Participation in EarlyON programs in Brantford and Brant County is ticking upward.
Over 19,000 youngsters and their caregivers attended the free, play-based drop-ins in both municipalities in the first three quarters of this year, said Michelle Connor, manager of children’s services and early years programs for the City of Brantford.
That's up from 14,000 in all of 2022.
“I think people are rediscovering EarlyON after the pandemic,” said Connor.
Designed for children under six and their caregivers, the programs are largely hosted in churches, schools, libraries and community centres across the city and county, and outdoors in parks during the summer.
“They are meeting spaces where families can connect and share their success and challenges as parents and caregivers,” said Connor.
The programs are funded by the Ministry of Education and administered by early childhood educators through Child and Family Services of Grand Erie, Community Living Brant and Six Nations of the Grand River.
With activities like storytelling, songs and free play, they give families the opportunity to connect with other caregivers and young children in the community.
Some programs focus on specific topics or activities, such as infant massage or family gym time. Others are led by facilitators from Six Nations of the Grand River, including the Wednesday drop-in at the newest EarlyON location at the TF Warren Group Cainsville Community Centre.
Those programs typically involve some Indigenous culture in the form of language, food, games or activities, and are well-attended, Connor said.
Families are welcome to attend in either municipality, regardless of their address — in fact, Connor encourages folks to try out a number of locations, since each has its own feel.
For instance, if a program leader notices a lot of caregivers are talking about sleep issues or developmental concerns, they might invite a speaker from a local organization, such as Lansdowne Children’s Centre or the Brant County Health Unit, to drop by and answer some questions.
”It's an overall environment that provides families with a safe place to get (out) and play and relax, but also get the support that they may want or need,” Connor said.
EarlyON programs in the county are held at the following locations at various times throughout the week:
In addition, summer programs are often offered in county parks, such as Paris Lions Park and Sunnyhill Park in St. George.
All programs are listed on the EarlyON Calendar at www.brantford.ca/childrensservices. Information is also posted on the EarlyON Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/earlyonbrantfordbrant/.
Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about Brant County. Reach her at email@example.com.
Celeste Percy-Beauregard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator