Cementing the Foundation for a Brighter Future

How early learning helps the break the cycle of poverty.

Solving poverty is a complex problem. There are plenty of factors to consider and far too many
families in our community experiencing the challenges that go along with low-income. The one thing we know for sure is that early childhood is a great place to start!

The latest research on neuroscience shows that the basic architecture of a child’s brain is heavily impacted by the experiences and environments they interact with during their formative years (birth to age 8). Early experiences influence their cognitive, social and emotional skills, which are important for successful learning and thriving throughout life. Families with young children who live in poverty experience more financial stress and barriers, which may result in fewer opportunities for children to learn and develop during these formative years. United Way invests in many programs to support families so that children start school ready to learn, have
what they need to succeed in school and complete high school.

In this issue of your Donor Report, we want to highlight two programs that are making a difference for early childhood literacy. One is a United Way funded program at the Centre for Family Literacy. The other is an initiative of United Way delivered through early learning and home visitation programs. Partnerships with organizations like the Edmonton Public Library are key to The Kid Kit’s success.

The Kid Kit® is an innovative resource used to help parents and caregivers learn about child development and engagement activities to do with their children, all of which strengthens their nurturing parent-child relationship. There are several kits, one for each stage of development from birth to 5 years of age. Each kit contains activity cards that describe how to interact with their child through play and why a certain activity is necessary for development. Each kit
includes all the toys, books and craft supplies to complete the activities. In 2018, nearly 1,500 kits were distributed free of charge to families through designated United Way partner programs.

Breaking the cycle of poverty is one of United Way’s top priorities. By providing families access to high quality programs and support, with your help, we are cementing the foundation for a brighter future for all our kids!


Ilene Fleming

Director, Strategic Initiatives

The wheels on the bus go round and round…

Bringing family literacy to the streets

“The bus is coming, the bus is coming!”, you can hear them shout as they see the “C.O.W. Bus” as we call it, turn the corner and come to a stop on their street. Jam packed with 3,000 books, this United Way funded Classroom on Wheels makes it’s rounds four days a week to 10 communities throughout our region where access to resources is limited. There, children from birth to six years of age can experience the joy of learning alongside their parents or caregivers.

We know from research that early literacy can dramatically improve a child’s language and learning skills but what many people don’t realize is the positive difference it makes to their emotional and social development. This quality time spent exploring the power of books, both on the bus and when children take their books home, helps families bond more deeply as they learn, imagine, and dream about new possibilities together. And the learning goes even further.

In many cases, this may be the first time a child has ever been given a book to take home. Learning positive book borrowing and return habits is not only an important library skill to adopt, but also a valuable life skill about responsibility and respect – skills that will help guide them throughout their entire lives.

As the charitable organization that oversees the operation of Edmonton’s Literacy Classroom on Wheels, I can tell you first-hand the difference this United Way funded service is making to families living with low income and other barriers in our community. I’ve seen changes in the way kids grow more confident and independent, how families become more connected and involved in their child’s learning, and how the weekly C.O.W. Bus has become an important gathering place for community to share and come together.

I remember a shy little boy who started coming to the bus with his mom when he was about three years old. His dad had been deployed overseas and his mom was grateful for a free resource like this coming to the military base. At first, the little boy would just stand at the bus door and wouldn’t come in. Each week his mom would take him to the bus and each week he would just stand there. Eventually his curiosity got the better of him and he climbed up the stairs. Then a whole new world of discovery opened up to him! He is four years old now and when he comes each week, he proudly shows his own library card and picks out his own books. Thanks to United Way’s investment in this amazing community resource, this little boy had lots of stories to tell his dad when he came home!



Kim Chung

Co-Executive Director, Programming and Training Centre for Family Literacy

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Break the Cycle

When you are born into a life of poverty, it’s all you know. United Way funding is helping kids from the start, with caregiver education programs, early learning and development, and support through the school years all the way to high school completion.

In 2018, 30 United Way supported programs and partnerships ensured 38,711 unique participants received the support needed to enter school ready to learn, succeed in school, and work toward reaching their full potential.

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Lives Changed

Funded partners are asked to elaborate on how participants’ lives were changed as a result of program participation. Here are some examples from the Break the Cycle focus area:

Children have age appropriate skills and development in the early years (0-5).

  • 99% of participants surveyed demonstrated age/developmentally appropriate skills in the following areas: personal/social skills,communication skills, gross motor skills, and appropriate problem solving skills.
  • 97% of parents surveyed identified strategies to apply in one or more of the following areas: helping their children develop age-appropriate skills, providing positive feedback to children, addressing behaviour challenges, and setting boundaries.

Children and youth have the community supports they need to succeed in school.

  • 93% of students surveyed reported behaviours or feelings that were consistent with some of the eight developmental assets: support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations,constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies,and positive identity.
  • 96% of participants surveyed accessed nutritious food through school-based lunch and snack programs.

For the love of learning

Helping kids become lifelong learners

Most know that it’s important for children to be exposed to books and literacy activities at an early age, but many don’t realize it needs to start right at birth.

Introducing babies to books and activities can help them become better prepared for school, help them develop positive learning habits, and can be a significant solution for ending poverty1.

Library staff can recommend books best suited for each stage of a child’s development. For example, books that encourage singing and rhyming can increase a child’s awareness of, and sensitivity to, sounds in words. This helps children learn to interpret printed language as they become early readers.

This is one of the reasons Edmonton Public Library (EPL) is so proud to partner with United Way’s Kid Kit program, and help children build a strong foundation for lifelong learning.

Included in the United Way Kid Kits are some additional EPL early literacy resources, for example: an invitation to participate in EPL’s Welcome Baby program, designed for little ones from 0 – 36 months.

The Welcome Baby Package, available for free at Alberta Health Services (AHS) Public Health Centres in Edmonton, helps with daily reading, talking, singing, writing and play time. Each package has a board book, a music CD, tote bag, early literacy information and a book list. Best of all, baby can sign up for their first free library card! We’ve also included information about free classes and events happening at the library, such as Baby Laptime, Sing, Sign, Laugh and Learn, and so much more. Our free classes and events help children develop communication skills and help foster their love of a lifelong learning.

We take early childhood literacy very seriously at EPL. We know early literacy development helps children become more confident, resilient and better able to navigate not only their school years, but their entire adult life as well. We’re proud to play our part.

Pilar Martinez
Edmonton Public Library