Mothers are children’s first teacher

IPALS prepares newcomer children for Canadian schools

When Simret came to Canada from Sudan in 2018, she and her family faced many new challenges as they adapted to their new home.

“We have to face many barriers,” said Simret, “like language barrier, isolation, and challenges with getting around. We knew that we needed support to integrate into the new system. We needed social interaction and a place to learn English and about Canadian living.”

Through the Mosaic Family Centre in Burnaby and the Burnaby School District, Simret learned about Decoda Literacy Solutions’ IPALS (Parents as Literacy Supporters in Immigrant communities) program.

“IPALS is a family literacy program designed for parents and preschool-aged children to support their language and literacy development,” says Aliza Dhungana, IPALS program manager at Decoda.

“Through interactions in English and their first language, it offers parents new strategies to support their child’s learning in fun and interactive ways, while responding to their cultural and linguistic needs.”

Simret has participated in Tigrigna language IPALS for the past three years. First with her daughter Azahel in 2020 and 2021, and then with her son Nebi in 2022 (although Nebi was involved in previous years, since he loves to copy his sister).

“I am very happy to be connected to the IPALS program, where we talked about our problems with facilitators and other families who had similar issues,” said Simret.

“We learned how to overcome our barriers, where to get support services and how to help my daughter Azahel prepare for her kindergarten. I am grateful for the program in our own language, which made us comfortable understanding and asking questions.”

Linking literacy and play/Social-emotional development

“I learned that when you want to teach children something is best to do it playfully.”

“I noticed the difference in my children how eagerly they learn new things when it’s playful,” she said. “I also learned the importance of paying attention to their feelings and listening to them.”

Learning through play, using evidence-based resources and activities, is an important part of IPALS programs.

“Azahel was so excited to explore the materials she received in each session,” said Simret.

“She loved playing with the play dough and the loose parts during the Zoom session and in the afternoon. The next day Azahel and I had so much fun making our own playdough based on the recipe provided in the activity sheet. Seeing my daughter so joyful means a lot to me.”

They also learned to use materials found easily at home and to create their own activities, like reading print when they are out in the community.

“I learned that we can use print around us to make a connection to pictures, letters, store names, brands of cars, reading traffic signs, and playing with the Stop/Go sign,” said Simret. “Azahel is proud that she can read the signs and can recognize and read the names of the stores we shop at, like Winners and London Drugs.”

Ready for school

Azahel was well prepared when she started kindergarten in September 2021.

“She was excited and happy to go to school.”

In fact, the whole family has benefited from IPALS programs.

“My husband and I spend lots of time talking about the key ideas and doing the suggested activities at home with our children,” said Simret. “I learned how to connect and interact with my children, listen to their feelings, and how they learn best through play. I was surprised to see how much change my daughter showed after just a few sessions.”

“My children are happier, engaged in activities, ask for very little or no TV time.”

Nebi will enter kindergarten in 2023, and Simret plans to participate in IPALS again with him next year, and with her third child Ariam, who is now just one year old and already loves to copy her brother’s IPALS activities.

For families new to Canada, the support of organizations like Mosaic and programs like IPALS can smooth the transition to a new country, language and school.

“IPALS teacher Maria Kerekes and the staff at Mosaic have been a big support team for my kids and my life,” said Simret. “They helped me like they are my family!”

Last year, more than 300 families benefited from 18 IPALS programs across BC.

Decoda provides IPALS facilitator training, materials and support throughout the program.

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