Early Childhood Development Report '12

Are Our Children Getting Good Starts?

 

The Wetaskiwin and Area Early Childhood Development Coalition has reported on its initial findings for the Early Child Development Mapping Initiative (ECMap), a province wide five year project funded by the Government of Alberta and involving the Ministries of Education, Health and Wellness, and Human Services.  Every community in Alberta will have its own early childhood development coalition which will gather and analyze the local information and then respond to the local needs.  Lisa Cottrell is the ECMap Community Development Coordinator for Wetaskiwin and Area, and may be contacted at the Wetaskiwin Community Health Centre at 5610-40 Avenue, phone 780-361-4419, fax 780-361-4335, ot email ECMapWetaskiwinArea@gmail.com.  The results were made public at a Children's Festival held in the Drill Hall where the many agencies involved with early child development had informative displays and activities for the children.  It was well attended and enjoyed.
The project involves gathering, analyzing, and correlating three types of information pertinent to early child development.  Kindergarten teachers fill out the Early Development Instrument for their students.  Comprehensive information on community resources is gathered, and socio-economic information is obtained from the 2006 census.  The resulting statistics are compared between sub-areas within communities,  as well as with the provincial and national averages.  
The Early Development Instrument (EDI), developed in Canada by the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, describes development in five areas.
PHYSICAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING considers if a child is well-rested, well-nourished, can sustain energy levels, has the physical independence to look after basic needs, has the gross motor skills such as catching and throwing balls, and has the fine motor skills for activities such as handling pencils and crayons.  
SOCIAL COMPETENCE considers how well a child plays with and gets along with others, curiosity and desire to explore, respect for adults and ability to control own behaviour.
EMOTIONAL MATURITY is the ability to express emotions at an age-appropriate level and empathize with others.
LANGUAGE AND THINKING SKILLS involve interest in reading and writing, the ability to count, and recognition of some shapes and colours.
COMMUNICATION SKILLS AND GENERAL KNOWLEDGE is ability to communicate needs and wants in socially appropriate ways, ability to tell stories, and includes age appropriate knowledge about the outside world.
The EDI results are described in three categories.  
“Developing appropriately” is the category for the top 75% of children, those who have most or all of the skills and abilities expected of children in kindergarten.  
“Experiencing difficulty” is the category which includes children who have some delays in some areas of development with scores falling between the bottom 10% and 25% of children.  
“Experiencing great difficulty” is the category describing the children with scores in the lowest 10% as compared to other children across Canada.
RESULTS FOR WETASKIWIN AND AREA
Results for the Wetaskiwin Community and each of three identified areas within it may be compared to national normative data (which is heavily influenced by B.C. and Ontario data) and by the combination of results across Alberta, a constantly growing data bank.  The concern for those experiencing the most difficulty is obvious from the comparison figures being given in terms of the percentage of children who are having great developmental difficulty (in the bottom 10%) in one or more categories.
The following percentages represent the percentage of children experiencing great developmental difficulty in one or more categories:
Canada        25.40%
Alberta        26.96%
Wetaskiwin and Area   30.64%
Wetaskiwin Count       22.58%
Millet        31.82%
Wetaskiwin City        33.33%
It is no surprise to those of us who know and appreciate rural life that fewer kindergarten children from the rural area have great developmental difficulties, nor does it surprise us that the one subarea where they do tend to experience more developmental difficulties is that of Social Competence.
In considering resources, it is noted that parents are the greatest resource for early childhood development.  Community resources and supports that are well planned to fulfil their purpose for little ones make the parents' job easier.  An example of resources sitting poorly used because of inadequate understanding of all that was required is the Toddler Playground in Wetaskiwin.  It is a delightful area for wee ones and even has wheelchair access, but it is little used because of lack of barriers between it and the busy streets, too close proximity to the bad language and behaviour of the skateboard park, too close proximity to the high school during lunch hour and after school, and a lack of washrooms close enough to be of use with little ones.
Bill Elliot, Mayor of the City of Wetaskiwin, noted that the formation of the Early Childhood Development Coalitions stops the individual agencies involved from working in “silos” and eliminates duplication.
The project across the country and provincially is sparked by the growing understanding of brain development.  The ECD report notes that, “Children's early experiences shape actual brain structure during a critical period of development (from birth to about age five).  These experiences have a lifelong impact on school, work, health, relationships and well-being.  Socio-economic conditions and community resources, as well as children's relationships with their immediate family and other caregivers, are among the factors that affect children's early experiences and thus development.” 
Further information may be obtained on the internet.  
Ways to encourage each phase of brain development from before birth to age three:  www.zerotothree.org/baby-brain-map.html  
A seven-module online workshop providing a step-by-step comprehensive explanation of early brain development:  www.withthebraininmind.org/buildingbrains  
The Alberta Government's Early Child Development Mapping Project:  www.ecmap.ca  
I also consider it worth noting that this cross Canada study completely ignores the facts that the top two per cent of children are so intelligent that those of the same age are not their peers, that these very highly intelligent children have special needs that must be met in order for them to achieve their full potential, that we have hundreds and thousands of people with the intellectual ability of an Einstein but whose superior abilities are never realized for the benefit of the rest of society because they are not recognized, supported or valued.  There is a growing body of knowledge about the characteristics, problems and needs of gifted children and adults, but, obviously, it has not filtered down to educators.
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