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Monday, November 2, 2015

It's the Journey, Not the Destination....A Post by Mrs. McClelland

You know that old saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination….”? That’s what keeps running through my mind as I remember a Fall day 11 years ago….

My son Ty who was just  three at the time comes running up to me  after school saying enthusiastically “Mommy, Mommy, look what I made!”

He lifts his circular paper plate creation still damp and dripping with white glue up for me to see. “Oh beautiful, Ty!” I say, while  trying to decipher what his preschools art project was that day. As I realize it’s a bear’s face made on the paper plate, I say, “Oh I love this fuzzy cuddly bear you made, I can’t wait to put it on your bulletin board in your room”. While we walk hand in hand to the car I’m thinking to myself, does the bulletin board have any room left? I’ll have to sneak an old craft down during nap-time again to make room for this new creation!

I’m sharing this story about my son, Ty’s bear craft to illustrate that a craft is much more than a just a craft.  It’s so much more than the cute little fuzzy bear face that every child made that morning at school.  

Children learn by doing. It’s a great way for us early childhood educators to tie in a concept or theme we’ve been working on by giving children hands on experiences.

The process of creating the craft for preschool children is far more important than the finished product. It’s the journey! Or in this case, it’s the process not the product!

With the process on my mind, I recently set up my own version of Ty’s bear craft during center time at BELA. Using this craft as an example, I can “paint a picture”, (sorry,  pun intended!)  of what I would encourage during the process of creating this bear and share with you what the children would be learning as they build their masterpiece!

From the pictures, you will see that I set out a variety of materials on the table during center time. The only explanation I gave the children was that the materials were there for them to make bears. You will see the difference in each child’s creation. In this case we are focused on the process and what the children are gaining from each experience they are having as they make the bear.

This approach differs from what is known as structured or ‘cookie cutter ‘ crafts. With structured crafts they might be provided with each piece of the bears face, with things chosen for them, pre-cut or pre-colored. There are times to use structured crafts as our approach when we are using them to facilitate the learning of a certain skill. For example if we are working on fine motor or hand strength we may choose a structured craft where they have to pick up small buttons using their pincer grasp repeatedly to glue to certain areas as they follow a predetermined craft design.

When we choose to focus on process crafts we are using a distinctly different approach, one that gives the student a different experience and allows them to  achieve different learning outcomes. They are experiencing the process so much more than when they are  being provided with all the exact same pre cut eyes, nose, mouth, fur and ears. This approach is  more likely to retain their attention, as they have to think about and decide what they will use for the different parts of the bear’s face.

Now that we have considered the differences between the educational purposes of cookie cutter crafts, and those crafts that are process focused, let's look at specific examples so you can understand what the educator would be encouraging (and how) and what the student would be gaining!

Sensory Exploration:Students are getting to feel the texture of the fuzzy bear fur, touching and manipulating the smooth plastic buttons. The children will inevitably experience the sticky glue feeling on their hands since we know preschoolers love to squeeze out white glue in epic proportions! All part of the process!
We can pretend to roar like bears as we make our craft! All the while the children are deciding to use as little or as much fur as they want. They can decide what colors the bear’s fur will be. Who says bears need to be brown or black?  The biggest joy of crafting is getting to imagine and then create what was imagined.  Maybe a child is imagining a green bear or a rainbow one.  Maybe they are imagining their bear might have big eyes or small eyes or one of each. Or maybe even triangle or square eyes instead of round. We, as Early Childhood Educators, and parents can foster children’s vivid imaginations by providing a variety of materials and the freedom for children to be able to bring to life what is in their imaginations during craft time.
Fine Motor Skill Development: 
Preschoolers work on their pincer grasp to pick up the pieces of fur and buttons. They are building up the muscles of their hands by overly enthusiastically squeezing that bottle of glue! Then using eye hand coordination to precisely stick the buttons and fur onto the paper plate. 

Concentration and Focus: 
While children are working on their masterpieces, they are learning to concentrate and minimize the distractions around them while learning to master the use of crayons, placing objects and gluing . It takes a lot of concentration for little ones to complete a craft . This helps to build up their attention span.

Following Directions: 
Being able to understand and follow directions is a skill needed and used throughout life. Giving the children simple instructions, while giving a visual demonstration of the steps is imperative to a successful craft time.  

For example: I instruct children to color their plate first as I demonstrate coloring one; next I would show the children how to glue on the bear’s eyes, nose and mouth, lastly gluing on the fur. During the visual directions I would encourage the children to use whatever shape or size buttons they like or choose what color of fur they’d like their bear to have. This way, children are free to make their own creative choices but are given the basic instructions of what needs to be done.
Social Emotional: 
Children will feel a sense of accomplishment and a boost in their self-esteem from finishing their creation and will be proud of themselves that they’ve made their bear all by themselves. This extends to bonding with their parents as parents oooh, awe and praise their child’s masterpiece when they get to take it home that day.
We can choose to target specific words to expand children’s vocabulary during craft time.  While making the bears some words I might focus on would be soft/hard,  big/little, the names and identifications of colors and shapes, roar, growl, the facial body parts; eyes, nose, ears, fur & head. The list of words we choose to focus on can be as big as children’s imaginations are.

Extended Learning: 
As Early Childhood Educators and parents we can extend and carry over our craft into another time of play.  Once the bears are dry, we can take our bears and hold onto them while acting out the actions to the song, “Teddy bear, teddy bear turn around.”  We can play with toy bears in our block centers and can end our day reading a book about bears.  
In the end it doesn’t matter if one child made a bear with just fur and no facial features, or that one child made a blue bear with one triangle eye and one square one. It matters that they had the freedom to use their imagination while creating and learning and most of all have fun doing it!

Do I still have the bear Ty made over a decade ago? I sure do! It made the cut for his memory box, but there were hundreds of crafts my boys created over the years that  didn't make the cut and ended up in the garbage.  
Were they a waste? No, because  I know they  had hundreds of meaningful experiences that enhanced their development by having the opportunity to explore, create and master important learning tools and skills through the process of creating their masterpieces. 
I know they enjoyed the journey and I enjoyed it with them!!

For more information regarding the importance of process vs. product see:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Welcome to our BELA Family....

As September draws to a close, we are settling in to our new school year, excited to welcome back our families whose children have previously attended BELA, and meet many new families and get to know their children!  

As we prepared, with our staff, for the opening of our fourth school year, we paused to examine recent data and research and reflect on the mission of the Brooks Community Enrichment Foundation.  “ The Brooks Early Learning Academy, founded by the Brooks Community Enrichment Foundation, is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of early learning, and to providing high quality, play-based, early learning programming accessible to all children in our community.”  

Current research regarding the importance of the early learning years, and the birth rates for Brooks & the County of Newell, indicated that our community was definitely in need of additional spaces for children to have high quality early learning opportunities.  Our Foundation was determined to provide these important learning opportunities for all children in our community, regardless of their learning needs or the socio-economic status of their families.  Since our initial year, Alberta  Education & Alberta Human Services partnered in a project, the EarlyChildhood Development (ECD) Mapping Initiative, to collect data across Alberta utilizing the Early Development Instrument (EDI) to gather information about children in Kindergarten.   The EDI developed by McMaster University, is utilized across Canada, Alberta, and Brooks & the County of Newell.

In Canada, the national norm for Canadian children indicates 25.40% of children are experiencing great difficulty in one or more of the 5 early learning developmental domains.

 The 5 year Alberta EDMap results (2009-2014) indicate that 28.9% of children are experiencing Great Difficulty in at least one of the 5 Developmental Domains.

