The Sunshine Coast School District has a phenomenal early learning program for the parents of pre-kindergarten children. It’s called SPARK! From birth to school entry parents attend regular sessions to learn about the growth and development of their children. Three workshops per year focus on children at each stage of development: there are classes for the parents of infants, for one year olds, for two year olds and for three year olds. Parents then attend KinderSPARK!, a program for parents whose children will be in kindergarten the following year. This amazing and highly subscribed program developed over a number of years in our district. Parents just keep coming back for more of the expert information, dialogue, sharing, guidance and support. The majority of parents on the Sunshine Coast attend at least some SPARK! or KinderSPARK! sessions.
It’s easy to find articles from a wide variety of sources that prove investment in early learning pays huge dividends to our children, our society and our economy. Early learning proponents are found in very diverse publications (see Business week – The Heckman Equation and Huffington Post – Kindergarten is Too Late for two examples) and support the economic and moral argument for supporting early learning. In support of this, our Ministry of Education provides a comprehensive Early Learning Framework to help guide initiatives in supporting our youngest learners.
As proud as we are of our SPARK! program, however, we still knew that too many of our young students’ parents were not attending SPARK! A segment of our parent population is not benefiting from these amazing, free and incredibly important learning opportunities. Our efforts will continue to reach out to these parents. However, through discussion, we realized that we CAN reach all parents in the future. They are in our schools right now. We recognized that if we could mandate in our district that every high school student has access to these sessions, one way or another, that our students will have a theoretical framework in their minds for when they eventually have children of their own. Further, if we go beyond the theoretical and provide an opportunity for our high school students to experience speaking to, interacting with, and supporting very small children in a practical way, that this could lead to a very dramatic shift for families in the future. We knew we were on to something, and now we’re doing it.
Our Early Learning Coordinator, Kirsten Deasey (@KirstenDeasey) worked with the teachers of Planning 10 courses at the high schools to develop three academic sessions and one practical session. After learning some fundamentals of child development and interaction strategies, grade 10 students will be attending local StrongStart sites to work directly with children. They will help them to find and read books that excite and engage the youngsters in, they will engage the children in dialogue using their new skills and they will reflect on what they have seen and learned in the process.
We fully expect that this will make a difference for all children in our district for many years to come. Our youngest students will be more properly cared for, better nourished, spoken to regularly and read to more often, and provided with more learning and interactive experiences all because now, their parents will know how.
We’re proud of spark 10. It’s an investment in our students that we simply can’t afford to miss.