National Child Day is celebrated annually on November 20 to recognize Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child. It is a day to celebrate the rights of children and raise awareness of issues that impact their health and wellbeing.
“It’s Our Right to Play” is the theme of 2014’s National Child Day. On November 20, United Way celebrated by inviting Calgarians to the Central Library to see how early life experiences like play support brain development.
Karen Gallagher-Burt of United Way of Calgary and Area facilitated Dr. Judy Cameron’s brain architecture game. The Brain Game is an interactive game that explains how early life experiences and supports shape the development of a child’s brain.
Using simple materials like pipe cleaners and straws, corresponding to life experiences drawn during the game, the goal for participants is to build the tallest, strongest “brain.”
“For me, it was a great way of visualizing just how critical the founding years are,” says Kirsten Barrett, a fourth-year nursing student at the University of Calgary. With early positive experiences like good nutrition, attentive parenting and language-rich environments, Kirsten’s “child” was able to withstand challenges later in life like neighbourhood violence or a parent’s divorce.
“My group’s kid had a lot of great supports in the first three years so anything that happened after that could be fairly well managed. This really speaks to the principles of resilience and developing coping skills.”
It was a different story for fellow nursing student Alexa Aramouni’s “child.” Early on, challenges like illness and a parent losing a job seemed manageable, amongst otherwise positive early supports. Later on, when the parent had addiction issues they were able to see the harmful consequences.
“What started out as hiccups in the early years quickly went from bad to worse,” says Alexa. The brain they were building started to collapse under the added weight of bells, representing negative stress.
The Brain Game shows that prevention is the best solution. By investing in early childhood, we can tackle problems before they begin. Physically seeing how the foundations of lifelong health and resilience are built in early childhood was particularly impactful for Kirsten and her nursing classmates. Understanding how a strong foundation supports lifelong learning, behavior and health isn’t just beneficial for those in the healthcare profession.
“No matter where we work or what we do, we all interact with kids at some point,” says Karen. “We all have the opportunity to create positive interactions.”
Brooke Ward is a Communications Advisor at United Way of Calgary and Area . Learn more about early brain development and the brain architecture game here.