The Winnipeg Foundation has long held the belief that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. This belief has motivated us to establish a Literacy for Life Fund that supports inter-generational literacy programs in Manitoba.
Through our Community Fund, we also support numerous projects large and small, aimed at creating equal and better access to education resources both in and outside the school system. New early learning child care centres, classrooms for children with special needs, nutrition programs, walking school buses, summer learning programs, after school homework clubs, and pre-employment skills training programs are projects we frequently support in an effort to help kids ‘catch up’ to their peers and ultimately succeed in life.
There are many reasons why some children fall behind. Lower socio-economic neighbourhoods suffer from a lack of access to resources such as libraries and reading programs. The residential school legacy has left many aboriginal parents and caregivers without the necessary skills and culturally appropriate programs to support their children’s learning. And newcomer children, of course, must adapt to a new country, a new language and education system, while dealing with personal trauma and loss.
These factors, among others, negatively affect a child’s self-esteem and sense of identity, ability to learn, attachment with parents and caregivers, and peer development.
Those working with vulnerable children and youth are advocating for a much earlier intervention in a child’s learning journey, before they start school. These programs not only involve parents but others in the community as well — relatives, doctors, childcare minders and early learning educators, to name a few. Basically, anyone who interacts with a child can stimulate their curiosity and imagination, engage them in singing and storytelling, teach them sounds, and share with them the joy of reading.
The importance of early literacy interaction and experiences during the critical period of brain development in the early years (0-5) cannot be overestimated as an essential building block for success in life-long learning, improved health and economic well-being. This belief is backed by plenty of research.
A 2001 National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth Community Study showed that children 0-5 years of age in the Winnipeg School Division, which serves the majority of Winnipeg’s lower socio-economic areas, scored below the national average on three standardized tests: Development Assessment (Who am I?); Positive Behaviour; and Receptive Language. Subsequent scores measured through the standardized Early Development Instrument (EDI) administered to children entering Kindergarten have shown little to no progress in advancing learning outcomes for children in Winnipeg’s lower socio-economic neighbourhoods. These kids are identified as failing before they even get to start their learning journey.
The Winnipeg Foundation is working closely with the community to turn this trend around. For many years, we have supported Bookmates, a charitable organization whose family literacy programs, developed in partnership with community organizations and parents, are universal, holistic, and family centered. Programs are also designed for specific communities and based on particular needs and cultural considerations. Bookmates has a train the facilitator model in which participants can then deliver programs in their communities thus building community capacity.
This past year, Bookmates teamed up with Manidoo Gi Miini Gonaan, a community service hub in Lord Selkirk Park, to develop and deliver The Very Read-y project, to expose pre-school children and their families to a cluster of focused and intentional speech, language and literacy programming. This collaborative community-based program will be delivered in early learning childcare centres, school family rooms, family resource centres and nursery schools, and anywhere children and families gather. The goal is to support families in preparing their children for Kindergarten where a positive EDI score earns the child ‘Very Ready’ status and a positive platform for going forward.
Project Makoonsag (Many Little Bears) is an innovative and collaborative initiative between Urban Circle Training Centre, the University of Manitoba’s Inner City Campus and Red River College to address the urgent need for child care and healthy lifestyle alternatives for aboriginal children, youth and adults and new immigrant children and families. Its unique governance model expands the singular focus of a child care centre to a more inclusive developmental model that supports a demonstration school in early learning child care and an intergenerational family approach that embraces cultural diversity and integrates aboriginal values.
And lastly, the Community Economic Development Association, which strives to meet the educational needs of the community, has launched a campaign ‘Aboriginal Children Count’, advocating for social justice in early childhood development. A recent grant from The Winnipeg Foundation is supporting CEDA’s efforts to establish a Mom and Tots program at Win Gardner Place that is based on an aboriginal framework including the Medicine Wheel and the Seven Teachings. The program is community led by the aboriginal families in the inner city.
These examples are but a few of the innovative and exciting approaches to early learning child literacy in Winnipeg.
To learn more, come to the Winnipeg Free Press Cafe at 237 McDermot Avenue (corner of McDermot and Arthur) on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm, to meet the grantees and to hear about the important programs they are delivering with the support of The Winnipeg Foundation.
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