Becoming a parent changes your life. Many new parents embark upon a research mission to seek out everything they need to know about raising a baby. Some might seek out early learning and development programs in their community, while others might head to Amazon and order an arm full of books to equip them with the answers to all of their new parent questions.
Many parents however, are not aware of how they can seek out this information, or may be new Canadians that speak very little English. Some parents in our community are teenagers with unplanned pregnancies. For them, becoming a new parent may be scarier and they may feel lost and unsupported.
The Launch Pad in Brantford is a place that supports all parents, caregivers and children from newborns to six year olds. It’s a free drop-in program that operates out of Graham Bell-Victoria School. At the Launch Pad children can play, socialize with other children, explore, and just be kids in a safe environment. The program is facilitated by Jane Flinders, a Registered Early Childhood Educator. Jane also provides support to parents and caregivers by answering questions about development, challenging behaviours and nutrition. She also leads the children and parents in a circle time each day where they explore literacy through music, rhymes and reading.
The Launch Pad concept is the brain child of the late Dr. Fraser Mustard.
Mustard’s research taught us that a baby’s brain is wired during the first year. A baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons and will grow trillions of brain-cell connections during the first year. These connections are called synapses, and they need to be wired together through stimulation. If these synapses are not wired during the first year, they’re lost during the child’s school years. Basically, the brain works on a use it or lose it basis. These early experiences set the stage. The Launch Pad helps parents learn what they can do with their children to give them the best start. They operate on the belief that parents are the first and most important teachers in a child’s life.
Sharon Brooks, the Executive Director of Kids Can Fly, brought Dr. Fraser Mustard to Brantford to present to the Rotary Club about his research. That presentation stuck in Rotarian Bill Campbell’s mind. Fellow Rotarian Jackie Delong was a board member for Kids Can Fly, and had worked with Sharon to open early learning and parenting centres in Brant. A meeting was booked for Sharon to meet with Bill in August of 2007.
Sharon came to the meeting equipped with her usual portfolio of research preparing to educate Bill on the reason why investing in early learning is crucial. Sharon says, “He opened our discussion by saying that he didn’t need to see this as he was already a convert.”
“I knew that investing in early learning was a good thing to do. The long-term benefits are great. It reduces crime and poverty and encourages a higher level of learning. It’s what’s right for society,” says Bill. Bill posed a question to Sharon. “If I write you a cheque today, could you open another parenting centre by September?” Sharon was surprised at his question. In her experience, she had to work really hard to convince people of the importance of investing in early learning. Bill’s question felt like a dream come true.
The reality of opening a centre in 3 weeks was a challenge, but Sharon didn’t want to lose the opportunity and said: “I can do it by October!” Bill and his wife Dorothy committed to funding the Launch Pad each year. They provided the start-up capital to set up the centre, and continue to fund the yearly operating costs. The Grand Erie School Board provides the space for free. The concept of locating a Launch Pad within a school helps children to be ready for kindergarten, and gives parents a chance to become a part of the school community before their children attend kindergarten.
Dr. Fraser Mustard attended the opening of the Launch Pad on October 1, 2007.
One of the challenges the Launch Pad faced was that some families had trouble arranging transportation to come to the site. Sharon told Bill about this, and he agreed to pay for families to take a taxi. They created a program where families could call ahead and book a taxi to get to the Launch Pad. In the first month, the taxi bill was higher than Sharon had expected. Nervously she called Bill to tell him and his response was: “Isn’t it great that people are coming to the Launch Pad?”
Bill and Dorothy loved the concept of the Launch Pad, and they wanted it to be available to all families. The couple has two children but do not have any grand-children. “By supporting the Launch Pad, it’s like we have lots of little grandchildren,” Bill says with a chuckle.
He regularly stops in to visit the program and always comes at Circle Time. “I just love how Jane tricks all of the kids into learning their numbers and ABCs by singing and dancing. It’s great to see that the kids just know what will be coming next in the circle time and they get really excited. They’re learning while they’re having fun! It really is quite something to see.”
Since 2007, Bill and Dorothy have funded 100% of the Launch Pad’s cost through a private donation to Kids Can Fly. Hundreds of families have benefitted from visiting the Launch Pad, and Bill and Dorothy have continued to champion investing in early learning and development.
The Launch Pad is open Tuesday to Friday from 9:00am – 12:00pm at Graham Bell Victoria School, located at 56 Grand Street in Brantford. It is FREE, and everyone is welcome. The program is for children from birth to age 6, as well as parents and caregivers. Families can seek free transportation through Brant Taxi at 519-752-1010.
For more information on the Launch Pad, visit http://www.kidscanfly.ca/programs/the-launch-pad/