Kickstarting A New Chapter in Early Years Programming

In 2019, Niagara Children’s Centre shifted its early childhood programming focus to finding new opportunities to integrate our clients and staff into Niagara’s strong network of Ontario EarlyON Centres.

Despite the fact that EarlyON Centres are for children of all abilities, parents of children with disabilities tell us they are often reluctant to participate in their programming. As a result, many of our children miss out on early learning opportunities, making the transition to school more difficult.

Although 2020’s emergency orders closed Niagara’s EarlyON Centres, continuing to make progress in our partnership was a priority. Working closely with Niagara Region, our preschool resource team took the opportunity to create a unique pilot program offering an EarlyON Centre experience to a small group of our children.

Our six-week pilot program hosted at Seaway Mall’s EarlyON Centre was designed to address preschool readiness and therapy goals while encouraging safe and socially distanced interaction between children, parents and therapists. Each of the five families who participated had a dedicated Early Childhood Educator who met them for the 90-minute weekly session. During each session, there was time for parents to join in with their child in activities, as well as time for the therapist and child to interact to give parents an opportunity to network.

The response from both staff and parents was extremely positive, and we look forward to making this type of programming available to more Niagara families in the future.


“You wouldn’t think that just a mere 1.5 hours a week could change a child so drastically, but it did.

Catarina is an only child and not in daycare. With COVID-19 looming, she hasn’t been on playdates or seen her cousins much at all this past year. When around other children she would be shy, quiet and very independent. At times she would attach herself to me and cry when around other children.

The first day we went to the EarlyON program, Catarina stood back and watched the other kids. She smiled and showed fascination in what they were doing but kept to herself. Within 30 minutes, she ran up to me and used words to communicate and said, ‘Mama so fun!’ This for my daughter is huge! She does not always communicate vocally.

Every day we went to EarlyON, week after week, she got better and better. To watch her on the last day in the program, she initiated play with other children, she responded to others initiating communication with her, she used her voice, she made noises and at times used words. These are things that at the beginning of the program were unheard of for her.”

- Shyanne, Catarina’s Mom


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