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Monday, October 17, 2016

Stay To Play....A New Program at BELA!

At BELA, we are inviting you to, Stay to Play, and learn together! “Children the world over, from those living with the most sophisticated families in big cities to those living in remote villages in developing countries, spend much time 'just playing.' Of course, only grown-ups would put the word 'just' in the previous sentence, implying that somehow play is an indulgence only the very young are entitled to and that nothing much is happening when children play.

Nothing could be further from reality, however,for a great deal happens when children are 'just playing.' They are developing skills and habits and attitudes that will stay with them throughout their lives. As they play they learn to cope with frustration, to continue to try to improve, to share with others, to give vocal expression to their thoughts and fantasies. They literally 'play for keeps.'” (Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell, Importance of Play In Early Childhood, 2016)

Research indicates that children learn best in an environment which allows them to explore, discover, and play…It is also closely tied to the development of cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical behaviors. (Jill Englebright Fox, Early Childhood News, 2016)

“If we are to save play, we must first understand its nature. Creative play is like a spring that bubbles up from deep within a child. It is refreshing and enlivening. It is a natural part of the make-up of every healthy child. The child’s love of learning is intimately linked with a zest for play. Whether children are working on new physical skills, social relations, or cognitive content, they approach life with a playful spirit…. But is it work or play? In childhood there is no distinction.

Adults are convinced that we need to “teach” young children. It is certainly true that we need to set an example in all kinds of activities. We also need to create appropriate spaces where children can play and learn, and we need to lend a helping hand- and at times even intervene when things are going wrong. But mostly we need to honor the innate capacity for learning that moves the limbs and fills the souls of every healthy young child”. The Nature of Play (Joan Almon, The Vital Role of Play in Early Childhood)

With this understanding, that play is vital to the healthy development and learning of children, we recognize, “Parents are the most important people in their children’s early lives. Children learn about the world and their place in it through their conversations, play activities, and routines with parents and families. Parents can also support children’s learning in out-of-home settings, such as childminding settings, crèches, playgroups, pre-schools, and primary schools. By working together parents and practitioners can enhance children’s learning and development.

Parenting involves giving children the care, education and attention they need to learn and develop. Parents provide children with their first learning experiences and they help ensure that children reach important developmental milestones such as sitting, walking, becoming toilet-trained, talking, cutting, doing up buttons, cycling, reading, and so on. As children go on to spend time in out-of-home settings parents continue to support their learning and development. This is more effective when parents complement children’s experiences in a particular setting. Likewise, learning is more meaningful when practitioners use information from parents about children’s interests, skills, abilities, and dispositions as a starting point for new experiences." (Building Partnerships Between Parents & Practitioners)

At BELA, we recognize and honour the important role that parents play in the early learning of their children. Kenneth Leithwood, well known Canadian educational researcher, and author, tells us we need to shift our focus from ‘how to get more parents into our schools, to how we can support them at home’. As we sought information regarding the importance of co-learning, capacity building, and efficacy for families, it became apparent that parents feel that learning through play is important for their children.

The Child Care Information Exchange (Oliver & Klugman) tell us “91% of parents believe play is an important contributor to their child’s development and well-being. Almost a quarter of them (21%) believe that their children enjoy less time to enjoy play than they did as a child.” However, “Nearly three fourths (72%) of parents believe early academic learning is important and over half strongly believe that academic success is essential for life success. These numbers suggest that parents will make choices- sometimes misguided- that they feel will promote school success.” Information such as this, indicates schools have an important role to play in supporting capacity building and the efficacy of parents to support their child’s learning, through an educational partnership between home and school.

At BELA, we are excited to offer our new program, “Stay to Play”, a partnership, designed to share collective knowledge and expertise; highlight individual family’s strengths and talents; and support families through the use of community strengths and assets; in order to support continuous learning by both families and school staff, that will in turn support continued high quality learning for children in our community.

We invite families in our community to bring children ages 2-5 and join us each week to Stay to Play!, where BELA staff and participants will share ideas, and model learning through play experiences, with the children and their family participants. We will be offering 2 sessions of this 10 week program. Stay To Play is Tuesday afternoons from 1:30-3:30 , is open to children ages 2-5 and is offered free of charge via BELA and our community partners BCIS & the Medicine Hat & District Child Care Association. All the information including eligibility and registration for the program is on our website. Just follow the link to learn more and get registered: Stay To Play
~Jody Rutherford
Director of Education & Programming

Monday, August 29, 2016

First Day of School ~ Easing the Transition

“But Mommy, I’m ‘ascared’ to go to school.  I won’t know anybody there!”
“Daddy, I don’t know where to go potty at school!”

It’s that time of year, where the worries of your children and your own as a parent are at the forefront of our thoughts. It's a time of excitement for all and anxiety for some, as  you prepare to entrust your little ones to our BELA  Learning Team and we prepare to welcome your most precious little people

As Lisa Medoff reminds us in her article First Day of School, “separation anxiety is a very common problem for preschool children, especially during the first few weeks of school. You may also see some separation anxiety in children after an illness, a vacation, or even a long weekend, where they have become accustomed to being at home for a long period of time.”

