Very READ-y is a community based multifaceted four year initiative launched in 2014 in response to families and service providers who wanted to improve early learning and school readiness for the more than 3,500 young children living in the Point Douglas neighbourhood.
Very READy is based on a holistic framework that positions parents and caregivers as the child’s first teacher.
Its main program, the Very READ-y Project (VRP), is spearheaded by founding partners Bookmates Inc., which started as a reading program in the inner city more than 30 years ago, and Manidoo Gi Miini Gonaan, a Point Douglas neighbourhood mainstay for local families and early learning.
Plus Moe – can’t forget this little furry guy who is the central character in a speech and language program developed by speech pathologists Anne Gardener and Margaret Chesterman for the BC Aboriginal Child Care Society.
While VRP is literacy focused, early learning child care workers in Point Douglas quickly identified that a major obstacle for the children in their care in learning to read was how to make the sounds necessary to pronounce words. So Moe is now an integral part of the VRP team.
In its first three years, the Very READ-y Project has created an advisory council of community stakeholders, trained close to 200 facilitators in Moe the Mouse, offered a regular peer networking circle for service providers, distributed Early Learning and Literacy toolkits to community sites, and established a volunteer team which attends dozens of community events throughout the year to share literacy activities and distribute free children’s books to families.
Monica Dinney, Executive Director at Bookmates Inc. and Carolyn Young, Executive Director at Manidoo, along with their staff, the members of the advisory council, and a host of dedicated volunteers have done an amazing job of working with the Point Douglas early learning community to support families and children in those important formative years of 0 to 5.
It’s no easy task engaging young children in literacy activities – you have to get down on all fours, on the floor, it helps if you are good at arts and crafts, and of course you need to be able to carry a tune. It’s exhausting but you can make it such fun!
The Very READ-y Project has gained partners along the way, further expanding opportunities for parents and caregivers to engage in their child’s learning.
The Learning Partnership of Canada’s Welcome to Kindergarten (WTK) program supports families as their children transition to school. WTK works closely with schools to create a warm and welcoming environment for the little ones before their first day of kindergarten. Families participate in an orientation day and each child receives an activity bag to take home.
Guided by their parents and caregivers, children can practice the skills they will need for kindergarten, such as imaginative play, singing and rhyming, scribbling and colouring and the all-important handling of scissors!
More than 500 preschool children participate in WTK each year at 11 different schools. Deborah Thompson, WTK’s Program Manager is a strong advocate for early learning and believes in kids being ready for school and schools being ready for the kids.
Tom Best and Rebeca Delgado with First Book Canada (FBC), based in Mississauga, Ontario, were in Winnipeg for the celebration.
FBC makes approximately 2,500 age appropriate culturally specific books available each year to children through its Marketplace program, and they were in town to distribute 30,000 free books to Winnipeg agencies this week, a much anticipated annual event.
What a fundamental difference this has made in a community where many families struggle to put food on the table. For a child to hold a book in their little hands, look at the pictures, imagine what’s going on – these are all precursors to learning how to read and to developing a joy of reading.
A recent addition to VR is Frontier College and Pathways to Education Canada’s family literacy programming in school family rooms; Karen St. Marie, Jackie Pierre and Darlene Klyne, have created a program that is exploring ways to encourage intergenerational learning between adults and their children and between youth and young children.
I learnt something new as well when I visited the program. Jackie Pierre taught me, along with the parents and children at William Whyte’s school family room, how to make a painting using shaving cream. Never too old to learn!
onebillion.org, a digital numeracy program has been launched at Andrews Street Family Centre as the inaugural site for introducing this innovative exciting program to Canada.
And last but not least, we welcome the Dollywood Foundation’s Imagination Library which makes it possible for children 0-5 to create their very own library. This partnership came with an exciting opportunity to meet Dolly Parton last June. We are looking forward to working with the Imagination Library’s tireless champion Karyn Davis.
A special shout out also goes to Stephanie from the FACT Coalition which has been such a wonderful partner, providing funding, program support and knowledge of the community.
It is so wonderful to have all the VR partners gathered in one place. Together they are creating a strong, supportive network for families and for early learning.
As described in Dr. Martin Brokenleg’s Circle of Courage model which identifies four universal growth needs of all children, Very READ-y fosters a spirit of Belonging where Families are acknowledged as the child’s first teacher.
It fosters the Spirit of Mastery, providing preschool children, their families, and members of the early learning community with the tools required for learning.
A Spirit of Independence emerges from this, empowering children and families to say ‘Yes I can’ learn, ‘Yes I will be ready for kindergarten.’
And lastly, the model’s Spirit of Generosity can be seen everywhere as families, early learning practitioners, students, volunteers, funders and the community ask – What can we do to support children as they prepare to embark on their journey of lifelong learning?
The Very READ-y Initiative is very much in keeping with The Winnipeg Foundation’s longstanding belief in the power of education to improve lives, as well as our commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, particularly around education.
For more than a dozen years we’ve been making grants through our Literacy for Life Fund, supporting community charitable organizations that help foster family literacy.
The Very READ-y Initiative gives us an opportunity to invest more deeply to improve educational outcomes for children from a disadvantaged socio-economic area of our city, and particularly among our growing Indigenous population.
Currently, 60% of the kids in Point Douglas are ready for school – so that is something to celebrate. We are pleased to be able to support programs that may touch the 40% who are not yet ready, so that they can join their peers on an equal footing the first day of kindergarten.
We thank the families in Point Douglas for giving The Foundation an opportunity to work with them on school readiness.
Now in its third year, I’m pleased to report that Very READ-y has more than surpassed our expectations! Going forward, the Very READ-y Project will be consulting with parents and caregivers on what the next steps should be.
And a special thank you to The Winnipeg Foundation’s donors for their generosity, insights, and enthusiasm in supporting early learning.