Among attendees at the early childhood community conversation at the community centre last Tuesday night were Debbie Oostindie of Sylvan Lake and Area Early Childhood Development Coalition; Beverly Hill of Healthy Families and the coalition; Sharon Nielsen of Lighthouse Christian Academy; Gabrielle Blais of Alberta Health Services; and Cindy Adekat of the coalition.

Among attendees at the early childhood community conversation at the community centre last Tuesday night were Debbie Oostindie of Sylvan Lake and Area Early Childhood Development Coalition; Beverly Hill of Healthy Families and the coalition; Sharon Nielsen of Lighthouse Christian Academy; Gabrielle Blais of Alberta Health Services; and Cindy Adekat of the coalition.

“Absolutely rich” conversation about early childhood issues

“Most people were quite surprised that that was lower than the provincial average,” - Debbie Oostindie.

A community conversation hosted by Sylvan Lake and Area Early Childhood Development Coalition Sept. 17 resulted in productive feedback being provided for a new provincial initiative aiming to benefit children.

‘Together We Raise Tomorrow’, announced by the provincial government earlier this year, aims to engage the public in gathering information on how early childhood development in Alberta can be improved. Poverty reduction, and seeing a Children’s Charter created are also goals.

About a dozen members of the coalition, parents, community members and representatives of various organizations met at the community centre.

“The conversation was absolutely rich,” said coalition project co-ordinator Debbie Oostindie. “Everyone had a lot of incredible feedback on what we were discussing in regard to early childhood development.”

Questions posed to meeting attendees sought information on their awareness of early childhood programs and services in the community, as well as ways in which they felt young children can “best learn, grow and thrive”.

Other aspects of early childhood development, including ways of distributing information, were discussed.

Oostindie said most of the feedback indicated a desire to see improvements made to the area’s already existing early childhood resources.

“Most people in the room were happy with what Sylvan Lake provides for parents or caregivers with children of early childhood development age range,” she said. “They had quite a few suggestions, though, in building on what we already have.”

One of those people was Beverly Hill of Healthy Families.

“We have a lot, but it’s not working as well as it should,” she said.

In June, communities around Alberta began hosting conversations to gather feedback for the initiative.

The information will be compiled into a report before being sent to the government.

Oostindie is looking forward to hearing results from all of the reports compiled, and hopes it will impact the government’s approach to early childhood development.

The meeting took place nearly a year after results of the province’s Early Childhood Development Mapping Initiative became available.

Results of that initiative — which measured development in physical health and wellbeing; emotional maturity; social competence; language and thinking skills; and communication skills and general knowledge — revealed that Sylvan Lake and Area results in each of the five areas evaluated weren’t as high as many would have hoped.

One particular area of concern was communications skills and general knowledge, in which 41.32 per cent of kindergarten children were found to be experiencing either difficulty or great difficulty.

“Most people were quite surprised that that was lower than the provincial average,” said Oostindie. “That has been a surprise to the coalition and to people in groups where I’ve been sharing the information.”

Meetings such as the one in Sylvan Lake, however, and similar environments allowing for community feedback, are a start in improving results found in the mapping initiative, according to Oostindie.

Laurie Lafortune, Zone 4 community development co-ordinator for the mapping project, said the news wasn’t all bad, however. Sylvan Lake and area is below the provincial average for children experiencing great difficulties in at least one of the areas of development, with 26.45 per cent as opposed to the province’s 26.96.

“That’s looking on the positive side,” she said. “But if more than one in four young children are having developmental difficulties, we need to address that.

“That’s a lot of children.”