Inclusive and active play is top priority at The Bright Side Initiative in Waterdown. Through roll-playing and open play kids explore their creativity and improve their social skills and with their peers in a positive environment. Sounds amazing, right? Read on as Amanda Pascoe takes you through her first hand experience on The Brightside…
Even after a few weeks my son still talks about our trip to the Bright Side Initiative. We both loved the atmosphere and the people there and that first visit won’t be our last. If you haven’t heard of them before, The Bright Side Initiative is a new addition to Waterdown, offering drop-ins as well as scheduled programs for specific ages and themes. What sets Bright Side apart from other drop-in centres is their commitment to creating a community through play.
As a Special Education Resource Teacher in the Halton School Board, Wendy van Barneveld knew she had a passion for helping kids with different needs (or exceptionalities). When her own son was diagnosed with ADHD she set out to find the resources he needed in the community. Except they didn’t really exist. Many places offer social skills as part of their programming, but the psychologists Wendy was working with said that they weren’t quite right to address the needs of kids with exceptionalities.
Ultimately, Wendy left the school board, retrained as an ADHD coach and teamed up with Sydney Holmes, whose expertise is using creative arts to form connections and communities. Together, they created the Bright Side Initiative with the surroundings and social skills support that the psychologists were looking for. Now they are excited to be sharing it with anyone that wants to be part of their community.
“Most social skills classes are directed, with a child working one on one or in very small groups on one or two specific skills” Wendy says, “but we wanted to provide situations where children learn the skills to communicate and work together through meaningful interactions with other kids and be able to transfer those skills to their lives”. Whether or not your child has an identified exceptionality, these are valuable skills being taught in a wonderful and supportive environment. Bright Side Initiative staff are chosen carefully – their job is to play with the kids, facilitate interactions, and model the skills as they go. They’re not stopping the play to say ‘in this situation, this is how you act’, they simply act that way themselves and gently encourage kids to do the same. The flow isn’t interrupted and over time the kids absorb the information, ready to use in similar situations down the line.
“We wanted to provide situations where children learn the skills to communicate and work together through meaningful interactions”, Wendy van Barneveld.
On our visit, my son could hardly get his shoes off fast enough, he had spotted the construction kit and wanted to saw through some cardboard. Within a minute or so, Megan (one of the Bright Side staff members) had come over and was sitting near him asking him a few questions, quietly assessing what he needed but ultimately letting him lead the activity. When Wendy’s son joined in they decided to build something together which, with a bit of discussion, turned into a gold mine/dinosaur museum (because of course!). The two boys took off – helping build the structure, then leaving Megan to it while they panned for gold and dinosaur pieces in the sand box, coming back to supervise the goldmine/museum construction and explaining to everyone how it worked. They were very, very happy.
This isn’t the kind of drop in that is lead by the adults, with a circle time and a craft – this is lead by the kids, their interests, and personalities – and they love it. The Bright Side Initiative is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the community: they’ve even given up their office in place of a Parent Lounge. They found that parents wanted to have a chance to connect and socialize while their kids were in the programs and happily engaged, something that often doesn’t happen for parents of kids with exceptionalities. In the same way, they’ve started a closed Facebook support group, and are open to creating any kind of programming that there is a need for. The list of programs they already offer covers everything from music and movement to leadership and an inventor’s club! There are summer camp spaces and park pop ups to drop in to – something for everyone, and something that everyone can benefit from. Welcome to the neighbourhood Bright Side!
If you want to know more about their programming, resources for parents or ADHD coaching for all ages, visit them at the Bright Side Initiative website. And check out their Summer Camps, perfect for every kid!
Amanda has spent over 20 years educating kids at the Science Museum in London, England, the Ontario Science Centre and in classrooms across the GTA. She thought that doing things like handling snakes, making clouds with liquid nitrogen, exploding hydrogen rockets and returning everyone relatively unharmed from field trips had prepared her to be a stay at home Mom but is constantly being proved wrong by an inquisitive and energetic 5 year old! Besides writing, Amanda loves cooking (with or without her tiny sous chef), reading and a whole range of crafts – and hopes to eventually be able to knit something more complicated than a scarf or baby blanket!