Johnstone Daycare’s pilot program ignites kids’ interest in the world

Red Deer Child Care plans to adopt the new model at other facilities

Reasonable risk-taking is encouraged at the daycare (contributed photo).

Firefighters were put in the hot-seat after responding to a recent false alarm at Johnstone Daycare.

The pre-school kids were so interested in what the fire-medics were doing that they asked them a slew of questions about their jobs. The firefighters became so absorbed in their interactions with the daycare children, “it turned into a two-hour call,” recalled the day care’s co-ordinator Nicole Morrell, with a chuckle.

But that’s par-for-the-course at Johnstone Daycare, where a pilot program encourages one- to six-year-olds to become resourceful, capable risk-takers by taking an active interest in their community and the world.

The holistic ‘Play Participation’ model is designed by early child care educators, including from Mount Royal University in Calgary. It has input and support from professional daycare workers and government and has been successfully applied at the Red Deer day care.

News of the local success has spread by word-of-mouth to other child care facilities across the province. So far, Johnstone Daycare has received visits from Edmonton, Calgary, Stettler, Sylvan Lake and Rocky Mountain House child care workers, said Joan Goldhawk, executive-director the Red Deer Child Care, which operates the facility.

Goldhawk is now looking to apply this “meaningful” program — which incorporates play and teaching with children’s individual interests and learning styles — across all three RDCC day cares, 20 after-school programs, 28 family day homes.

Anything that stirs young curiosity — from transit buses to city workers changing streetlights — needs to be enthusiastically investigated, said Morrell. “We take the kids out into the community, and bring the community into the daycare.”

Doctors, bee-keepers and dentists have spoken to the kids about their jobs. The children have gone on field trips to City Hall, the public library, the Central Alberta Humane Society, and other places. Morrell said they have ridden transit buses, picked up litter during the Green Deer campaign, investigated the natural environment, and done a myriad of other things to learn about becoming good citizens.

She believes it’s important to go beyond just teaching kids about colours and numbers, and measuring their developmental markers. Morrell feels daycare workers need to ignite the children’s interests to give them more ways to succeed.

“We look at how they play and seek, and participate and care for each other… when you focus on these things you’re setting them up for success,” she added.

Goldhawk next plans to look for funding, so more Red Deer Child Care staff can be trained on the Play Participation model.

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