Children in Ponoka are falling behind the curve when it comes to their early childhood development.
A recent survey conducted by the Ponoka Early Childhood Development Coalition (PECDC) shows that Ponoka children cannot communicate as well as children in other communities.
Robyn O’Connell, PECDC co-ordinator, says the survey is part of a province-wide program — called the Early Child Development Mapping Project Alberta (ECMap) — that looks at three major components: Early Development Instrument (EDI), socio-economic status of the area and community assets such as playgrounds, recreation facilities and community services.
ECMap survey subjects
The survey looked at children in four age ranges and was conducted in 100 Alberta communities:
• Under five years and two months old.
• Between five years, three months and five years, six months.
• Between five years, seven months and five years, 10 months.
• Over five years, 11 months.
Andrea Ramage, PECDC chairperson and Ponoka Parent Link co-ordinator says the test helps determine social, emotional and physical milestones in children.
Children were tested in five categories:
• Physical health and well-being such as being ready for school, being on time, independent washroom habits and are well nourished.
“By the time they’re in Kindergarten they should have already established a hand preference (right or left hand),” explained Ramage.
• Social competence where a child can play well with other children and they can follow instructions and show respect for others.
• Emotional maturity shows if children are able to focus and not too fearful or impulsive.
• Language and thinking relates to early academic skills such as interest in reading and writing related activities.
• Communication skills and general knowledge focuses on a child’s ability to communicate needs and wants. They can say words clearly and have the ability to take part in imaginative play.
Communication skills needs improvement
Children in the Ponoka area scored below the provincial average in all categories but where they are well below the province is in communications and general knowledge.
Of the 256 children tested, 47.7 per cent are developing appropriately, compared to the province at 68.6 per cent; 26.6 per cent are experiencing difficulty compared to 14.6 per cent and 25.8 per cent are experiencing great difficulty compared to 16.7 per cent.
(The full results of the ECMap survey can be found on www.ecmap.ca. Search for Ponoka.)
To combat this issue, O’Connell is compiling a community resource guide that will give parents an opportunity to see what is available to them. She will include information with help for parents as well.
An opportunity for growth
While the numbers may indicate challenges for Ponoka parents, Ramage sees this as an opportunity. “Becoming aware of where the needs are is not a bad thing. It lets us know how we can help and how our community’s parents can get involved.”
“It’s not so much ‘what we don’t have,’ it’s, ‘what can we do?’” she added.
“It’s never too late to talk to your child, play with your child, play at the park with your child,” explained Ramage.
Playtime does not have to be 24 hours a day either. Ramage suggests parents take certain times of the day to read, talk or even have imaginative play with their child. “Then those kids are developing their communication skills. So when their teacher asks them to tell a story they can have these conversations,” said Ramage.
“It impacts the rest of their life,” added O’Connell.
The coalition studied 292 children, with 256 used in the analysis, of those studied, 4.8 per cent were special needs children who were not included in the results. The results have been complied since 2009.
There are 17,171 people living in the testing area, which had Kindergarten teachers at Ponoka Elementary School, St. Augustine Catholic School, the Christian School and Mecca Glen School conducting the survey. ECMap used the Offord Centre for Child Studies test.
O’Connell says development in the first five years of a child’s life is critical and she suggests parents are an integral part of their development. She advises guardians take advantage of the different activities in Ponoka that involve children to, which will help them later in life.
“What kind of things can we do to reach that full potential between zero to five?” asked O’Connell.
She suggests simple tasks such as reading to children and taking them to the playground will help. The Parent Link Centre also provides a module designed to determine where a child sits and staff at the centre usually walk parents through testing.
Options available to parents
Some of the activities available to parents of young children include the Ponoka Jubilee Library, which provides reading and play activities for children; the Ponoka Parent Link Centre provides a variety activities for new parents and is able to guide parents through testing; and then there are playgrounds and recreation buildings in the community that offer children an opportunity to be outside and play.