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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Buckets Full of Fun! ~ Photo Blog

Earlier this year, we were very honoured to be the recipient of the Brooks & District Chamber of Commerce - Community Spirit Award! This award recognizes businesses that have a high degree of community involvement, show support for seniors, youth and culture and act as community leaders by building on strengths within Brooks & area.

At BELA, we strive to give our students real world experiences that build on our Bucket Filling Philosophy!  Character Development is a building block of our program and we are always happy to make new friends, help other organizations and find fun ways for our students to bring smiles and happiness to others in our community.

We wanted to take the opportunity to share a post hi-lighting some of the community work we do with our students, that led to us being recognized as a leader in the area of Community Spirit!

Christmas ornaments & new books for our Kindergarten friends in Fort McMurray, the BELA Run for Reading,  food drives for the Brooks  Food Bank Foundation, helping plant flowers at our home in South Shore Centre, delivering cookies, flowers and notes for  RAK Day (Random Acts of Kindness), visits to Newbrook Lodge,  & spending time with our new friends from Eastbrook Elementary ; its all here in this photo blog of community minded projects past & present!

Thank you to Scotiabank & the Chamber of Commerce for this wonderful award! We were truly honoured to win in this category because character development is such a big part of our program. Thank you to our teaching staff for taking the 'bucket filler' philosophy and integrating it into our program every single day; for taking ideas and translating them into real world learning experiences for our students.  Thank you to our parents for helping with all these activities and for allowing us to share your children with our community.  And most importantly, thank you to our students for the opportunity to teach the value of community and for reminding us everyday to find the joy in the little things, help others , share and be kind!!


Friday, April 14, 2017

Stay To Play ~ A pilot Project

After 4 years of spreading the word about the importance of the early years and  implementing the only preschool program of it’s kind in the community for 3 & 4 year olds, the BELA team decided we needed to start even earlier! Why? Because “new research is shedding scientific light on what most of us always suspected from the start: playing with young kids isn’t just a fun way to pass the time. It actually changes their brains in ways that affect their health for a lifetime. And that has consequences for our families, our communities, and future generations. Positive interactions repeated through a young child’s life are the bricks that build a foundation for all future development. That means it’s important to get the early years right, because even as adults, our well-being has a lot to do with the way our brain architecture was shaped early in life!” ( 2017)  For many years, Jody our Director of Education has stressed the importance of the early years, especially ages 0-8 to staff,  parents, grandparents and pretty much anyone who will listen! We decided it was important to step into a role where we can teach,  model and help parents implement strategies with their children even before they are of preschool age, optimizing those early years even more.

Parents are a child’s earliest and most influential teacher, so we thought, why not start there? It was simple:  invite parents to bring their little ones and play! And they did!

We asked parents what they wanted to get out of these sessions and we heard a resounding...."Let’s get them ready for preschool; teach them to share, take turns and follow directions and a daily routine!" " And how about some colors, and numbers and shapes! Oh and don’t forget about fine motor skills and self-regulation!”

So, with the combination of a strong research based background and the valuable input from our parents, BELA staff designed the sessions to combine learning opportunities and playtime for parents with their child; while BELA staff model developmentally appropriate activities for parents, giving them the opportunity to participate, observe and engage in learning opportunities designed just for them.


This little afternoon pilot project has blossomed into a vibrant, fun, interactive program, rich in learning opportunities for the children, as well as their parents! With the unique opportunity of having the added comfort of their parent close by, these BELA littles had the opportunity to slowly dip their toes into pre-school life. As the weeks went by the staff noticed that the children's’ confidence grew and each and every child in their own way, adjusted to the daily routines, and began to adapt to the classroom environment and the expectations of their teachers. Our parents feel that they have increased their own learning regarding early childhood development; and feedback across the board indicates that the children's early learning skills have improved and that there has been significant progress in preschool preparedness. After observing the growth of these little people over the past few months, there’s no doubt in my mind that these future students will come back in September eager to listen and learn, and ready to fill buckets!

~Ashley Williams

** Catch one last session of Stay To Play before the school year is over! Details & Registration here: Stay To Play at BELA

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Let's Move! The Importance of Gross Motor Skills

Parents of young children may know what gross motor skills are, because of the awareness of milestones children achieve as they grow. Other times, people may not be exactly sure what we mean when we mention the importance of gross motor/ large motor skills. I like to tell people that gross motor gets you to where you need to go and fine motor helps you do what you need to do, once you get there. For instance, if your child wanted to do a craft, they would walk to the table and sit down (gross motor) and then they would fold or cut or colour the paper (fine motor).

