StrongStart is an early learning centre, usually located in a school, that provides a free program for children and their caregivers from birth to age 5. They are facilitated by a licensed Early Childhood Educator whose role is to provide a rich learning environment through play-based activities and generally include both structured and free time. Aside from a few exceptions, StrongStart will operate 5 days a week for 3-4 hours per day but it is up to each centre/school to decide on their specific hours of operation. Find a Strong Start Near You.
What to Expect at StrongStart Program?
There is no fee to attend, all children are welcome with their caregiver and the registration process is very simple.
When you arrive for your first visit, the facilitator should provide you with a registration form to complete while you are there and will ask for proof of your child’s identity ( birth certificates are preferred). This will enter your child into the education system database and generate a Personal Education Number for them, which will be their number for the rest of their time in public school. The facilitator will also show you where to sign in at the beginning of each visit; they are required to report their attendance and taking a few seconds to sign in helps the program so please try to remember to do this each time you come!
I have been both a facilitator and an attendee at multiple programs with my own children and I can attest personally every program will have a slightly different feel based on both the style of the educator who runs the classroom and the general culture of the school in which it is based.
The parents who regularly attend will also influence the atmosphere of the space.
If your area has more than one program, I recommend trying each of them out to get a feel for which one suits your family best.
Also keep in mind that the program is always drop in, which means you are free to come and go as you wish during the hours it is open and does not need to arrive right when it opens or have to stay until the end.
The facilitator is there to do exactly that – facilitate.
They will provide different activities and materials for you to explore with your child during free time, lead a circle time where everyone gathers for stories and songs, and will also include outdoor or gym time which is a valuable resource, especially during the cold winter months!
Many programs also offer field trips, special visitors, or participate in activities with the rest of the school.
The program is designed for caregivers to experience with their child, so go with the intent to be present and focused, rather than read a novel in the corner or take a nap on the couch (Yes this has happened!) Of course you are welcome to sit back and watch your child as they engage with other children, or visit with the other parents in attendance – it’s a great place for both of these things and the facilitator loves seeing parent friendships form!
Just remember that you are still responsible for your child, so correcting their behaviour, supervising them as they build a tall block tower or helping them with a craft, etc. should always be your top priority and you should keep your child in view at all times.
Can Parents Help?
One of the best things you can do as a parent is to offer your skills or services to the facilitator.
The program is designed to take on the flavour of the families who attend, so offering to bring in a dish from your culture that many children have never experienced, or bringing in a guitar to strum along at circle time are greatly appreciated and very much wanted!
I was very blessed at my centre to have a parent who was an RCMP member and came to visit in uniform one day and let the children have their photos taken in his car. Another parent loved to bake and brought themed cupcakes for every special occasion! We had baby goats and ducks, a hedgehog, bunnies, sheep and several different puppies come for a visit over the years. It was well worth having to mop up a few messes on the floor; I was thrilled to be able to expose children to animals they might otherwise never experience up close. Some parents would suggest an art activity they saw on Pinterest, or would ask if we could sing a favorite song from their childhood. All of these things added to the quality of the program and were very welcomed!
Facilitators want families to feel part of the program, and to take ownership of some of what happens there.
Give StrongStart a try this year!
If you haven’t given it a try, or even if it’s just been a while, make this the year that you find a program close by and include it in your regular routine. You may find it benefits you as much as your child – the program also offers parents a great place to connect with others who can relate to what they are going through, offer advice, or just give you a hot cup of coffee and a place where your child can make a mess that isn’t your living room!
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