Parent Engagement

You are Your Child’s Best Advocate

You are Your Child’s Best Advocate 2560 1700 Lisa Bryant

One of the most important responsibilities of a parent is to advocate for your child—being their cheerleader on the sidelines, a defender against their opponents, and a voice when their words seem muted. Every day, you strive to provide your child with the best so that their journey in life is a little less bumpy, with fewer twists and turns. As a parent, you have a profound impact on their success. A study on parent involvement concluded that a single overriding factor—parent involvement—determined a baby’s future opportunities for success or failure in life (Tough, 2016). Similarly, studies conducted on student achievement suggest that a student with parents who are involved in their education is more likely to do better in school, have better social and behavioral skills, stay in school, and graduate (Henderson and Mapp, 2002).

Your child’s years in school are when they need you to be an advocate the most. Each school year, they will meet a new teacher, navigate the teacher’s expectations, adapt to a new classroom culture, get to know new classmates, and participate in after-school activities. School will demand your child be skilled at getting along and working with others, negotiating, working hard, and coping with failure and success. With your help, your child’s school career—from pre-k to graduation—will be some of the best years!

Advocating for your child is not always easy, but it shouldn’t be avoided. The key to being an effective advocate is to maintain a strong relationship with your child, understand how to approach the teacher or school administration, and recognize when to intervene on your child’s behalf. Way to Grow suggests you follow these four key guidelines to empower you as a parent to effectively advocate for your child:
 

1. Establish positive, consistent lines of communications at home

As a parent, you are your child’s first and foremost teacher. Formative years at home teach your child how to interact with others and develop motor, language, and cognitive skills. These skills are best nurtured by positive, quality interactions and consistent communication with adults. Whether it is helping your child name their feelings, listening to a recap of their day, or talking out a problem, your everyday interactions should be built on a solid foundation of trust. When a home environment is based on strong communications and supportive relationships, your child will feel safe coming to you when they have a problem at school. You can’t be with them every moment of the day, but you can be the person they go to after the school bell rings.
 

2. You are the expert when it comes to your child

No one knows your child better than you. When school starts, it is your job as a parent to make teachers, coaches, and school administrators aware of your child’s special talents and skills, as well as any needs or special considerations they may have. At home, children can receive one-on-one support, but in school they are one of many. While teachers and staff work hard to ensure every student succeeds in the classroom, nothing can replace the insight of a parent. By working with school staff, you can ensure your child is able to utilize their strengths in school, as well as get vital support when needed. Children are more likely to gain confidence and thrive in school when they employ their talents and have their needs supported by the adults in their life—parents and teachers alike.
 

3. Develop and maintain communication channels within your child’s school

Establish a good rapport with your child’s teacher, school principal, and any other administrator who may be able to provide you with insight or advice. If you only rely on parent nights or parent-teacher conferences to start the conversation, you may be missing out on ways to help your child excel. Schedule meetings often to meet with teachers and the principal, and remain in constant communication with them regarding your child. The beginning of the school year is a great time to ask about the best way to communicate, whether by phone, email, or in-person.

Beyond academics, try getting involved with the regular goings-on of the school and take time to learn the school culture. Consider volunteering in the classroom or at events to increase your involvement. In doing so, you will also meet other parents, enhance your relationship with school staff, and become even more connected to your child’s educational experiences.

Check with your school to see how you can be involved. Remember, you don’t have to do it all—commit to something that fits in your schedule and is best suited to your own skill set. Some activities may include:

  • Attend Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) meetings
  • Become an in-classroom parent volunteer or chaperone a field trip
  • Volunteer to be a tutor or mentor
  • Help with a major in-school project
  • Attend your child’s after-school activities
  • Volunteer for evening events
  • Assist with a fundraiser or organize a drive

 

4. Create a network of other parent advocates

There’s power in numbers. To strengthen your ability to be an advocate for your child, find and connect with other parents who are also advocates. Identify a time to meet as a group and meet often to discuss and learn from one another. Together you can talk about strategies that may or may not have worked an identify teachers and administrators willing to support parent advocates. By building a network, not only will you gain new perspectives and allies, you may also find a greater support system for yourself as a parent. Your child doesn’t need to be the only one to make friends at school!

Advocating for your child takes time and looks different for every parent. As you develop new tools and resources, nurture relationships with teachers and school administrators, and increase your visibility within the school setting, remind yourself that you don’t have to do it all. Like your child, you are your best self when you are playing to your strengths. That said, remember to stay involved! Always keep in mind, you are the first and foremost advocate for your child—you are the key to their success throughout school, as well as in life.

 
Additional Resources:
Looking to make a greater impact on your child’s education? Check out and download a couple of our other resources for parents below and then connect with Way to Grow to receive updates on our programming!

 
References
Henderson, A.T. and Mapp, K.L. (2002). A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement. Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Tough, Paul. “To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents,” New York Times, May 22, 2016, p. SR1.

Strengthening Families: Hassan and Asha’s Story

Strengthening Families: Hassan and Asha’s Story 1200 800 Ivy Marsnik

“From the moment we met Shany in 2005, she was very respectful,” Hassan says thinking back to 12 years ago to the day when a neighbor introduced his family to Shany, a Way to Grow Family Educator. “The fact that Shany was a part of our culture and spoke our language made it very comfortable for my wife, Asha, who was often home alone with our children.”

Shany enrolled the family and began working with Hassan and Asha’s oldest son, Hamza, who was four years old at the time. Shany brought learning materials over each week to help Hamza with his reading and writing, and helped Asha find and enroll Hamza in a preschool program.

Hassan spent the next few years studying at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul to become a high school math teacher. Over the course of his studies, he and Asha had three more children. As the children grew, their reading and vocabulary skills improved with Shany’s guidance. Shany always explained how the children were doing, and helped Hassan and Asha understand where each child was developmentally.  Hassan was very pleased to see the improvements. He knew Shany was teaching his children the skills they would need to be successful in the classroom.

Over time, Shany became the family’s friend. “She served as an educator and mentor not only to our children, but to our entire family,” Hassan says. “Shany provided guidance and help to all of us. Whenever she made a home visit, she brought books, school supplies, learning materials and toys, and even bikes for our children. She also provided Asha and me with important community resources such as housing, library, and school choice information. Shany even went as far as to help my wife, whose English language is limited, translate documents, enroll in English Language Learning (ELL) classes, and complete a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate program.”

“We began telling others in our community about Way to Grow the same way our neighbor had shared the word about the organization with us. It is such a great program, and our community needs it. It is so important especially in the inner city where schools are challenging for English language learners who don’t understand the system, how it works, or that our children need supplemental learning because what they learn in the classroom isn’t enough. Way to Grow helps families and immigrant communities new to the school system and brings them up. Having Shany in our home was a huge plus.”

In January 2017, Hassan and Asha moved from Minneapolis to a home in Bloomington, outside of Way to Grow’s current service area. According to Hassan, the family had two main criteria when finding a new home: having a high quality school district, and the overall safety of the community. Though Hassan and Asha miss the connections they made at Way to Grow, they could not be happier to have a place for their children to call their own.

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.

Staff Voices: Representing Native American Identity

Staff Voices: Representing Native American Identity 934 618 Ivy Marsnik

At the age of 16, I ran away from the city to move to the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. I always loved it up there. As children, we’d go every summer, and just about every weekend in between, to spend our days canoeing, ricing, and berry picking at my grandfather’s. We’d visit with the elders, explore the great outdoors, and care for one another in our community.

Looking back, I suppose it was the simple life that I ran back to.

Even at a young age, I knew working with children was my passion. Not long after my return, I found work in the early childhood education field providing home visits to families on the reservation. The families always viewed me as company, the socialization aspect equally as important for the parents and children that often lived 30 miles from their closest neighbors. It was not uncommon for my visits to run close to two hours long and conclude with talking about family and friends over a warm cup of coffee.

Life in the city is much different. Many native families come to Minneapolis for work and better access to quality education programs and health care centers for their families. But with so many great opportunities, families are constantly rushing and on the run to doctor appointments, parent activities at the school, extra classes and community events, you name it. For some families, finding an hour to set aside for a visit can be a challenge, but they make the time because like all parents, they want what’s best for their kids.

As natives, we also know that we need to do better for our children who are disproportionately unprepared to succeed in school.

  • Among Native American children in the state of Minnesota, only 61.9% were deemed ready for kindergarten last year, which is lower than any other racial or ethnic group.
  • Minnesota ranked 9th out of the 13 states reporting on 4th grade reading proficiency rates among Native American children.
  • Last year, Minnesota had nearly the worst high school graduation rate for Native American students in the nation with only 52% graduating on time.*

These dire statistics are important to highlight because all too often, America’s indigenous people are left out of conversations about closing the “achievement gap.” It is clear we must work to help our children. The first step is to inform parents in our community that these gaps exist and of the importance of starting early to build the foundational skills necessary to overcome them. Following a long history of discrimination, neglect, and abuse, we are recognizing as a community that it is time for us to speak up.


alisonAlison Dakota is a Way to Grow Family Educator. She currently works in Minneapolis providing family support and home visiting services to 30 families, 25 of which identify as Native American.

 


*Research presented in The State of Minnesota Public Education: A MinnCAN Research Snapshot, March 2016

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

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