy Flanagan, calling Cradle to K a labor of love. “We are ready to get to work.”

Carolyn Smallwood, Cabinet Co-Chair and Executive Director of Way to Grow, adds that the Cabinet is now putting together its implementation plan.  Carolyn outlined a few of the things the Cabinet will be working on right away:

  • Improving the mental health services for children zero to three
  • Combining efforts with Generation Next and others to continue to increase early childhood screening efforts
  • Working on ways to increase the availability of housing for the most low-income families
  • Looking at ways to increase early learning scholarship opportunities for families in Minneapolis and
  • Trying to connect with family, friend and neighbor care providers who provide the majority of care to very young children.

Of these, Carolyn highlights, “It is critical for family, friend and neighbor care providers to have the correct information on getting kids ready for school.”  The Cabinet’s vision for the future, as told by Mayor Hodges, is for every parent and child to have the same access to resources beginning with prenatal care, continuing to empower parents to create a nurturing environment for their children, having stable housing that can provide a safe place to learn, and not having that access be determined or affected by income or race.

The Mayor has said Cradle to K is one of her main priorities this year.  The full report is available on the Mayor’s website.

Check out Way to Grow’s feature on KARE 11.

Prioritize Preparing Children in Deep Poverty to be Ready for Kindergarten

Prioritize Preparing Children in Deep Poverty to be Ready for Kindergarten 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

There has been considerable talk about early learning lately. We have heard for so long the alarming fact that Minnesota’s children in poverty are not prepared for kindergarten. It is encouraging to see the growing consensus about the end goal, even as the means are subject of spirited debate. We, as providers of early care and education serving some of the poorest children in our state, are now asking that you open your minds and hearts to hear our point of view.

There are 78,000 children ages 0-5 in Minnesota living in deep poverty. Deep poverty is defined as a family whose income is less than 50 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Children in every county and of every color live in deep poverty. However, children of color are disproportionately impacted by poverty, are uniformly at the highest risk of failing school, and are susceptible to repeating this cycle of poverty.

What does it mean to be a young child living in deep poverty in Minnesota? For preschoolers, this life comes with many challenges, starting with parents who likely also grew up in similar conditions and face, along with their children, their own daily challenges.

These children move frequently with their parents, living short term with friends or family or in shelters – a very unstable and chaotic life for young children who benefit so greatly from consistency and certainty. It is heartbreaking for us to have a child leave our preschools, knowing that the warm and healthy environment we provide during the day is not easily replaced under their family’s precarious circumstances. These children are being read to less often, have few or no books, and rarely enjoy the treasure of our parks.

Too often, these children have family situations that include mental illness and/or substance abuse, often leading to child neglect or violence. For them, the present is joyless and grim, and the future will almost certainly be tragic … UNLESS we collectively do something big and different NOW.

Provide flexible funding

What do these children need to set them on a better path? While no single solution exists, we propose one thing our state government can do this year: prioritize helping each one of these children to be ready for kindergarten. We believe that one of the smartest investments of state dollars is to provide flexible funding for early education and care that stays with each child until they turn 5 or enter kindergarten.

Flexibility will let funding follow each child so that when families move, they can maintain their opportunity to find a new early care and education provider, whether it be school-based, center-based or home-based. With fully flexible funding each child can get the amount of time they need to be successful. In contrast, funding based on arbitrary caps set by the state, or as a “reward” for parent’s working is a flawed system that places consequences on children for the performance of their parents.

We already have proof that flexibility funding for children works. The federal government provided $45 million over four years supporting comprehensive strategies and interventions in Minnesota, including two urban and two rural communities. Flexible scholarships were provided to hundreds of children in poverty. The results are profound in the White Earth, Northside Achievement Zone, St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, and Itasca communities.

Records of success

The Family Partnership, Way to Grow and Phyllis Wheatley Community Center combined have 252 years of serving children, youth and families, and the child development centers are four-star rated by Parent Aware, the highest rating possible in Minnesota, and have served over 16,380 children, youth and families in 2013.

Eighty-nine percent of the children graduating from preschool into kindergarten met school readiness standards and were cognitively, socially/emotionally, language/literacy and physically prepared for success in school.

When we do what is right for our children, we see the benefit it brings. We also know firsthand the damage that results when we don’t. Please find the way to get this right this year. We will help these children get ready for kindergarten and bring great promise into their lives.

Greenman, Smallwood, Milon

Molly Greenman is the CEO of the Family Partnership; Carolyn Smallwood is the CEO of Way to Grow; Barbara Milon is the executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

This article, written by Molly Greenman, Carolyn Smallwood, and Barbara Milon, originally appeared in MinnPost.

Building a Strong Community

Building a Strong Community 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

This month, our Preschool Pals focused on building a strong community.  Each area of the classroom was transformed to represent a place in the community.  The snack area served as a restaurant, the manipulative center was a construction site,  the science center became a hospital, the group area was the city hall, and the writing center was the local post office.  As students visited different pillars in their community, they participated in a variety of activities enhancing our curriculum.  “We did two cooking activities the kids really enjoyed,” Lead Teacher, Mr. Eka tells us. “After the children practiced identifying the different fruits and vegetables at our grocery store, we read The Ugly Vegetables and made a vegetable stew. Following suit, after reading The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza, we made personal pizzas.”  I’m sure you can guess which recipe was the classroom favorite!

20141212_150332The preschoolers also took part in a science experiment, dissecting eggs!  Going along with Humpty Dumpty, some of the preschool friends suggested gluing the eggs back together. “For art this week, in addition to our letter of the week, we made community signs such as stop signs and traffic lights that we posted around the room. We also drew fire fighters in action, extinguishing realistic fire paintings.” 20141217_142838

Each student played in the sensory table which was filled with packing peanuts. After searching for community helpers, the children played a matching game, pairing them with where they work. At our writing center, children traced words for our community helpers and completed a tricky maze connecting their community workers with their vehicles. Wrapping up this week’s activity, the class made posters of what they want to be when they grow up.  To Mr. Eka’s delight, “teacher” was the most popular career choice!

 

 

 

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