Gross motor skills are movements that involve using the large muscles of the body. The development of gross motor skills begins as soon as a child is born. As children mature, their gross motor abilities continue to develop and improve. Boys usually develop gross motor skills sooner than girls, with the exception of skills that involve balance and precise movements, like skipping and hopping.

Gross motor skills are important because of:  

Health:  Any sort of exercise promotes obvious benefits of exercise to the body and mind.

Confidence & Self Esteem: Gross motor skills allow children to feel comfortable and confident during activities like group sports and games. 

Ability to Assess Risk: Another important life skill, not only with physical well being but with taking risks in life with decision making. 

Energy Release: This helps in all domains of physical, social, and emotional well being. Energy release allows our children to focus on tasks, impacting their learning in all areas. 

Brain Development: The early years lay the foundation of brain pathways for lifelong motor skills and aid in learning, especially learning skills that require advanced thinking and mental dexterity.

We are very fortunate at BELA to work with the Occupational Therapists and Assistants at Sensational Kids. They not only provide assessments for our students but they also provide our staff with resources, support and professional development, and step in to work with our students when necessary.  You too, can benefit from their knowledge by taking part in BELA parent workshops and by following them on Facebook for relevant resources!

Nowadays a lot of our gross motor development has  taken a back seat, because of things like iPads, game consoles, tv, etc. Some children would much rather sit in front of some sort of electronic device, than get up and move or  go outside. In our role as teachers, mentors, and parents, it is important to discourage this and encourage at least one hour of outside play everyday. It doesn't have to be anything fancy! Outside play can be as simple as a walk or bike ride, a game of catch in the back yard, or a trip to the playground.

Inside play can also develop gross motor skills as well, you just have to use your imagination. For the Gross Motor presentation that Mrs. Blake and I facilitated, we provided parents with easy ideas and strategies to use at home that are fun for the whole family. Here are some examples that you can implement today:

Yoga is a great exercise to do at home. Its fun, relaxing, can involve the whole family, and is a great opportunity to work on self regulation.

Rolling a ball back and forth to each other is another good exercise that you can easily make into a fun game. It also encourages coordination and turn taking. This activity can be expanded to further develop these skills, to tossing and catching a ball, depending on the developmental level of your child.

Hide and Seek is a great game for all members of the family. Trying to find a tricky place to hide will definitely promote some good gross motor movement and it's fun!

“Simon Says” is another fun game that everyone loves. Not only does it promote gross motor movement, it’s a great listening and direction following game. You can make the movement requests as tough or as easy as you would like.

Core strengthening is essential for the progression of other developmental skills. The core is the centre of control for everything else the body does. It’s difficult to balance, perform coordinated movements on both sides of the body, sit up straight in a chair, hold a pencil, control scissors, or jump if you don’t have a strong core. We know that decreased core strength commonly contributes to other issues like W-sitting and delayed motor skill development. And we also find that more and more children are having difficulty with maintaining functional posture at home and in the classroom and with overall body strength.

Everyone  has core strength and muscles that they don’t even know are there. The trick is to teach everyone, especially children, to ENGAGE their core muscles.
Once they learn how to do that, many things improve like their posture and balance.

Here are some core strengthening exercises you can try at home:

Bridging:  lifting the hips as high as possible. You can alternate this a little by trying to pass a ball underneath then have it get ‘stuck’ so as the child lowers the bridge, they have to lift back up again.

Superman position: have the child lay on their stomach and using their core, life arms and legs up as if they were flying. This is pretty difficult for some so try getting them to hold it for a short time, release, and then do it again.

Plank position: make this a time contest. Set a goal and work towards it. Have the child raise up on hands and toes and try to be straight like a board; ensure back and legs are straight like a board also.

Knock the wall over: when children have to stand still,  wait their turn, or need a break, give this exercise a try. Have the child place both hands on the wall and try to achieve a good lunge and see if they can knock it over.

Preschool children reap psychological benefits as they expand and refine their gross motor skills. Children become more self-confident when they challenge old boundaries related to their gross motor abilities and meet with success. Gaining gross motor proficiencies permits preschool children to take part in a variety of active recreational activities, which can promote psychological well-being. Core strength is necessary to develop all sorts of skills from posture, balance, endurance, coordination, and stability. All of these together create strong gross motor skills and healthy children.

These exercises were fun to introduce to the parents who joined us for the workshop at BELA and we are happy to share them with you through the blog! Your children will love trying out these activities with you. Fun , exercise, increased gross motor skills and confidence! Sounds like a win to me!

* For more great info / resources regarding gross motor skills check out the following websites:

~Lacey Flynn