The children have fun at Strong Start and so do their parents.
“Something beautiful happens as a sense of community builds. We meet each child and family where they are and consider individual needs and concerns,” said Strong Start facilitator Anne McMeeking-Walsh, who is the Vernon Women in Business Woman of the Year, honoured for her contributions to early childhood education in the community.
“The children learn through play and we help families recognize what their children can potentially be learning by playing. Parents are often amazed that their children are capable of so many things. Children find wonder and joy in each day and new experience. They are always full of surprises. That’s why I love working with them.”
The Strong Start program, sponsored by School District 22, is free to all families with qualified early childhood educators leading activities which include stories, music, gross and fine motor skills indoors and outdoors and creative art. Snacks are provided.
McMeeking-Walsh, who is a mother of four, is the facilitator for the Strong Start program at Okanagan Landing school.
“I like it when the students who were in the program come back when they are in the higher grades to say hi and see what we’re doing. We’re happy that they have good memories of their time in Strong Start. We work closely with the kindergarten teachers, including a visit to a kindergarten classroom for children before they start so they know what to expect,” she said.
Strong Start is a drop-in program so that families can attend when it fits their schedules, even going to Strong Start programs at more than one school if that fits their needs. Registration can take place on the first day a family comes to the program — all that is needed is the child(ren)’s birth certificate(s).
“Parents are looking for a learning experience that is fun, a way to meet other parents and for their children to make friends.
“If parents want, we can help them with the Ages and Stages screening tool that will show where a child is for their age. There is referral to supports within the community as needed,” said Cullie Dueck, primary literacy coordinator, School District 22. “How we parent has changed, neighbourhoods have changed, families want to meet other families and build a sense of community.”
Parents are enthusiastic about Strong Start.
“It means so much to me to have somewhere to go that the children enjoy and that is so warm and welcoming,” said Dr. Aisha Manji.
McMeeking-Walsh thinks that parents hold their children closer than they used to while at the same time letting them go sooner, as many go to daycare while young.
She has always loved children, and remembers growing up with a lot of neighbourhood children where she was often the babysitter. She started her working life in retail and when a customer told her about early childhood education (ECE) training, she decided it was right for her. She got her certification and worked for the North Okanagan Childcare Society until she was encouraged to come to Strong Start six years ago.
“There are such wonderful moments here, like when you see two two-year-olds walking down the hall hand-in-hand, or watching a toddler or pre-schooler sit in the teacher’s chair and pretend to lead the group, singing our song, ‘Hello everybody and how are you?’ I am so happy to come to work every day.”
There are four Strong Start programs in Vernon. Mission Hill elementary (facilitator Chris McMorran), Harwood elementary, (facilitator Lori Webb), and Alexis Park elementary (facilitator Cori Novakowski) have morning sessions Monday to Friday. Okanagan Landing elementary has an afternoon session on Monday with morning sessions Tuesday to Friday. For more information about Strong Start, call one of the schools or see the school district website at www.sd22.bc.ca.