Success by 6: Building our Children’s Healthy Foundation

Colette Ernst

Our brains are incredible things. Did you know that from the first moment we start hearing and seeing our brains start firing and begin building pathways that will affect the rest of our lives?

Think of a building. The builders begin with laying a foundation including that needs to be strong and hold up the weight of the building for years to come. The foundation is created in steps, from footings to stem walls. According to This Old House, a proper foundation holds the house above ground, keeps out moisture, insulates against cold, resists movement of the earth and should last forever. The rest of the house depends on the strength of its foundation. In the words of Tom Silva: “Without a good one, you’re sunk”.

A child’s brain is built over time in a step-by-step order, from sensory pathways to language and higher thinking, creating the foundation that just like a house, needs to be solid and strong. Science is showing us the strong connection between the early childhood years and life-long health, well-being, learning and behaviour. So, just like a home, our early brain developments foundations hold us up, protect us and will affect us forever.

What does this have to do with you? Everything. If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, volunteer, business person, elder…what are you doing to ensure that the children in our community have a safe, nurturing and loving environment to reach their full potential?

All children need access to healthy food, places to run and play, safe homes, access to settings and people who will nurture their emotions and spirits. And parents need the ability to connect to resources that will further help them build the foundations of their children’s lives.

This year the community had record numbers of participants in Spring Break and Easter events. In speaking to the Lions, their numbers have been steady for the last two years, with many new faces this year. Inclusive events like these make Tumbler Ridge inviting. We may be small but we’re big… hearted. It’s a place where families may go through difficult times—financially and emotionally—but we can rely on each other. We gather for strength, encouragement, solidarity. Parents connect with other parents to share experiences. Families rely on the community for support. We pull each other up, and that’s what community should be about.

Do we have everything we need here for our children to grow to healthy active and contributing adults? No. But even in places that have double the services and opportunities, children can fall through the cracks, and that’s where we can shine as a small, connected and caring community.

And we have other strengths. Tumbler Ridge shines with recreational opportunities for all ages, in all seasons. According to “Tumbler Ridge is a hiker’s paradise with well-developed routes that wind past waterfalls, river valleys, and mountain alpine areas.” Now that it’s spring the lower elevation trails are starting to become accessible: TR Point, Flatbed Falls, Quality falls…though they’ll probably still be muddy this early in the season. The roads are clear in town and many kids have brought out their bikes and trikes, and it’s much more pleasant to walk in town as a family now that the fear of slipping is gone.

Developing healthy habits early in children is a step in building a foundation of behavioural patterns that carries over into adulthood. In the early years, children need to be encouraged towards moderate to vigorous activity like playing outdoors at the local park. According to the Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development “There is enough evidence to suggest that, once [children] are able to walk, they spend too much of their time sedentary and not enough time in moderate-to-vigorous activity.” This means parents need to model healthy physical activities and provide their children access to healthy environments where children can climb, bike, catch, play both in a planned and unstructured play.

The impact of good decisions goes beyond just physical health, says the article, “having a positive impact on the domains of motor skills, psychological well-being, cognitive development, social competence and emotional maturity.”

Again what can we do as individuals? Look around you. Is your neighbourhood a safe place? Is your local park clean? Every year in the spring Tumbler Ridge hold a Pitch In Week where we are encouraged as a community to take ownership of the town and help clean up the mess remaining behind after the spring thaw. Want to do more? Consider volunteering to help at a community event, or at a program like scouts or soccer. You will probably get as much joy out of it as you give.

It’s difficult and costly to fix a house with a weak foundation. For the children of Tumbler Ridge, making sure they have healthy, safe and loving environments in the early year—the foundational years—is more effective and far less costly than correcting problems later. We all have a part to play in watching out for each other and for our most vulnerable.

My basement has a crack in the floor, however I have no fear of my house falling down around me. As an imperfect parent I know that I have made mistakes during my kids upbringing, yet hope that I have provided them a strong foundation, and know that living in Tumbler Ridge they have had many positive experiences because of the strong value this community places on healthy living for all ages.