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Friday, April 24, 2015

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

My name is, Maia and this is my message,

“When I started preschool I needed help to reach things what were up high and to learn how to print my letters. Now I can read and write most of the letters and count to 200 but I am still working on how to write those, ‘2’s’!”

“At school I loved learning about community helpers and dinosaurs. Learning to sing the “Dinosaur Stomp Song” was my favorite! It's so cool!”

Maia is five years old and is off to Kindergarten in the Fall. She is helping us raise awareness of the importance of early learning in our community. Here we share more of her message through the eyes of her parents and teachers. 

According to ECMap data, only 41.9% of Kindergarten children in Brooks & Newell County are developing appropriately in all 5 of the developmental domains! To put it in perspective, if your child is to enter Kindergarten next year, joining a class of 22 peers, only 9 of them would be considered to be developing appropriately. The challenges this brings to the classroom are many and varied. We can change these statistics by getting more children into early childhood programs before they go to Kindergarten!! To learn more about the developmental domains I urge you to visit the ECMap Coalition website.

“The biggest changes we have seen in Maia since starting school are in her abilities with, and interest in, letters and numbers. She is excited about learning and wants to read and write. She will just sit with her little notebook and practice printing letters and asking me how to spell words. She has also developed many friendships and has learned the social skills necessary to be part of a group or class. I know this will help her transition into Kindergarten next year.”

“I would recommend preschool to other parents because it really helps children learn how  to learn and have fun while doing it! It is amazing how quickly their world expands as they are exposed to so many new ideas and people. “

“I am so proud of Maia because she tries so hard and is so determined to stick with things until she masters them. I believe this is partly due to the supportive and enthusiastic teachers!” – Tara & Kent (Maia’s Parents)

 “Through the course of the school year,  Maia has greatly increased her language and thinking skills.  She demonstrates understanding of print carrying a message when she frequently asks 'what does this say?'  Maia recognizes rhyming words, and can name the majority of the letters in the alphabet!
Some goals we are continuing to focus on are recognizing and creating patterns using shapes and colors; both will prepare Maia for further development of her early numeracy skills in Kindergarten this fall.” – Marsha Blake (Maia’s Teacher)

 ECMap data indicates 70.1% of Kindergarten children in Brooks-County of Newell are developing Language & Thinking Skills, in an age appropriate manner.

“ Maia is an example of a Pre-school child who is developing age appropriate skills in this developmental domain, which are appropriate for a child entering Kindergarten.  Is it all right that 29.9% of our Kindergarten children are not ready to enter Kindergarten? We don't think so!  We think as a community of caring people we can do a better job of providing our children with the learning foundations for success in Kindergarten and the grades that follow!” – Jody Rutherford (Director of Education & Programming at BELA)

There are so many programs available to parents in the City and County. Programs created and facilitated by people who have devoted their careers to the development of our littlest learners! We know that the critical years for early learning are birth to age 8 and there are programs and resources available to match your needs at every one of those ages. From Parents As Teachers, to SPEC programs, all the way through preschool and beyond. If you are unsure of what programs would best support your family, please feel free to contact us or any of the programs mentioned here and we will help find the right fit for your child!


Brooks & County Immigration Services

Brooks Early Learning Academy

Brooks Preschool

Duchess Preschool

Parents As Teachers
Grasslands Intervention Offices
403.362.8729 ext 116

SPEC Parent Link Center

We believe in working together to support as many families as we possibly can! Help us to help the children of our communities be the best they can be!


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Walk the Walk...

This time of year is a good time for our Board of Directors to take stock of where we are at, in regards to our goals and values. Central to our mission as an organization is the goal of raising the awareness of the importance of early learning within our community. In a nutshell, Why do young children need to be taking part in early childhood programs and attending preschool?Why does it matter? What will they gain? What will we, as a community gain? When we look at relevant research and data it is clear that we are not where we need to be. We can do more and we are asking YOU to do more as well. If we are going to best support our community, we need your help. If you want to know how this all affects you and your children, just stick with me here for a few minutes!
So, what numbers have got us so fired up? We have talked about these numbers before; on the blog, at parent information sessions and to other concerned community members. One thing is clear. We have to talk less and do more because we are not being heard. We are not reaching the families we need to reach.

The birthrate in the City of Brooks has been an average of 386 for the last three years and even higher the three years prior. There are approximately 800 preschool aged children in Brooks & area and less than half of them are accessing preschool. This is taking into consideration BELA, the Brooks Preschool and pre-k programs in both school systems

Why does it matter that so many are not taking part in early childhood programs or experiencing any formal education until Kindergarten? Here’s why:

Data collected in the last five years in Kindergarten classes in Alberta, indicates that a higher percentage of children in our region are experiencing difficulty in one or more of the five developmental domains, than the provincial average!

32.7% of children in Brooks & Newell County are experiencing great difficulty in one or more of the 5 early learning developmental domains, supporting early childhood development.

 This is higher than the provincial average. EDMap results 2009-2014 indicate that 28.9% of children in Alberta are experiencing Great Difficulty in at least one of the 5 Developmental Domains.

To read all the data regarding our City please click here. Or you can visit the ECD Coalition website. There you can find out more about the project and the people working hard to share this information and make a difference!

We know that the early learning years (birth to age 8) are of vital importance. If children are not attending school or other early childhood programs until age 5 they are missing opportunities.  The years before age 5 last a lifetime!

