Amanda* was nervous about her son, Oliver*, starting school in the Fall. She felt uneasy about leaving him for a full day, and wasn’t sure how he would handle the separation either. On top of that, she was worried Oliver would fall behind his classmates because he had never participated in daycare programs, or engaged with other children while learning.
Luckily, Amanda spoke with a friend who told her about a free program that would help ease her worries: Get Ready for School™, offered by Strong Start Charitable Organization, and delivered in local community centres throughout Waterloo Region.
Get Ready for School™ is one of three programs that Strong Start offers. The other two are Letters, Sounds & Words™ (which is offered in schools for children aged 5 to 7), and Baby Connections® (a community collaborative for babies between 6 months and 1 year). All three programs focus on helping develop early childhood literacy, and are offered free of charge.
“We really focus on giving children confidence and reaching them at that point when the maximum impact is possible,” explains Christina Proctor, Development and Communications Officer for Strong Start. “That’s why our programs target young children.”
Early intervention to boost literacy has been Strong Start’s focus ever since its flagship program, Letters, Sounds & Words™, started in 2001. The Get Ready for School™ program began in 2011. Now, the Letters, Sounds & Words™ program has grown outside of the region. Strong Start currently partners with over 266 organizations, including schools and community centres.
Children like Oliver use tactile, engaging games and activities to boost their learning. These games and activities make learning fun, and everyone involved - children, parents and volunteers - enjoy participating.
While the children make obvious improvements in their reading, the programs impact parents and caregivers like Amanda as well. Many go on to become program volunteers because they want to give back, and during the Get Ready for School™ program others make authentic interactions with each other while waiting for their children to finish a session.
“The Get Ready for School™ program is a real catalyst to bring families into the community centre, and while they’re there they’re discovering all the other great resources available to them,” explains Machelle Denison, Executive Director of Strong Start. “They have much broader access to free resources and making friends, which is so important.”
The Get Ready for School™ program is offered in community centres across Waterloo Region, with a focus on neighbourhoods with a high percentage of children who are from low-income backgrounds, or who are learning English as a second language. This helps ensure they have the best possible start to school. The Letters, Sounds & Words™ program is offered in schools, where teachers select children at the first sign of them lagging behind in their literacy skills.
“Strong Start’s programs really help people feel like they belong in the community in different ways,” continues Christina. “Especially as they are able to see the direct impact their volunteering has on children in the community.”
Strong Start is poised to expand even more in the coming year. This means that more families like Amanda’s will be able to enroll their children in Strong Start’s programs.
To learn more about Strong Start’s programs, or to make a donation, please visit www.strongstart.ca.
*Amanda and Oliver are fictional characters based on real people who have utilized Strong Start’s programs.