A few times a week, I pack the kids across town from our home in the West End to Strong Start over at McBride Elementary in Sapperton. Wesley love, love, LOVES to go to “school” and I love, love, LOVE that it’s both free and fun for all of us.
Strong Start is a free, provincially funded, parent-participation preschool prep program for babies and children under five. It’s a great way for parents and caregivers to get the kids out of the house and socializing with other children while also getting preschoolers a small taste of school routine.
There are currently two Strong Start centres in New Westminster: McBride in Sapperton(9am-12pm Monday-Friday) and Queen Elizabeth Elementary in Queensborough (9am-12pm Monday & Friday; Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday 4-7pm). A third centre is planned to open in the West End at the end of March, at Connaught Heights Elementary (drop-in times haven’t yet been announced).
A typical Strong Start day begins and ends with free play in a room full of toys, art supplies, books and costumes. Sandwiched in the middle is a simple “school” routine: clean-up, snack, gym, and circle time.
I can’t say enough about how awesome it is. I can’t even pick a favourite activity. My son adores the free play, but I think the snack/gym/circle routine is really cool and good for him to experience.
The snacks are healthy and yummy, typically including fresh fruit pieces, cheerios and fishy crackers with water to drink. Gym is a lifesaver during the cold and rainy winter months. Parents and kids trek over to the school gymnasium and the little ones run wild with bouncy balls, hockey sticks, wiffle balls and hula hoops. And during circle time, Wesley not only gets to hear a story and play some silly circle games, but I also get to learn a few new tunes & tricks to deploy when he gets too squirrelly at home.
I also appreciate that the Strong Start teachers have no fear of messy activities. My son can choose to be up to his elbows in flour, mash shaving cream all over a table, shake glitter all over a picture, mush around a goopy cornstarch-powered paste or cut construction paper into teeny-tiny pieces – all things I’d been a little afraid to try at home!
Plus, while all this is going on, parents, grandparents and babysitters can enjoy coffee or tea and commiserate about the crazy things small children do. Of all the kid activities I’ve tried, Strong Start has been the best environment for meeting other local parents. The only downside is that the program is so good that it’s very popular (and therefore can get so busy that it can be overwhelming).
I’ve got to give the B.C. Government, our local school district and the others behind this program full props. It’s amazing, and I’m so happy to see it expanding here in New West. In my opinion, it would be a worthy addition to every neighbourhood school. Then, kids could actually attend the Strong Start at the school they will enter in kindergarten, which could go a long way to relieving kids’ (and parents’) anxiety on the first full day of school.