 Quality early child development, learning and care have been shown to promote physical, language and motor skills; and social, emotional and cognitive development. - The Early Years Study: Three Years Later

So, What are we going to do? We are going to collaborate. We are going to work with others in our field to get our message heard and reach the families that need to hear it. We will work to educate parents about the importance of early learning. Together we will show families all the programs and people that are here to support them. We are excited to partner with BCIS & SPEC to bring this campaign, guided by the ECMap Project to life. For five weeks, starting next Friday, we are going to share some very important stories and with the help of other colleagues and organizations doing the same, we hope to reach as many people as possible. 

If you are asking yourself, or us, "why you should help?" I think I can answer that for you. The two most common concerns we hear from parents, as their child gets ready to enter Kindergarten, or regarding their older children in school are:

  • There are so many children in the class who struggle with their language and communication skills, that the teacher (and /or assistant) has to spend the majority of their time with those students. My child gets less attention than I want them to have.
  • How are teachers supposed to “teach to the average” when there is such a huge range of abilities? The children who are developing “normally”, or excelling do not get challenged enough.
If YOU want your child to have the best education then WE, as a community need to support the classroom teachers and assistants by sending them children who are ready for school! They cannot do it on their own. If you want your child to get the attention and support you desire for them, then you need to help other children in our community!!

What are we asking you to do? Talk to other parents, and grandparents! Do you know families that do not send their child to preschool or any early childhood programs? Do you tell them why you send your child and what your child has gained from it? Do you know parents who are not aware of all the programs/resources in the community? Point them in the right direction, or send them to talk to us and we will!  Share the blog. Share your stories. Start a conversation!!

Other community stakeholders; municipal government, educators, healthcare professionals; we are asking you to take action as well!  Share this information with others. Post the stats to your social media sites. Share the stories we will be sharing with you. Join the conversation!

Together we can raise awareness regarding the importance of early learning! We can change these statistics in our community and in turn change the relationship and experience our children have with their education!

- CP

Monday, April 13, 2015

" Please Mom (Dad, Grandma, Grandpa) would you play with me?"

If we are lucky, we get to hear this request often, and should take it as a compliment!  Most children only ask people to play with them, who they think are fun to play with.  But parents, and grandparents, are often unsure what their role is when asked to play.  Are we there simply to keep them safe, as supervisor?  Do we act as a referee, to make sure everyone plays nicely?  Should we tell them what to do, and organize their play?  The answer to these questions is yes,  sometimes, all that & so much more!

Psychologists suggest that play is the ideal context for acquiring social skills & forming friendships.  Trawick-Smith, in the book, Interaction in the Classroom – How Do We Facilitate Play? describes three important types of play: make believe; group games; and outdoor motor play; all of which are important in the development of social skills and forming friendships.  The National Association for the Education of Young Children (1986) summarizes the benefits of play, “Knowledge is not something given to children as if they were empty vessels to be filled.  Children acquire knowledge about the physical and social world in which they live through playful interaction with objects and people.  Children do not need to be forced to learn; they are motivated by their own desire to make sense of their world (p.20)”.  

Trawick-Smith tells us there are developmental benefits to play:
·      stress reduction & reduction of anxiety
·      ideal context for acquiring social skills and forming friendships
·      important contributions to cognitive development & intellectual growth
·      problem solving ability
·      language development
·      creativity
·      healthy personality development
·      early reading skills

 So how do we capitalize on this natural desire of early learners, to play, learn, and make sense of their world?  There are 4 important times to play with children:
·      when a child doesn’t play; by playing with or around a child who doesn’t
interact with materials or peers, an adult can offer gentle invitations to participate, increase social contact, promote friendships and enhance social skills
·      when children need support; Yawkey, Smilansky et al (1987, 1968) found
 that it is not enough to simply provide more opportunities and materials to engage in social pretend play, only when adults joined in the play, were gains achieved in play and language development
·      when a teachable moment arises; when opportunities arise as children
 are learning a new concept, or are thinking about a problem in a new way, an adult may intervene and take advantage of the moment by adding new information to an exploration, give hints to help solve a problem, or ask questions to guide thinking.
·      when a child invites you to play; an adult who joins in the play has the
opportunity to learn more about a child’s social competence, their anxieties, concerns, or interests.  It is during play that children show us what they know, and how they think.

So the answer to the question about how we can enhance and extend the play of our children, is to see ‘play’ as their ‘work’, and be present.  Be present, to watch and observe, to invite or join in, ask questions, make suggestions, share in their joy and celebrate their eagerness to grow and learn. 
Anita Wadley’s poem “Just Playing” provides a wonderful reminder of the importance of play!

‘When you ask me what I did today,
And I say, “I JUST Played”,
Please don’t misunderstand me.
For, you see, I’m learning as I play.
I’m learning to enjoy and be successful in work.
I’m preparing for tomorrow.
Today, I’m a child and my work is play’

In response to questions from parents at BELA , our staff  have devoted our Professional Learning time this year to learning more about effectively facilitating play.  April 20 @ 1:00- 2:30, Ms. Flynn and Mrs. Parenas will be offering a workshop for parents designed to provide information about facilitating play, and opportunities to practice different ways to facilitate play with your own child. Please join us!

- JR
Jody Rutherford
Director of Education & Programming