A frozen puddle is now cracked and shattered, surrounded by various materials and tools. Toddler babble and giggles echo up from the ground, through the surrounding forest. There is much to learn from a frozen puddle; so, on a chilly Wednesday morning in January, the StrongStart class at Eastview Elementary School is taking advantage of the natural occurrence to engage students.
"Curiosity is spurred when we go outside, and learning is expanded and very spontaneous. Like today, it is this frozen puddle that has caught their attention," explained Meredith Dawson, StrongStart facilitator. "Being quite present and aware of the natural world and how it changes is really huge for these young kids."
Every Wednesday, Dawson (also known as 'Miss Mere') brings her StrongStart students and caregivers outside into the forest behind Eastview Elementary for part of the day. Outdoor learning is just one of the many experiences she offers as part of her StrongStart program. StrongStart is a free, drop-in, play-based early learning program for children aged zero to five, accompanied by a parent or caregiver. To help children get ready for success in kindergarten, qualified early childhood educators lead and demonstrate learning activities, story time, music and art. Parents and caregivers learn how they can be active partners in their children's learning, language development, skills, knowledge, and attitudes for success in school. There are seven StrongStart locations in the North Vancouver School District.
"All of our seven centres are consistently busy. The program is great for making community connections. Parents, guardians and caregivers are able to learn from each other and with their children. Plus, the program is free and accessible, and it gives a feel for the broader school community," explained Dawson.
The program is offered Monday to Friday at each of the seven StrongStart centres. There are centres located at Boundary, Eastview, Lynnmour, Montroyal, Norgate, Seymour Heights and Westview elementary schools. Each day, there is circle, story time and a healthy snack provided for free by the centre, along with various other alternating activities. The program also provides strong community connections to other service providers and supports. There are monthly visits from resources such as public health nurses and public health dieticians. The program is open to everyone.
"All are welcome," exclaimed Dawson cheerfully. "In general, we aim to create a very warm, nurturing environment for all ages zero to five. Every age and family can gain something from the program."
For a first-time drop-in to a StrongStart centre, families must complete a registration form and bring proper identification and proof of residency. The form and information are available on the North Vancouver School District website and can be filled-out and brought in to the first drop-in session. Times of the program are flexible, meaning families and can come and go at any time throughout the operating hours. The program, however, is very popular and does often fill up; thus, it is recommended that families arrive prior to 10 a.m.
"Other parents and caregivers are such a resource to one another. It's those extended resources that are of real value to parents," said Dawson.
More information, including locations, times and registration forms/information, can be found on the school district website: www.sd44.ca/Schools/StrongStart