District promotes early learning

Learning starts long before a child enters the public school system, and that’s why Nanaimo school district is looking at ways it can help support children before they enter the school system.

“The years between zero and five are of course very significant and we’re finding we need to have them as ready for learning as possible prior to five years of age,” said John Phipps, assistant superintendent of educational programs.

“We’re seeing it as a community effort with the district playing a significant role.”

The district hired an early years program co-ordinator to direct its efforts to reach families and organizations in the community. Elizabeth Pennell is in her second year in this role and working on initiating several programs to promote the early learning.

“She acts as a liaison as well as trying to determine what kind of programs we may be able to establish with other members of the community,” said Phipps.

Pennell said one of the main things she’s involved with is implementing the Early Development Indicator in conjunction with University of B.C. researchers, a test that measures children on five different indicators of lifelong success.

“What the EDI tells us is whether a child is vulnerable in one or more of those measures when they’re entering kindergarten,” she said, giving educators a chance to allocate resources where they are needed.

She said a child’s brain development starts prenatally and there are certain key times in a young child’s life which, if the parent misses them, could have a negative effect on certain parts of a child’s brain.

“We need to encourage parents and caregivers to interact with their child.”

Support from the district, health authorities, caregivers and other community organizations is important because there are many families in Nanaimo whose children could be at risk of entering the school system at a disadvantage.

“We know that there are a lot of children who need support and families who need support and they need support before they enter the K to 12 system,” said Pennell.

Pennell collaborates with a number of community groups, including early years coalitions in Nanaimo and Ladysmith, Success by Six, the Vancouver Island Health Authority, and Education Ministry.

The district is also involved in the Education Ministry’s Ready Set Learn initiative, which has parents bring their three-year-old children into participating schools to be taught activities they can do with their children to stimulate learning – all elementary schools are participating this year.

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