Early learning, kindergarten programs a step toward success

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This story is adapted from one originally published in the Lethbridge Herald publication, Cribs2Crayons, Winter 2014 issue.

A child’s first experiences at school can set him or her on a powerfully positive journey to lifelong learning, says Palliser Regional Schools’ Co-ordinating Principal of Early Learning.

Terri-Lynn Duncan says children as young as three can begin their educational journey in Palliser, getting a jump on school success.

“Our staff really develop relationships, rapport and trust with parents and their children,” she says. “They know their strengths, their needs, their likes and their interests.

“It creates a sense for the child that school is a positive place for me, and I’m an individual people care about.”

Palliser’s kindergarten program is available for children who turn five by Dec. 31. Early learning programs, formerly known as preschools, serve children who turn four years old by Dec. 31. Children as young as three may be able to register as well, as age restrictions vary from site to site. For children with special needs, early learning programs are hugely important, says Duncan, as children learn new skills from their peers.

Palliser offers kindergarten and/or early learning programs at all of its elementary schools, from Sunnyside School, located just a five-minute drive from the Northside Wal-Mart, across Lethbridge County, Vulcan County and in the City of Calgary. The schools are small enough that all the staff get to know all the kids. In some schools, the early learning or kindergarten programs may be operated by private partners with Palliser’s support, but in all cases, these youngest learners are seen as part of the larger school community, and given opportunities to learn alongside older students.

Some schools offer full-day programs, others half, depending on the community’s needs.

Paving the path to literacy

A successful transition to Grade 1 is enhanced by Palliser’s early learning focus on language development. The division has trained its early learning staff in the Hanen programs “Learning Language and Loving It,” and “ABC and Beyond” which teach strategies to encourage children to talk then transition from talking to recognizing letters and numbers.

This effort dovetails with Palliser Regional Schools’ division-wide focus on literacy, a key factor to student success in school and life, Duncan says.

That language-to-literacy focus has impressed Marie Laenen, whose son Isaiah has been attending Sunnyside’s early learning program since September.

“It was so interesting to see how much he learned to love reading,” she says. “It made a world of difference for him.”

In the fall, Isaiah wasn’t engaged in reading. He didn’t seem to enjoy snuggling in for story time. Today, much to Mom’s delight, reading is part of Isaiah’s nightly ritual. He’s excited to visit the school library with his early learning friends, and he’s thrilled at the independence of choosing books to bring home. It’s heady stuff for a just-turned-four-year-old.

During a recent visit to Sunnyside, Laenen watched in awe as preschool-aged children talked about their books or drew pictures inspired by the stories. Though not reading just yet, they are gleaning information from pictures and making the connection between letters and sounds.

 “As a parent, you don’t know everything. I’ve been given suggestions and strategies. It’s great to have that support and I felt very grateful for it,” says Laenen.

The words are music to Duncan’s ears.

“We really want children to be ready for Grade 1, to give them a head start on success,” she says. “We want to give them a successful start and keep building on that foundation year after year.”

A great first step for parents of three- to five-year-olds is to attend one of Palliser’s free developmental checkups being offered this spring at elementary schools across the division. Palliser staff meet with the children and provide play-based activities that help them assess the child’s strengths and areas of growth. The information is shared with the parent, along with strategies for continuing to develop new skills, ranging from physical co-ordination to speech and language. (Click here for a schedule of the check-ups.)

A schedule of free developmental checkups is posted at www.pallisersd.ab.ca/early-learning, along with program information and resources for parents with young children.

“We want all children to enjoy success in school, and early learning and kindergarten programs are among the first steps toward that achievement,” Duncan says.