Plan focusing on early childhood development

Ages zero to six are the most important in a child’s development, and a provincial steering committee is trying to ensure children in this area get all the education and support they need to reach their full potential.
“Investment in the early years of children’s lives is an investment in our future,” Betty-Anne MacKintosh, community co-ordinator for the Northwestern Early Years Steering Committee, said at presentation here Wednesday morning.
Over the past year, the regional committee—covering the Kenora-Rainy River districts and comprised of parents, teachers, school board trustees, and volunteers—has developed a strategic plan for how to expand early education programs as part of a province-wide, $114 million-a-year “Early Years Plan.”
It has compiled an inventory of all projects and services available in the region (currently 400 being offered at 106 agencies), and has produced a video outlining the importance of developing literacy, numeracy, and social skills during this critical age.
A study of 925 students entering senior kindergarten to determine how prepared they are to enter school also has been completed, with the results expected later this year.
“This isn’t a measurement of how schools are doing, it’s measurement of how the community is doing to prepare for school,” MacKintosh noted.
The next step in improving young children’s services in this region will come with the formation of an Early Years Centre. To be one of 103 across the province, the centre is intended to be a hub of information and support for local parents.
It will offer services, such as tips on parenting, as well as act as a leader in co-ordinating or expanding pre-existing services for tots.
“We want to make this open, affordable, and optional,” MacKintosh said.
One of the biggest issues to address for the local centre is making it accessible to people throughout the area.
MacKintosh said the group is looking at possibly creating a portable centre, where staff would move from site to site in order to ensure everyone has the opportunity to access its services.
But she said it isn’t just up to this group, or the Early Years Centre, to ensure children are able to reach their full potential.
“All sectors of the community have to work together,” she stressed. “It really does take a village to raise a child.”