The early years before children even start school are being recognized as crucial in terms of brain development.
For a decade now, the StrongStart BC program has been providing an opportunity for kids to take parts in activities such as play-based learning before they enter kindergarten.
The program marked 10 years in School District 72 this last year, so at the Feb. 26 board of education meeting, StrongStart program facilitators Joanne Bishop, Karen Lutz, Julie Toews, Catherine Pengelly and Kelly Overton gave a presentation to trustees about the program.
The early learning program for preschoolers is offered at the Cedar, Georgia Park, Sayward and Sandowne elementary schools and also has outreach programs at École Willow Point, Quadra Elementary and Homalco.
“Because it’s drop-in, we never know who’s going to come through that door each day,” said Karen Lutz. “You have your core group of people, but it’s always different every day.”
There is a total of 792 families registered in the program, and each week an average of 58 families attend.
“The program is highly used,” she said.
StrongStart offers parents and caregivers a chance to interact with children.
“It’s great for the kids,” Lutz added.
Joanne Bishop gave an overview of some of the activities, such as examining the life cycle of a butterfly or discovering snowflakes’ design under a magnifying glass.
“We are child-led and child-based,” she said. “The parents are encouraged to participate.”
StrongStart is a free and runs on a drop-in basis. The full-time programs are three hours, and it runs on the school district calendar. It is open to children five years old and younger, as well as parents and caregivers.
“We get grandmas, aunts, uncles, caregivers, parents,” said Lutz.
Guided by an early learning framework, the program runs under the direction of licensed early childhood educators and explores social, physical, intellectual and emotional aspects of child development.
“Our program is highly varied,” said Bishop. “We cover all the areas of development.”
As a preschool program, it is largely play-based in which children work on problem-solving, social skills and self-esteem through play.
“Our play is extremely varied,” she said. “We connect and explore.”
It also offers field trips for families and culture exploration and celebration. All of the centres engage with the Indigenous community and incorporate Indigenous into a class setting, such as Liq’wala/Kwak’wala language learning at Cedar’s StrongStart program. Another aim of the program is to better connect families of young children.
Pengelly said the facilitators go through the early learning document every year with assistant superintendent Nevenka Fair to examine each aspect of the program, from how the rooms are set up to engagement with the children and relationships with the school.
“We review and we come up with individual goals as a group, and we come with goals for our individual programs,” she said.
These could include goals such as connecting with families or introducing Indigenous resources and language.
Anyone wanting more information on StrongStart programs, including the days and times, should contact the school office at any of the StrongStart programs.