Free Strong Start program for preschoolers expands to West End

Strong Start, a provincially funded, free program for children under six and their parents, is expanding with a new afternoon program in New Westminster’s West End. The program is a gentle introduction to school for preschoolers through play-based learning.

We’ve written about Strong Start here before. The Cole’s Notes version of that post: Strong Start is awesome.

The new Strong Start centre will open March 29 at Connaught Heights Elementary, at 2201 London St. in the city’s West End. Strong Start will share space in the school with New Westminster Parks, Culture & Rec’s long-running Tiny Tots preschool program.

Among the three programs, there should be a time to suit every parent/child schedule. The new program at Connaught will be open 12:30-3:30pm, Monday to Friday. Meanwhile, the program will continue to operate in Sapperton at McBride Elementary every weekday from 9am-12pm, and in Queensborough at Queen Elizabeth Elementary on Monday and Friday from 9am-12pm and Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday from 4-7pm.

Strong Start follows the regular school schedule, which means it is closed on professional development days and school holidays including spring break (which is this week).

Strong Start a haven for preschoolers (and their mums)

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.

Wesley at play in the StrongStart sandbox. Photo: Briana Tomkinson.
Wesley at play in the StrongStart sandbox. Photo: Briana Tomkinson.

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.