Starting Early column by Kathy Booth
Special to The TIMES
Summer was in full swing this weekend. The garden was green, the lawn was brown and the air was gloriously hot.
This morning, I stepped outside to a cool breeze, the smell of autumn, and a smattering of rain.
My inner child – the one who suddenly appears with the advent of summer – whimpered and ran away.
Yessiree, autumn is just around the corner – along with all the stuff that comes with it, like schedules and responsibilities. That’s not to say that lots of parents haven’t been at work for much of the summer.
It’s just that the longer daylight hours offer more family time and opportunities to relax.
When our kids were little, I savoured the unstructured days in July and August – no preschool/school, Sparks/Brownies, dancing, soccer etc. Just long, lovely, unstructured days, hanging out with each other, or playing in the yard with other neighbourhood kids.
During my childhood, the situation was even more idyllic.
We lived on a street with the houses close together and children in almost every house. Kids could just go outside or down to the park and there would always be someone around to play with.
When the bigger kids went back to school each September, the little kids could still play outside, safely, without supervision. I’m talking black-and-white TV style of neighbourhood.
Things haven’t been that easy for the past several decades.
Parents go to work; children go to daycare or have a babysitter.
Even if one of the parents is able to stay at home with the children, neighbourhoods have changed. Letting three- and four-year-olds wander down the street to the park or to a friend’s house doesn’t really work that well in our traffic-laden neighbourhoods where many of the other kids may be away at daycare.
So what’s a little kid to do? Preschools and daycares are great gathering places where kids can learn to socialize and make friends, but Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows have other opportunities as well.
One of these is StrongStart, a free drop-in program for parents with their children aged infant to five years old. School District 42 offers StrongStart in eight elementary schools throughout both communities.
Adults and children who attend a program are supported by a facilitator whose role is to guide participation. Each StrongStart is designed around a schedule similar to that of a preschool.
Children and their parent, grandparent or other meaningful adult companion participate in circle time with games, songs and stories, and in free play, art, and gym time (particularly popular for running around and other gross motor play during the winter months).
While great fun for kids, StrongStart has benefits for adults as well, such as providing the opportunity to form connections or friendships with other adults who attend the program.
StrongStart facilitators also provide information about other programs and resources in the community and ensure that a healthy snack is available for the participants. The bottom line is that StrongStart is a free, fun, and healthy learning environment that supports families with young children, and respects parents as a child’s first and most important teachers.
Parents can register their children online or the first time they drop in at a StrongStart Centre. They only have to register once but must show a child’s birth certificate or passport.
Log onto the Ridge Meadows Early Childhood Development Committee (www.ridgemeadowsecd.ca) for a link to more information on StrongStart, including locations.
The ECD website also has information and links to other free or low-cost programs for families with young children. And remember, even if summer is fading away, autumn has some great things lined up just around the corner.
– Kathy Booth is a local writer addressing the importance of early childhood development, and the work being done in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, and with Katzie First Nation.
@ Copyright 2013