The North Vancouver School District is reminding parents they have an opportunity to give their child a strong start when it comes to their early learning education.
The long-running free preschool program StrongStart BC returns on Monday, Sept. 20, and the seven available elementary schools offering the program in North Vancouver are now taking registrations.
The preschool program is designed for parents, guardians, or caregivers to participate with their young child, aged from birth to five years old, in one-on-one, play-based early learning activities, which include stories, music, and art.
The early learning drop-in program helps prepare children for success in kindergarten, said Chanin Smyth, district principal for curriculum and assessment for the North Vancouver School District.
“It's a great opportunity for both child and parent and caregiver to learn great skills and language development,” she said.
“It really opens up their confidence for preparing them for the school environment.”
Smyth added that the program facilitators were qualified early childhood educators who kept up to date with changes to the B.C. curriculum.
“So, they're getting excellence in facilitation and they provide an educational program,” she said.
“The program is for two hours every day, Monday to Friday, and it does just provide a really wonderful opportunity and an amazing introduction to the North Vancouver School District for our families of younger learners. “One of the main functions of these programs is to really familiarize our community, our family, with our schools.”
Smyth said there were some changes to the program last year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but SD44 was hopeful it will go back to a more typical learning environment where the sites can facilitate more students.
“The more kids that we can get through these programs, the better we feel with the start of kindergarten,” she said.
Smyth noted that parents should also look out for a second early learning program scheduled for spring, called Ready, Set, Learn, which aims to foster positive connections between families, the school system and local community agencies through events and activities.
StrongStart facilitators also prepare snacks for children at the centres to ensure compliance with food safety standards, and the program has a "nut-aware" initiative.
The StrongStart centres can be found at Norgate, Westview, Montroyal, Eastview, Boundary, Lynnmour, and Seymour Heights elementary schools. Parents can register their child or children for the program at the SD44 website or at the school site.
Five tips for parents
Get to know your local schools
Smyth advised parents that one of the first steps in getting their child ready for preschool programs and kindergarten is to get to know their local schools. She said parents could do this by simply taking their preschool aged child to explore their local school’s playground or just by taking a walk around their community school.
“This really does allow for your child to feel safe, comfortable and connected to their school and environment,” Smyth said.
Promote task independence
Smyth said starting to promote task independence at home was also a big help when transitioning a young learner into the school environment.
“Even though there is a parent or caregiver there at StrongStart with the child, it is really important for children to be able to start to develop responsibility for their own belongings,” she said.
“Being able to learn to dress themselves, for example, and gradually providing them with these opportunities to be independent, really does help with that transition into kindergarten.”
“Play is one of the most important aspects,” Smyth said. “Practice lots of different kinds of games and play with your child. Taking turns and learning to co-operate and compromise during play is essential for that transition for them into the school environment.”
Ask lots of questions
“Oral language is one of the most significant precursors, it's so important to early literacy development,” Smyth said. “So, talking to your child all the time, and asking lots of questions and allowing them to speak often is really another great tip.”
Smyth said reading with your child every day was extremely beneficial. “Find time, even at that newborn stage, to make reading special and fun,” she said. “Take advantage of your local library, they have lots of different programs and tips for great stories and books. It’s another really important step to getting prepared for these programs, but also ultimately for kindergarten, and for joining the school system.”
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.