The Early Years Matter Coalition — comprised of the member municipalities of Lacombe, Blackfalds, Alix, Clive, Eckville and Bentley — recently presented a study that shows Lacombe is lagging behind it’s Central Albertan neighbors in some key aspects of early-brain development in children.
The study, known as an Early Development Instrument (EDI), measures development in five key aspects including: Physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development and communication and general knowledge.
“Our main aim is to raise awareness of the importance of early brain development of kindergarten students. We want to set our students up for success and give them strong foundations,” Early Years Matter Coalition Coordinator Louise Rellis said.
The EDI is conducted through a questionnaire to kindergarten teachers who measure the progress of their students throughout the academic year. The full results can be found at lacombe.ca under Council highlights from Nov. 5th, but generally the results suggest that Lacombe falls behind their neighbors in several categories.
According to 2016 results, 9.4 per cent surveyed students in Lacombe are vulnerable in the area of physical health and well-being; 12.8 per cent are vulnerable in the area of social competence; 15.4 per cent of vulnerable in the area of emotional maturity; 12.8 per cent are vulnerable in the area of language and cognitive development and 9.4 per cent are vulnerable in the area of communication skills and general knowledge.
For comparison, Blackfalds surveyed students are 5.1 per cent vulnerable in the area of physical health and well-being; 5.1 per cent are vulnerable in the area of social competence; 10.3 per cent are vulnerable in the area of emotional maturity; 2.6 per cent are vulnerable in the area of language and cognitive development; and 5.1 per cent are vulnerable in the area of communication skills and general knowledge.
In summary, Blackfalds students scored better in every key statistic despite each community being close in proximity and population size.
“This survey gives us a snapshot of how we need to improve,” Rellis said.
While Rellis said the survey is a guideline for communities to measure their success, there are several things that parents can do to help their children develop including encouraging them to put on their coats and shoes, encouraging them to colour rather than use devices and most importantly — encouraging them to play.
“As kids are playing, they develop in each domain they need to,” she said.
Rellis hopes this information will encourage communities to come together and find solutions together.
“We have been given a snapshot of our community — how can we come up with solutions for children that are vulnerable and get them developing properly” she said. “A municipality has the loudest voice and they can connect with more groups, organizations and they can help get the message out there.”
Part of this is working to remove barriers for community groups like preschools and play groups and also encouraging businesses to be more child-friendly.
“Smiling at children and saying hello is important because for some kids, it could be the only smile they get that day,” Rellis said.
Municipalities can also ensure that when they build infrastructure like playgrounds, that design elements for children under six years old are considered.
“We need to think about the younger kids because they will be our future councillors, they will be our future teachers and they will be what we want our community to be like in 20 to 30 years,” Rellis said.
The next EDI study will come out in 2019, with questionnaires being completed in 2018, assuming that the coalition continues to receive provincial government funding.
“We can keep looking back and see where we are succeeding and areas we need to work on,” Rellis said.
She added, “If anyone wants to get involved with the coalition in anyway at all — anyone who sees a child on a daily basis, we would love to have them get involved.”