Transitions of any type can be difficult with children this age, as their self regulation skills continue to mature. As  Dr. Stuart Shanker says in his book Self-Reg – How to Help your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle & Successfully Engage in Life, “Children… find it very hard to articulate what they’re feeling.  It is through their actions – or lack of action – that they show us.  Once we learn how to read their signals, there are effective steps we can take to help them manage their arousal.

As families and BELA staff work together to decrease the fear, or anxiety, children may be feeling as the beginning of an exciting year of learning is approaching, there are a number of strategies that we may utilize in order to provide support for your child, and to help you feel better prepared for this all important transition into the exciting world of early learning.  You are your child’s first, and most important teachers, and we are happy to collaborate with you to choose strategies that may support  your child.   From our previous experiences, we have selected some strategies you may find helpful in the weeks ahead. 

Transition stories:  We have posted on our website two transition stories, one for children who will be new to BELA and a second one for children who are returning to school after the break.  You are welcome to  add your child’s name to the story,  and the names of your child's classroom staff, once you have attended orientation and know  who your child’s teachers will be The story may be shared on the computer, or  by printing a copy for her/him to read with you and possibly revisit on their own.  These transition stories include pictures of the school  and we, and our families, have found that they go a long way towards helping children and parents feel more comfortable with this transition.

Comfort items: -  a favorite toy, blankie, family picture, or other item you know will increase your child’s comfort level, are welcome to join us at BELA.  Please talk to your child’s classroom staff in advance, so that they know the child has the item and it won’t be misplaced, or if it is in the child’s backpack, can be taken out if needed.  Usually these items ‘visit the classroom” with the child, for a few days of school, and then we begin the process of placing on a shelf ,or in a pocket (where blankie or puppy can watch them have fun). 

Pretty soon, the item will be placed in the child’s locker (just incase they need it) and before you know it, your child may decide that their comfort item can be left at home, to help take care of everything at home until they return.

We have also included an article by Lucy Schaeffer, “Goodbye Without Tears” in our Parent Orientation packages, which provides excellent strategies for ways to support your child during this transition time.

Every child is an individual, and will  make easier transitions to school each day when they feel comfortable in their learning environment.  Please feel welcome to share ideas  or strategies that may have helped in the past and might make this big step easier for your child and for you!
~ JR 
Jody Rutherford
Director of Education & Programming 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Why all the talk about Buckets??!

If your child attended  BELA or you follow our school you have probably heard us talk about buckets, bucket filling and the dreaded bucket dipping!!But what do we really mean when we talk about teaching our students to be bucket fillers? And why is it a focus at BELA?

Our program is based on 4 "Building Blocks". One of these is Character Development. We focus on the development of a strong sense of identity, self esteem and sense of belonging. These provide the foundation for children to become active and responsible citizens in their community. Children begin to develop their identity and citizenship through active inquiry into their social, physical and cultural environments. We are committed to giving our students experiences that allow them to discover how they are connected to other people and their community. We encourage them to express interest, sensitivity and responsibility in their interactions with others!

We use the Bucketfiller concept with our students to make Character Development even more accessible to them; allowing for age appropriate explanations, examples and activities. Our children learn that we all carry an invisible bucket, containing our feelings. When people have a full bucket they feel happy and positive. When someone says or does something that makes another person feel badly, their bucket can be emptied. At BELA we both teach and model the bucketfiller lifestyle and it is directly tied to our focus on character development.

Through our daily interactions, stories, songs, free and directed play; we find  opportunities to enhance each child's character development. We work to take things even further by allowing for  active inquiry into their social environment. Our annual food drive for the Brooks Food Bank is one example where we have the opportunity to discuss and model the virtues of caring, responsibility and respect. Its an opportunity to give our students the chance to fill some buckets, both figuratively and literally! They understand that sometimes other families need our support and they feel good about helping. Its a win-win!

This year we have been fortunate to have another great opportunity for our students to be actively involved in the community through our visits to the Newbrook Lodge. Our students have been spending  time with the seniors who reside at the Lodge, sharing some songs, crafts and enjoying some visiting time!

Through this experience we are able to discuss aging, family, health and  emotions, as well as our impact as a member of the community on all our friends! We have the opportunity to extend this learning into our play as well.  It's the perfect time for our parents and staff to model behavior  for our students, all the while discussing the virtues of  kindness, respect, caring and empathy.

While we know the value of this experience for our students, it is also important to acknowledge the value for the seniors. 43% of older adults experience social isolation which is correlated with loneliness and depression which impacts both physical and mental health. "Socially isolated seniors are less able to participate and contribute to their communities. Yet seniors benefit from volunteering and participating in their communities due to a sense of satisfaction and efficacy, and communities benefit from the services and social capital seniors are providing. A decrease in contributions by seniors is a significant loss to organizations, communities and society at large." (National Seniors Council; Report on the Isolation of Seniors)   Our seniors are such an asset to the community and hold a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with younger generations.