In Brooks & Newell County (2010) the following data was collected: 32.7% of kindergarten children are experiencing difficulty in one or more developmental areas,  including 39.7% experiencing difficulty or great difficulty in Communication skills & General Knowledge; and 29.9% experiencing difficulty or great difficulty in Language & Thinking Skills
As we reviewed the mission of our Foundation and current data, and reflected on our programming, we established our goals for the up-coming year:
·      to provide programming for over 85 students at BELA
·      to increase the number of children enrolled, who are Early English Language Learners; and
·      to continue to provide programming that supports individual
learning needs, and recognizes developmental levels of all children
The BELA Learning Team is excited that we are beginning a new school year and are looking forward to sharing and supporting the learning growth and development of all of our children at BELA this year!   Our year will be filled with active, hands on learning activities, fresh air and daily exercise, science and numeracy activities, field-trips, and an environment which is rich in early literacy activities and support for the children’s character development.  Parents are the children’s first, and most important teachers, and we will celebrate with our families as the children evolve as early learners, who are excited to learn and have fun with their friends, and their teachers at BELA – Where We’re Learning & Loving It!

Monday, July 6, 2015


On behalf of our committee, I would like to thank you for your support of our event, the Pink Ribbon Project. This year we were able to raise over $22,000 for the CanadianBreast Cancer Foundation. We are overwhelmed by the generosity of our sponsors and all those who attended!

Photo Credit: Jessica Surgenor
 At this year’s event we referenced the ‘gift of time’. Your support is helping to give more time to women who are facing breast cancer. Research is saving lives.  When you donate to or sponsor the Pink Ribbon Project you are directly supporting research. All proceeds go to the CBCF, the leading supporter of breast cancer research in Canada.

There is urgency in the work that we do! One in nine women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and 30% of those women will develop metastatic breast cancer (Stage IV), for which there is no cure. I am all too familiar with the statistics surrounding this disease, as I watch my Mom fight for her life everyday. She is living with metastatic breast cancer and has to depend on research, advances and discoveries to help her in that fight!

 You gave generously to the Pink Ribbon Project. You gave the gift of time. Please know, that for women and their families that are affected by breast cancer, your gift gives even more …..
to see more photos from PRP please visit Jessica Surgenor Photography

Quality of life.
Thanks to dedicated researchers and scientists we are seeing more targeted treatments. For breast cancer patients this means less invasive treatments with fewer side effects. Funding of innovative research in detection, diagnosis and targeted treatment have medical professionals working as we speak to make the next breakthrough!

Knowing that we are not alone makes all the difference. There are so many others who believe in and work towards the same goal. This gives us hope. Your support allows us to hold onto that hope, it is tangible proof that others are behind us.

Education & Empowerment
We are both learning and providing an opportunity for others to learn about risk, risk reduction, early detection and treatment options. The CBCF advocates for the breast cancer community and needs our support to continue to do so.

My Mom is able to focus on making memories and reaching milestones because she is confident in the treatment she is currently receiving. Treatment that gives her time, quality of life, hope and more.

Thank you for giving more to all the women, & families who are affected by breast cancer. In this moment in time we can say we have,  ‘more ups than downs, more give than take, and more treasures than pockets!’ [1]

Thank you for giving us more! We wish the same for you!

Carmen Powell  

[1] Krouse Rosenthal, Amy  I Wish You More”. Chronicle Books, 2015

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Little People, Big Message....(Claire)

My name is Claire and this is my message…..

When I went to the SPEC- ParentLINKCentre programs, I learned to “listen to my teachers and smile and talk with them. I look forward to seeing them and learning from them. I really like learning my numbers, letters and cooking with my friends and teachers!”– Claire(Age 4)

Claire is 4 years old and will be heading off to Kindergarten in the Fall! She is helping us to share the importance of early learning. Here we tell more of her story through the eyes of both her Mom & her program providers at SPEC- ParentLINKCenter.

“I decided to register her in the SPEC- ParentLINKCentre programs- (Messy Monkeys, Little Chefs and Little Scientists ) because  Claire needed help to socialize with other children. She needed to learn how to play with other children her own age and connect with them in a fun environment. “- Joanne (Claire’s Mom)

“When Claire started attending programs she was so shy and wouldn’t play with any of the other children. Claire would come in the playroom and sit on her mother’s lap or play with a toy by herself. If a child came to play Claire would leave and go see her mother.” – Karen Bolt (SPEC ParentLINKCenter)

The ECMap developmental domain of Emotional Maturity can be described as “the child is able to express emotions at an age-appropriate level, is able to separate from parent/guardian.” In Brooks and the County of Newell 27.2% of our Kindergarten children are experiencing difficulty in this area of development.

The emotional maturity of a child has great impact on their everyday life. It affects every relationship they have, with members of their own family, and with new children and adults they encounter in the community. As you can imagine, those children who struggle in this area will face even greater challenges when they enter school, as they will need to handle all of the changes that brings and all the emotions that come with it. We can support our children by providing them with lots of opportunity to develop emotional control while we can guide them. Attending early childhood programs which provide a variety of experiences early in life, with a variety of children and adults, can make all the difference, as they gain control over their emotions, and confidence in their ability to meet new people and make friends.  By attending early learning opportunities, they will have had practice in situations such as: separating from Mom or Dad; having to listen to another adult besides their parent(s); sharing with children other than siblings; and resolving conflict with other children; all while managing their emotions or, if needed, having an experienced teacher or program provider assist them in doing that.

“Claire now welcomes us with a smile and a “hello” when we see her come to SPEC-ParentLINKCentre. Claire has joined in on conversation during the program and asks questions when she doesn’t understand. I also see Claire playing and talking with other children during the program and while playing. Claire seems much happier now. We are continuing to focus on social interaction with other children so that when she begins Kindergarten, the transition from home to making new friends at school will be much easier.”- Karen Bolt (SPEC ParentLINKCenter)

“The biggest change I have seen in Claire since starting these programs is how happy she is to be there. She always has a smile on her face when greeting her teachers. She also looks forward to playing with other children she has become friends with instead of playing alone.

I would recommend SPEC- ParentLINKCentre  programs to the other parents because the children have opportunities to learn at their own pace. The tasks are fun and the teachers take the time to get to know the names and the personalities of the children. The teachers do not push the children to do things they aren’t comfortable with at the time. The teachers are well prepared and are a huge help to the parents as well. I am proud of Claire because she has come out of her shell and emotionally is more ready to start Kindergarten in September.”- Joanne (Claire’s Mom)

“Healthy early childhood development is the foundation to a child's life. From positive relationships with peers and family to sleep habits to kicking a soccer ball, the experiences in a child's early years are of the utmost importance. We know from the results that came out of the ECMap Project, a large percentage of our children here in Brooks and area are experiencing difficulty. At the SPEC Parent LINK Centre we have staff with many different backgrounds and expertise to facilitate early childhood activities and empower parents with the resources they need to foster the best environments for their children. We believe in learning through play and also believe that parents are their child's BEST teacher!” – Desire Veno (Program Manager, SPEC ParentLINKCenter)

Nearly 29% of Kindergarten-age children in Alberta are experiencing great difficulty in one or more of the five areas of development. In Brooks and area this number jumps to nearly 33%! ( five developmental domains are related, building on each other, and it is important to support children as they develop emotional maturity, social competence, and communication skills, as difficulties in these areas directly affect development in general knowledge, language and thinking skills and physical health and well-being.  Children who have well-developed self regulation skills, and are able to communicate their needs, are better equipped to learn new skills and develop their knowledge, even when something is new or difficult.  The ‘unwritten curriculum’ provided through early learning opportunities, will support their successful transition to Kindergarten. Giving our children the opportunity and time to develop in appropriately in all five developmental domains will change the statistics we are seeing for children in our community. We can improve the experience our children are having, as students in Kindergarten and beyond! For more information about the statistics seen throughout the Little People, Big Message campaign, please visit the website of the Brooks & County of Newell ECD Coalition. For  more information about the programs mentioned via the BELA Blog please see the resources below.

Brooks & County Immigration Services

Brooks Early Learning Academy

Brooks Preschool

Duchess Preschool

Les P'Tits Trésors.

Parents As Teachers
Grasslands Intervention Offices
403.362.8729 ext 116

SPEC Parent Link Center

- CP