Suzanne Lorimer (right) engages in some playful learning with a couple of youngsters at the Strong Start drop in.

Getting a Strong Start on early learning

The Strong Start program is a provincial program which aims to help vulnerable children, an we have it right here in Fort St. Jame.

The Strong Start Program helps give children across the province a leg up for kindergarten and life, and here in Fort St. James it is helping do just that.

Vulnerable children are from all socio-economic groups, according to Suzanne Lorimer, an early childhood educator who runs the local program at David Hoy School.

School District 91 (SD 91) has participated in provincial research looking at vulnerabilities in different areas and the results show there is work to be done.

The study looked at physical, social, emotional, language, and communication development across the province, and showed this district, and Fort St. James in particular are behind.

The provincial results, overall, showed over 30 per cent of children in kindergarten were vulnerable in at least one aspect of their development.

Within SD 91, this number was 33 per cent, but there were variations across the region as well.

Fort St. James had the highest rate of vulnerability in kindergarten students at 46 per cent, while Vanderhoof had the lowest rate at 26 per cent. The province, however, has set a goal of reducing vulnerabilities in children entering kindergarten to 15 per cent by 2015.

Programs like Strong Start are aimed directly at lowering these numbers and improving success for children in school.

“It’s an initiative they got right,” said Lorimer.

The free, school-based early learning program is for all children from birth to school-age.

The goal, according to Lorimer, is for more than just “learning the A, B, C’s.”

Instead, both parents and children can learn something, with parents learning how to foster learning in children and socializing as well, helping to broaden their networks of parents in the community.

Guided by an early learning framework, Lorimer said many of the goals of the program centre around “self-regulation” which help all of us be more successful in dealing with things.

The program tries to help foster learning through play of skill such as managing powerful emotions, using language to resolve conflict, waiting for a turn and paying attention even when it’s hard.

While Lorimer acknowledges many of us can’t do all of the self-regulation we should even as adults, the goal is to help foster those skills in children so they can do those things most of the time which makes them better able to learn in a classroom setting, but also as adults.

“It’s not a kindergarten boot camp,” said Lorimer.

She also helps parents access early interventions for speech and language if necessary.

“These early years are when we want to start these interventions,” she said.

She said it is easier to start children before they begin school, because parents are more involved.

The program in Fort St. James has been running for five years, and runs five days a week at David Hoy Elementary, with a range of hours so even working parents can bring their children by.

Most of the time is spent learning through play, however, there are snack times, reading, singing and tasks such as tidying up.

One parent said she brings her two daughters to the program and they just love it, especially her three-year-old who enjoys all of the puzzles.

The program gives her kids a chance to play with other children, something they otherwise would not get enough opportunities to do.

Strong Start BC

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