Monday, June 27, 2011

Two Awesome FREE Places You Need to Know About If You Have Kids Aged 0-5 in Vancouver (or most of BC)

Please, Please, PLEASE share this on Facebook, Twitter, ETC where your Vancouver or BC friends can see it.  I have no idea how I went 18 months without knowing about these programs. 

From the second Aias was an embryo, I was on the computer Googling like crazy in a mad frenzy to find local activities for him to participate in as an infant/toddler.  Even as strongly linked-in to the parenting community as I am, I somehow managed to go the past 18 months without knowing the following two programs existed.  I think the reason I completely bypassed these was because my searches were mostly yielding sponsored links or programs that were being marketed; you know, things that cost money.  Well, it turns out the best things in life really are free.  

Awesome Place #1: Family Centres
Family Centres are basically a "home away from home" where you can bring your child aged 0-5 to take part in free play as well as guided sing-a-longs and healthy snack time with other children.  We recently discovered these Family Centres and I'm completely in love with them and so is Aias (you can read more about my experience in this entry from last week).  Our local Family Centre is the Mount Pleasant Family Centre located on St. George just off Kingsway in Robson Park.  These Family Centres are free, although if you are able you can become a member by paying $25 a year (it also gets you a vote at their AGM and the ability to take books out of their parenting library).  You are welcome to attend twice a week at one of the drop-in sessions, which at the Mount Pleasant location are Monday through Friday 9:30am to 11:30 am or 1pm to 2pm.  For the first 90 minutes or so your child gets to play in the most amazing play room you've ever seen, and then 30 minutes before the drop-in session ends, everyone gets together for family time to read books and sing songs, and finally have a healthy snack.  After the indoor drop in portion gets out, there is a bit of outdoor time where the kids can play on a fenced-in playground or in a fenced-in paved courtyard full of ride-on toys.  The best thing about this is that these centres are staffed with early childhood educators and skilled volunteers; while you can't leave the site, you are able to go downstairs and have a free coffee, read, and socialize with other parents while your child plays upstairs with the other kids and is looked after by staff and volunteers. These family centres are open through the summer, with the exception of a few of their satellite locations that take place in rented gyms because of the summer camps displacing them in July and August (I didn't list those).  Here are the websites for the Family Centres in Vancouver:


The Family Centres are also fantastic because they offer libraries for parents and there are also drawers of free baby and maternity clothes for families in need.  You can also donate toys, clothing, and books for other parents.  There are also toy swaps from time to time.

Awesome Place #2: Strong Start
I was really shocked when I heard about Strong Start, because it's a part of the Vancouver School Board so you'd think it would be common knowledge that the program exists. I only happened upon it a few nights ago while having a conversation with a former staff member and friend of mine.  Strong Start is similar to the Family Centres in that it's free and it's for kids 0-5, although it's a tiny bit more formal.  For example, Strong Start is a program offered through the Vancouver School Board so you actually register your child at your first session and they carry their identification number through high school, should you choose to send them to public school in Vancouver.   Strong Start works similarly to the drop-in program at the Family Centres, except the program is 3 hours long instead of 2.  Parents also participate in the program with their child so it's different from daycare or preschool.  It looks as though many of the Strong Start locations operate during the school year (September through June) although a few operate through the summer.  I'm not sure how many times a week children can attend or if there is a limit to how many sessions you attend in a week.  Aias and I have not attended this, but we are going to find more out about it in the coming week.  A great Question and Answer page on Strong Start can be found here.  Strong Start locations in Vancouver can be found at the following places:

Britannia Elementary
Captain James Cook Elementary
Champlain Heights Annex
Collingwood Neighbourhood (Bruce Annex)
David Lloyd George Elementary
Florence Nightingale Elementary
Henderson Annex
Lord Nelson Elementary
Lord Selkirk Elementary
Maquinna Annex
Mt. Pleasant Elementary
Queen Alexandra Elementary
Sir Alexander MacKenzie Elementary
Sir Wilfred Grenfell Elementary
Tillicum Annex
Thunderbird Elementary
Walter Moberly Elementary
Waverly Elementary

So, what are you waiting for!?
Be sure to check these out, especially if you are still trying to decide between public school vs. homeschooling vs. private school.  It's really been interesting to see how Aias acts in a formal school setting, which is something these programs allow you to get a glimpse of. 

And remember, share this with other parents in the community.  I literally have come across 4-5 programs in my neighborhood that offer these exact programs but for $150+ a month, even though the parents have to stay and participate.  Your tax dollars pay for these programs and they are absolutely AMAZING; I have no doubt these are the highest quality and money can't necessarily buy a better program.  Put those hundreds of dollars into your kid's savings account instead, and take part in these awesome programs.





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