Canora fair prepares families with young children for school

Cleo Ding/LJI Reporter/Canora Courier Kim Gelowitz, an early childhood educator from the Good Spirit School Division and the program developer for IMPACT, helps check the germ on a child’s hand with an ultraviolet light that helps the child learn where germs gather and stay.

Cleo Ding
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Canora Courier

CANORA — Before parents send their children to kindergarten, they get the chance to engage in a smoother and meaningful process with visiting professionals in early childhood development coming to their table.

Funded through the Ministry of Education, IMPACT – short for ‘Intriguing Minds: Parents and Children Together’ – is an annual early childhood fair held since 2012 within the Good Spirit School Division (GSSD) preparing three-to-five year olds with their families living in rural areas to get used to being at school and making friends.

The resourceful early childhood fair held in Canora May 3 – where parents and teachers joined forces to establish play-based learning for the kids – was the long-waited success that Kim Gelowitz, an early childhood educator from GSSD, had planned for a year, month to month, since last year’s no show.

Mucking around with vinegar and baking soda to simulate volcano eruption. Painting with toys. Building with dino blocks and cooking pretend meals in a child-sized kitchen.

“There’s no one right way and no wrong way (in playing),” Gelowitz said.

As the families – around eight including a ten-months old and kindergarteners who came here with their younger siblings – immersed themselves in going about the stimulative activities, the expert partners and staff were pacing in the room with all ears and ready to help.

“… instead of solving it for families, we say (to the parents): ‘well, hmm, we’re trying to make them (the kids) curious about things like, what will happen when you do this?’” Gelowitz said while gesturing to a child at the ‘volcano station’ expecting the ‘eruption’ with water, rather than vinegar with baking soda.

“The more I can empower parents to be doing some of these activities, their child will thrive,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just navigating the system. That’s what my role is.”

Gelowitz said the Canora stop this year had more than 20 families registered – some familiar faces, some new appeared through word of mouth – from her travelling to rural areas in the past year.

The fair borrowed the gymnasium space at Canora Junior Elementary School and drew the school’s pre-K teacher and principal to watch.

“It’s nice to be able to have so many opportunities like this,” said school principal Shawna Stangel. “Any kind of programming that we can bring into the school is always above and beyond what we can do here.”

Heather Novak, a teacher who just returned to pre-K education from teaching in the kindergarten last year, went from station to station to talk to the families new and old, and “have them checked in at the beginning (of the school system)” where both play but there are more academics emphasised in kindergarten.

“I love it. It’s just every day, just seeing how excited they are to learn, it’s just an amazing thing to see. And being able to set up these things, like my room’s full of just-play sector. Being able to see that learning happening while they’re able to play is just a great experience,” Novak said with a smile while recalling her eight years seeing young children every day.

The idea of playful exercises designed to introduce the social, emotional and motor-skill-based learning for children while sharing relevant resources with learning kits and snacks attracted many parents to follow along.

One of the parents, Jean Travalia, a new participant, said her daughter Lily, playing at the cognitive skills table, is enjoying herself much at the event.

“She’s loving it. She’s going crazy.”

With the room bustling with dinosaur songs and kids making squeals and giggles through playing, the professionals in the room however, expressed concerns reaching the parents who can find the time and space to commit to the programs.

“For our kids in our program, a lot of them have been private, so a lot of families can’t really afford that. We’re kind of in between, even though we’re not speech pathologists, we’re helping them as best as we can,” said Kelly Wog, early childhood intervention consultant who works with children who experience developmental delays.

Another professional who attended the fair, Algandra Barron, facilitator with Triple P, short for Positive Parenting Program, which offers different parenting classes, said it makes it difficult to reach the parents who don’t have Internet access readily available to them.

“I think most parents want to come and then sometimes there’s some barriers, like some parents might not have a good (Internet) connection… Even if we have virtual for them sometimes it’s like: ‘but my internet connection is unstable and I can’t do so,’” Barron said.

Because young children are not able to express themselves freely, examining each student’s abilities and needs through play is key for the educators, Stangel echoes.

“Having parents here is very important, so parents can have the opportunity to see how play really is learning for children,” Stangel said.

Valuable connections made on the road

Having managed a family resource centre for almost a decade, Gelowitz said she sees common ground with her current role as a program developer with GSSD and coming from a small community herself, she is happy with the turnover.

“This job is more like a family resource centre on the road, about connecting families. If they’re struggling with different challenges, they can reach out and touch base with me.”

In the past year’s continuous efforts in building connections, Gelowitz visited local churches, community centres, schools and libraries to connect with families, especially with newcomers who have yet to learn how to access their local family services.

“I chose to come out on Saturdays, my kids are all grown up. I’m a grandma so I can sacrifice some Saturdays,” she said. “And there is a difference from what I was back ten years ago, there were a lot more stay at home moms or even dads. Now not so many people have to work.”

One of the devoted parents, Halyna Shumada, whom Gelowitz met at the church and speaks Ukrainian, joined Gelowitz in the second and third event, said her oldest is now in pre-school and brought her youngest to the event to learn and make friends – while showing pictures of her son to Gelowitz, proud.

“I like seeing recurring families coming back and being able to watch them grow… Did you have fun? Thanks for coming,” said Gelowitz while handing a bag of pencil, crayons, scissors, glue, water colours, a book and an information brochure to a family at the gate ready to leave.