We hope that by continuing  this partnership with the Newbrook Lodge, we will be able bring them experiences that will build  self efficacy and bring a sense of accomplishment. While we continue to work on this relationship we will  look to current research and best practices regarding children and seniors to guide our activities and time with them. In the meantime, just  by looking at the smiles of both our students and our new friends I think its safe to say we all have some overflowing buckets!!

Character Development will continue to be central to our program at BELA. We are always looking for new ways to have our students actively engaged in the community; and now that you know what all the "bucket talk" is about, you can support us in the work that we do at school, at home and in our communities!
~ CP 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Calm, Alert & Ready to Learn – How to help our children self-regulate

Calm, Alert & Ready to Learn – How to help our children self - regulate

Who hasn’t at some time or another been mortified when their child has a complete melt down in a public place?  Personally, I can recall a time when one of our daughters (who shall remain nameless) would tantrum every time I picked her up from the sitter and made a quick stop at the grocery store, or pharmacy, on my way home.  It was embarrassing, people would gather, and because I was a teacher, I felt like people wondered how I could control my students at school, when I couldn’t even control my own child! I should have known that most people weren't judging me, teacher or otherwise as almost every parent has been there but it's hard in the moment when you feel all eyes are on you!

It wasn’t until I calmed down and gave it some thought, that I realized, I was expecting her, (at her worst time of day, when she was tired, hungry and eager to get home to her sisters and her toys), to behave in a calm, rationale manner.  Not fair, Mommy!!!  As adults, it is our job to determine how to help our children succeed, and in this case, it meant re-organizing myself to go directly home; returning to the grocery store, or pharmacy later, once everyone was calm and fed, or leaving these tasks until I could arrange for someone else to stay with the children or pick up what was needed.

Little did I know at the time, what I have described is a child (and her Mommy) struggling with self-regulation!!!  So what is this self-regulation?  Why is it important for children (and their parents to learn)?

Self- regulation is the ability to:
       attain, maintain, and change one’s level of energy to match  the demands of a situation or task
        monitor, evaluate, and modify one’s emotions
        sustain and shift one’s attention when necessary and ignore distractions
       Understand both the meaning of a variety of social interactions & how to engage them in a sustained way
       Understand, connect with, and care about what others are thinking and feeling -  to empathize and act accordingly

 During the past 15 years, Dr. Stuart Shanker and his colleagues from York University  have been tracking the increasing incidents of behavioral disorders (ODD, hyperactivity, ADHD, etc).  This worrying trend, as well as the dramatic increase in anxiety disorders in children and youth (ages K-age 24), and a tendency for these diagnosis to occur at younger and younger ages, regardless of income level of the family or gender of the child, have led scientists to conclude that behavioral management techniques, that rely heavily on punishment and reward are relatively ineffective in reducing children’s problematic behaviors.  Dr. Shanker believes in many cases these types of strategies actually exacerbate the problem. 

Recent advances in developmental neuroscience are dramatically altering attitudes toward the possibility of maximizing the educational potential of every child.  Scientists now understand the better a child can self-regulate, the better they can rise to the challenge of mastering ever more complex skills and concepts.

There are 5 Domains of Self- Regulation, which are connected and affect each other:

       Physical/Biological: managing levels of energy and tension in the body
       Emotional: understanding, expressing, and managing feelings
       Thinking: processing information from the senses, paying attention, reasoning, planning
       Social: communicating and adjusting behaviour to match what is needed in social situations
       Pro-social individuals engage in behaviours that are positive and helpful, promoting social acceptance, friendship & empathy.  Pro-social functioning is bound up in all the other areas of the 5 domain model, and is a higher level of self-regulation.

 A child who is ‘out of sync’ in one of these areas, may struggle with learning and relationships.  As parents, and educators, it is our job to recognize these struggles and teach children the skills that will help them to cope and ‘head off’ those behaviours we all come to dread!

That being said, there is a difference between misbehaviour and stressed/overwhelmed behaviour and we need to recognize the difference and handle it differently.

 If you want to learn more about self-regulation and how you can best help your child, we are providing a presentation at BELA on January 27th at 7:00-8:00 or on Wednesday, February 3, at 1:30-2:30.  Please call 501-0019 or email Jody at if you would like to attend.

Director of Education & Programming

Friday, January 8, 2016

Family Learning Celebrations......Photo Blog

Twice a year we invite our families to join us at BELA in the evening for our Family Learning Celebration. This is a chance for our parents to spend some time learning from their child about life at BELA and experiencing  their daily routine . Our students are always so excited to have their parents attend! Your participation as a parent helps show your child that you value their education and are interested in their school. Parent involvement is directly linked to children's success in school. Thanks to all our BELA families for your participation.