While statistics on the Coast show 32.6 per cent of students are entering Kindergarten vulnerable, early learning co-ordinator Kirsten Deasey says there are a plethora of programs available on the Coast to help lower that percentage.
"Early childhood is recognized as a unique time in human growth and development, which can set trajectories across a lifetime," Deasey said.
For that reason there have been a number of early learning initiatives developed on the Coast to help support children and families during that formative period from birth to age five.
Strong Start programs are offered three hours a day, five days a week in Madeira Park, Halfmoon Bay, Sechelt, Roberts Creek and Gibsons. The parent and tot drop-ins are run by early childhood educators who organize educational activities. They encourage parents to have fun with their children as they learn through music, movement and play. A nutritious snack is provided and the drop-ins are free.
The SPARK! program has found great success since it began six years ago. The program teaches parents about their children's developmental stages and how best to teach them the things they need to know at each stage, in an effort to prepare them for Kindergarten. The program is free and runs sessions four times a year. Parents leave the sessions with a better understanding of their children and with free toys that can be used to encourage learning. Research shows that children whose parents attend the SPARK! programs perform 18 to 22 per cent better on the Kindergarten survey than those who don't, according to Deasey.
At the SPARK! sessions parents can also sign their children up for the Imagination Library, which sees an age appropriate book mailed to their child every month until they turn five-years-old.
The KinderSPARK! program is offered through School District No. 46 and is designed to welcome and transition children and families into Kindergarten. It encourages kids to meet their potential teachers and get used to coming to school before they actually enter Kindergarten.
Bellies and Babies is a group where new and expecting moms can come for counseling, camaraderie and a free hot lunch program one day a week.
The Child Care Resource and Referral program provides toy and book lending and helps parents find suitable childcare for their children when they have to go back to work.
Vancouver Coastal Health provides support for parents through drop in programs and individual support services and the public libraries on the Coast offer song and story time programs to help develop a love of reading in youngsters.
All of these programs run for free and are meant to help support parents and help teach children the vital skills they will need to succeed in school.
To find out more about all of the free programs available you can come to the annual Early Years Fair this Saturday, April 16 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Chatelech Secondary School gym in Sechelt or call Community Services at 604-885-5881.