Study being released as coalition looks for ways to support healthy childhood development

More can be done to help preschool children develop in our community, according to a study which is being released

More can be done to help preschool children develop in our community, according to a study which is being released in the Sylvan Lake area over the next two months.

Research shows that a young child’s brain is most sensitive from birth to age 5, according to Debbie Oostindie, project coordinator for Sylvan Lake and Area Early Childhood Development Coalition. “This means that parents have 2,000 days to most positively influence a child’s life.”

A provincial program is looking at early childhood development and positive ways to support it in each community, she indicated.

Kindergarten teachers completed Early Development Instrument (EDI) surveys on children in their classes. These looked at five areas of child development — physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and thinking skills and communications and general knowledge. Three categories were used to measure children in each area — developing appropriately, experiencing difficulty and experiencing great difficulty.

The EDI surveys were developed by the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and are being used in many other provinces in Canada and internationally.

In the Sylvan area 242 questionnaires were analyzed to prepare a ‘community information’ report. The area includes the town, Benalto, Poplar Ridge and four of the summer villages around the lake.

A total of 348 questionnaires were completed but just over 100 were excluded from the final analysis. Reasons for exclusion include the child has been in the class for less than one month and is therefore not well known by the teacher, there is missing data, children were below age four or above age seven or the child has been diagnosed with severe disabilities.

“EDI surveys for these children have not been included because they are not included in national norms for the EDI,” states the report. The percentage of children with diagnosed severe disabilities out of the total number of questionnaires was 9.77 per cent.

Since the local study is part of a five-year province-wide Early Childhood Development Mapping Initiative, information can be compared against provincial averages.

“The results show that typical Kindergarten students in our area are either average or above average compared to the provincial average in four of the five dimensions measured,” said Oostindie. “Only in the one area of communication and general knowledge did our children show less than the provincial average.”

“Sylvan Lake children are doing well; however, as a community, we still need to focus on what we can do better, especially in the area of communication and general knowledge. It takes a whole village to raise a child,” she said. “It is easy to focus on a perceived weakness; however, we need to focus on strengths to understand what we should keep doing as a community.”

The report showed that while 58.68 per cent of students were developing appropriately in the area of communication skills and general knowledge, 41.32 per cent were experiencing difficulty or great difficulty.

Oostindie said the coalition is targeting stakeholders to release information which was learned from the EDI surveys. “As a community, it’s up to us to analyze the data and look at how we can support healthy childhood development.”

“We’re going to focus on all areas,” she said. “Every area has something to work on. We want to make sure we keep working on all areas with a focus on communication and general knowledge.” That may mean enhancing programs that already exist or looking at other ideas.

Coalition members will be meeting with various groups over the next two months and will be hosting a ‘community release’ event at Our Lady of the Rosary School on Saturday, Feb. 16 in conjunction with Winterfest and the Family Day weekend.

At that event there will be information for parents and caregivers on how to support growing young children. Five stations will cover the five topics measured. Teachers from each of the five schools involved in the Sylvan study will be organizing the stations with early childhood service professionals from local groups. Then there will be activities geared to the topic. It’s a drop-in event, said Oostindie.

Another of the groups the coalition has approached is Sylvan Lake Chamber of Commerce. Oostindie met with their members earlier this week to talk about businesses becoming more child friendly and how to promote those that are. Businesses may become involved and display Early Childhood Development Child Friendly business stickers.

Oostindie, and board members Cindy Adekat and Bev Hill met with town councillors at their Dec. 10 meeting to share findings of the study.

Part of the overall study includes putting together information about community resources that will benefit a child’s development. That is ongoing at the present time. Oostindie said the assets include things that are already built like the library, social places where parents with children from 0-5 meet, such as playgrounds and playgroups, walking spaces — educational, social, recreational, spiritual and cultural places and activities.

The Sylvan Lake area coalition was started in 2011 and Oostindie has been working as the coordinator since September. Christine Robertson, with Alberta Health Services, is the chairperson and members include Tanya Bennett (Sylvan Lake Child Care Society), Tanya Power (Sylvan Lake Playgroup Society), Jodi Smith (École Our Lady of the Rosary School), Angela Eadie-Gyori (École Steffie Woima Elementary School), Anne Frey (C. P. Blakely School), Giselle Campbell (Sylvan Lake & Area Community Partners Association), Cindy Adekat (Town of Sylvan Lake Family & Community Support Services), Laurie Lafortune (EC Map community development zone coordinator), Betty Brassard (Benalto School), Barb Hansen (Poplar Ridge School), Bev Hill (Healthy Families), and Kim Lee (Razzle Dazzle Child Care Centre).

Anyone can join the coalition, said Oostindie. The next meeting is 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 24 at Sylvan Lake Library. They may also sit on a parent/community sounding board. “Interested agencies are welcome to book a presentation of the findings.” You may call Debbie Oostindie at 403-887-0968 or email slecdproject@telus.net.

The group also has a Facebook page.

More information on the Early Childhood Development Mapping Initiative is available at www.ecdmapping.alberta.ca.The program is funded by the Government of Alberta and involves the ministries of Education, Health and Wellness and Human Services

Update: More members

Two people were missed in a list of committee members that appeared with the Early Childhood Development Coalition story in the Jan. 10th edition.

Debbie Oostindie, project coordinator for Sylvan Lake and Area Early Childhood Development Coalition said the two people who were missed from the list she provided the News were Ann Faulk of KCS Association and Shawn Palm of Helping Hands Playschool.