Starting Strong in Tumbler Ridge



Trent Ernst, Editor

MLA Blair Lekstrom was on hand at Tumbler Ridge Elementary for the kick-off of StrongStart here in town.

StrongStart is a school-based early learning program for adults and their young children, aged birth to five, at no cost to families.

Joining Lekstrom were Mayor Darwin Wren and School Board Trustee Sherry Berringer, as well as people like Early Learning Project Manager for School District 59 Gloria Cleve.

Cleve says that StrongStart began because kids were showing up at the door of kindergarten not ready to learn. “We know statistically if you’re not ready to learn in kindergarten, you’re not ready to learn for the rest of your life.”

So the BC Government, along with school districts across the province created StrongStart. The program is designed for both children and adults. Children have access to high-quality learning environments and benefit from social interactions while the adults who accompany them learn new ways to support learning, both at the program and at home.

“It’s a parent/child interaction program,” says Cleve. “The parents come with their children and they play.”

Play, says Cleve, has become almost a dirty word in our culture. “What adults don’t seem to understand is the way the brain develops is through play, through movement, through doing.”

There is an early childhood educator on-site who runs the program, in this case, Melissa Fallon. Her job, says Cleve is to lead the learning activities, providing a high-quality educational program that is play based, including stories, music and art. “The kids are getting comfortable with being in school, the school environment, and comfortable learning in a play based setting so when they start kindergarten, they’re ready to go. They’re ready to succeed. And if they succeed in kindergarten, they will succeed the rest of their lives.”

Cleve says that if parents are uncomfortable with the word play, they can just use the word experiment. “Get dirty, explore, move, find out what’s this for, what that’s all about…And there’s always a Early Childhood Educator there to go ‘wow! Now what happens?’ It’s all an opportunity to learn and explore.”

The day starts with a free-play time where parents and kids can do whatever they like: play at the water table, do puzzles, read, or any of the other activities in the room. This is followed by gym time. “We live in a country where we have eight months solid of winter, so kids don’t have time to get outside. Gym time is valuable for them to use gross motor skills, to run, to explore, to learn how to listen for cues from adults: stop, go. There’s a free time, and then there is a structured time.”

After gym comes the healthy snack. This is just as important for the parents as it is for the kids, says Cleve. “Many parents don’t know what constitutes a healthy snack. The advertisers want you to believe that the things they are selling are healthy snacks, but they’re usually not.”

After the snack comes the circle time, which features lots of songs, stories and finger plays, and lots of interaction. “We also do a lot of social emotional things. Children need to be able to know their feelings, label their feelings and know other people’s feelings. That’s often missing in a child’s life. We do a lot around how to get along with others: how do we interact with others?”

The parents, says Cleve, develop a rich relationship with their child. “Parents don’t often have time to spend time with their child. That’s their job here: to spend time with your child.”The parents also have the chance to develop a social group with people they might not otherwise meet.

Finally, says Cleve, the Early Childhood Educator can help them learn how to deal with issues: “What do I do if it’s three in the morning and he won’t go to sleep? What do I do if she won’t eat anything but macaroni and cheese? That person is there as a resource person.” The StrongStart program happens weekday mornings at Tumbler Ridge Elementary and is open to parents of children under the age of five.