3 min read

It’ll take a village: changing our approach to Child Development

In a recent UNICEF report ranking child well-being in the 29 richest countries in the world, Canada came in 17th place, far behind countries like The Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.  Not what we would expect from a country with a high standard of living, a healthy GDP and a seemingly forward thinking approach to social care.

So what’s gone wrong?

The report sparked a number of outcries about the priorities of our education system, our government and social policy.

But perhaps we should all shoulder some responsibility for our national shortcomings in the realm of early childhood development and, together, take steps towards change.

Gail Smillie, Director of Child Development at Carya, believes early childhood is a community concern.

“We can look to countries like The Netherlands and Sweden and try to copy what they do differently but these countries have a whole different frame of mind when it comes to kids and family.  That’s what we need to change first.

Childhood development is a community priority in these countries.  Families understand that it’s the foundation for happy, healthy and successful teenagers and adults.  Their outlook is totally different.

Early childhood is the most crucial point in a life.  Our brains aren’t fully developed at birth and the experiences in those first years create the neural pathways that wire us for life.

Kids need creativity without restraint, they need to be messy and loud and they need to interact with people of all ages.  They need communities.  Unfortunately Calgary communities are built for cars and computers, not kids.”

Interestingly, Inglewood has been earmarked for the creation of a woonerf which is Dutch for shared or living street for more than two years now but the project has been met with such resistance from residents that so far it hasn’t gotten off the ground.

The idea being that families, kids and cyclists would have right of way over cars seems to make Calgarians very nervous.

Gail thinks a woonerf is exactly what the city needs to start taking those steps towards better outcomes in early childhood.

“Our culture just hasn’t grasped how critical this is” says Gail “the long term impact with disease, addiction and difficulty is huge.  Unless we can put community before our individual agendas, we’ll never move the needle on this.”

Carya runs early childhood programs for parents and children from newborn to 6 years old.  Programs help parents with practical parenting skills, healthy attachment, early literacy and more.

Ready 4 Learning is a Carya Based Partnership which pioneers a community approach to Child Development in Bowness and Montgomery.