Like so many local agencies, businesses and services, The Boys and Girls Club of Kingston’s (BGCK) EarlyON program has performed a COVID-19 pivot, now offering take-home and online services for Kingston families.
“The staff are really really missing families,” said Krista Pretty, manager of the EarlyON program at BGCK. “Right now there are nine of us still working, and we’re trying to keep busy. But we’re definitely missing families, and missing the programs as we used to run.”
Under normal circumstances, Pretty manages a staff of 11 early childhood professionals across nine locations in Kingston, providing free drop-in programming and play space for infant, pre-school and kindergarten children and caregivers.
Now, she’s overseeing the creation of YouTube videos, Zoom meet-ups, and the distribution of 180 take-home activity kits per week.
She said the shift started with the creation of a YouTube channel, after parents emailed asking for help with song lyrics for popular ‘circle time’ songs. They now have over 100 videos posted of staff singing songs, reading books, and doing activities for kids.
“I’m getting so many pictures that parents have sent us of little kids kissing the screen, or just saying they’re so excited because it’s people they know on the screen,” Pretty said.
“That really keeps our staff going and it’s really motivating for us. We say ‘Yay, we are still touching families and making a difference!’”
Pretty said they decided to expand the initiative by offering take-home activity kits each week, paired with a themed online video.
“They’re really super simple. A few sheets of paper, a little bit of craft materials. It has some songs, some ideas for science, for a literacy experience. It has ideas for creative experiences, and a parent handout,” she said.
The activity kit hand-outs are popular, she said, and have helped re-establish crucial in-person connection during an isolating time for parents.
“There’s lots of stress and anxiety happening right now, and that presents in different ways in children and sometimes we don’t recognize that,” Pretty said.
Besides picking up the activity pack, she said parents get that chance to talk to an early years professional.
“They can ask ‘What are these behaviors? What can I do about it?’ And really getting a listening ear and possibly some tips, or even referral to other agencies if its a serious concern,” Pretty expressed.
As most of the pick-ups are curbside, with boxes passed through a car window, she said enforcing social distancing has not been an issue. At the East End location, where many residents walk or bike, more communication on safety protocols were required.
“We sent out a letter to everyone telling them to remember to maintain physical distancing. So please talk to your children. Prepare them,” she explained, noting it has since gone well.
“We’ve all evolved. We all have to stand in line at the grocery store now, so I think people are being very respectful when they come to pick up their packages.”
Pretty said they’ve now added Zoom events to the weekly calendar, such virtual play group, baby rhyme time, parent chat, bedtime story time, and a “moving and grooving” event. A full schedule of Zoom sessions can be found on their Facebook page.
Pretty said she’s noticed a new influx of new parents, who weren’t previously participating in the EarlyOn programming.
“We’ve had a large number of families calling us that have infants that are two weeks to two months old, so these are families that we didn’t serve before,” she said.
“I feel like that first year of life and becoming a parent is such a rewarding and challenging one. I can’t imagine the added stress of having a world of uncertainty.”
They are also meeting parents whose children had previously been in full-time childcare or kindergarten, now trying out EarlyON for the first time.
“There’s no membership required, you’re definitely welcome,” she tells them.
Pretty said she is unsure when the BGCK will be able to resume their regular EarlyON programming.
“I think right now the Ministry is just focused on getting childcare up and running. We haven’t been given any direction yet. If I had to guess I would think we would be more in line with the school system.”
She said they are planning to maintain some of their COVID-19 adapted programming over the long-term. Pretty expects that when playgroup resumes, the numbers of attendees will be limited, possibly with pre-registered time slots rather than drop-in. They plan to continue running their YouTube Channel.
“That’s something that we probably would continue because not everyone can get out to a group, and maybe would choose not to for a while yet because of whoever is in their household,” she said.
The Boys and Girls Club is one of several local agencies facilitating the provincially-funded EarlyON service for local caregivers, as well as Kingston Community Health Centres, Kahwá:tsire Indigenous-Led Child & Family Programs, and Rural Frontenac are also offering online Early On programming. You can find more information here.
Where to get an EarlyON Activity Box
Thursday pick-up from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
BGCK West End, 1300 Bath Road.
BGCK East End, 695 Innovation Drive, Unit 11 (Francophone kits available).
Reg Shadbolt Learning Centre, 299 Concession St.
Corner of Joyceville Road and Highway 15
Friday pick-up from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
BGCK West End, 1300 Bath Road.
BGCK East End, 695 Innovation Drive, Unit 11. (Francophone kits available.)