The University of Winnipeg



New literacy and numeracy tool released amid COVID-19

Back row (left to right): Andrei Cabungcal, Jershon Pascua, Kristen Blatta, Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, and Brian Guevarra. Front row (left to right): Meagan Nenka, Lorenzo Ortiz, Madison Kehler, Mikaila Collins, and Herlinda Dalayoan. ©UWinnipeg

Parents now have access to a new tool to help them improve their children’s numeracy and literary skills while schools are closed.

Initiated by Dr. Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, Faculty of Education and Director of the Development Studies Program, and her grassroots team, ToyBox is designed to assist parents in preparing their children, aged two to eight, for skills in literacy, numeracy, and wellness.

While it was set to be released later this year, due to COVID-19 and the shutdown of public schools and most childcare facilities, ToyBox was fast-tracked, and is available in email format. Based on pilot testing, Skwarchuk said “the response has been amazing,” and that childcare centres are already reaching out for the tool.

“One preschool just asked me if they could have the strategies to share with parents now that their centre is closed,” she noted.

A numeracy activity: count your fingers and toes, by ones, twos, fives, and tens! Supplied photo.

While the COVID-19 outbreak has made it a little more difficult to communicate with her team, Skwarchuk is still aiming for the app to be released later in 2020.

Last fall, the development of ToyBox hit a roadblock after failing to receive government funding. However, nearly $12,000 in funding from the Winnipeg Foundation, along with a UWinnipeg Experiential Learning Grant, and in kind support from the UWinnipeg Foundation and the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils, allowed her to create a team to continue with the project and get it to its current stage.

“What I told the Winnipeg Foundation was that we needed the confidence from an outside agency to say ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job, and keep going,’” she said.

Skwarchuk then hired UWinnipeg education students Meagan Nenka and Mikaila Collins as research assistants (RAs) to help coordinate the project. They then pitched the project to students at Maples Met School, who are now developing images for the strategies, and students at Sisler High School, who are developing the app. 

Other developmental studies and education students, Kristen Blatta, Madison Kehler, Charry Mangaya, and Madelaine Toupin have been working in the UWSA Daycare to pilot the strategies with the children.

“Other than the fantastic t-shirt she showed us at the pitch, I really just liked her idea of delivering an effective way of giving parents information to educate their children,” said Grade 12 student, Andrei Cabungcal, Sisler High School.

A literacy activity called ‘Same and Different.’ Use vocabulary words to describe objects around your home of different sizes, shapes, and colours. Supplied photo

“This is a really unique experience, because interpreting information and creating a graphic to go with it is a very important skill for myself to have,” said Grade 11 student Herlinda Dalayoan, Maples Met School.

More recently, Skwarchuk received an additional $25,000 from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Engage Grant, which will be used to further support their assistants’ wages.

“I’m really excited as a future educator to be able to think about literacy and numeracy from the perspective of a parent,” said Meagan Nenka, “and what can be done at home to empower parents to show what they’re doing is really valuable in terms of their child’s development.”

If you are interested in learning more about ToyBox or want to receive the tool, please email Skwarchuk at

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