Getting a StrongStart to learning

The happy sounds of babies, preschoolers and their caregivers enjoying sing-a-longs, story time and educational games can be heard each week at StrongStart early learning centres in Vancouver schools.

Operating within 18 elementary schools in Vancouver, the play-based early learning program is open to parents and caregivers with babies or children up to five years old.

Strong Start Centres offer preschool aged children, quality early learning experiences through a structured three to four hour drop-in session. These play based early learning opportunities help demonstrate to parents and caregivers how they can enhance their child's development. The emphasis of the program is on learning through play, language and positive social interactions.

It is not necessary to have English as a first language to attend the drop in programs and the Ministry of Education sponsored program is offered free of charge, although parents or caregivers are required to remain and participate in the program.

 "StrongStart Centres support children and families," said Vancouver School Board's Associate Superintendent for Learning Services, Valerie Overgaard. "Both children and adults benefit from StrongStart BC early learning programs - 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."

At the centres, early learning educators read stories, play games and spark creative minds through music and art, all with the aim of helping children get ready for success in Kindergarten. Each StrongStart class includes arts and crafts materials, storybooks, and toys that are developmentally appropriate for children of different ages.

The StrongStart program at Queen Alexandra Elementary moved from a portable to a classroom in the main school building in September 2011 and Principal Catherine Feniak has seen an increase in attendance with the move.

"We have a group of up to 30 families who participate in the program each weekday and the families represented are multicultural and multigenerational," notes Feniak. She points out that often grandparents and caregivers bring children to the program since the children's parents are at work.

"Several parents and caregivers have told me they like the program because they appreciate the proximity of our school to their homes and they see our school as a safe environment to bring their young children into which I was very pleased to hear," said Feniak.

Feniak said that people are committed to coming to the program because they've made friends and are learning about the community, Canadian culture and even some English.

Queen Alexandra's StrongStart program is managed by Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House which also helps to connect caregivers with community services and programs offered in their area.

Debbie Boushi (pictured above), the program's early education educator is an experienced aboriginal drummer who shares songs from her culture as well as songs from around the world in many languages. "By acknowledging the many cultures represented by the families in our program we can create a community that values other cultures," said Feniak.

"One of the parents I spoke with told me 'I didn't grow up in Canada but now my daughter is learning the songs of Canada,'" said Feniak.

Feniak said that one of the most important aspects of the program is that it encourages the participation of parents and caregivers. "Parents who are new to the program might gravitate at first to other parents or guardians who speak their language but as they become more comfortable and learn the structure of the program they are pulled right in," said Feniak.

Weekly visits to the school library also help to welcome participants into the school. "The children look forward to listeing to a reading by the teacher-librarian and their guardians can choose to check out books from the school's multilingual book collection," said Feniak.

"You can imagine that coming into the school and seeing staff and students makes parents, caregivers and children feel part of the community and helps alleviate some of the stress of coming to a new school."

School principals like Feniak agree that StrongStart makes a difference in how successful a child will be when entering school. Parents, grandparents and caregivers are likely to discover new ways to support their children's learning at home, and can make valuable connections with others attending the program.

Learn more about StrongStart

  • Check the StrongStart page for a list of the centres in your neighbourhood. Call the centres for details about registration and opening hours.
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