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Early Child Development Coalition shows residents how to build a brain

A group of Fort Macleod leaders spent Thursday night trying to build healthy brains.
They were taking part in the Build a Brain workshops hosted by the Fort Macleod Early Child Development Coalition.
“I hope they have an understanding that early brain development is a community issue, it’s not just a parent and child concern,” coalition director Lee Holfeld said.
“A community is only as strong as its most vulnerable members. If we are all together in building up a strong community, whether we have children or not . . we can do some preventative work by focusing on those first five years.”
Statistics show that every dollar spent in the first five years of child development saves eight dollars in support and intervention costs later in that person’s life.
Holfeld was delighted with the turn-out of more than 40 people from various sectors of the community at Holy Cross Hall.
“I’m ecstatic with the turn-out,” Holfeld said.
Participants included teachers, business owners, seniors, young people, council members, service club members, child care professionals and community leaders.
“That was my goal,” Holfeld said of the diverse group of people at the workshop. “The coalition has done a fantastic job of getting the message of early brain development out to parents. I wanted it to trickle out a bit further. I very much wanted to get community involvement.”
Participants were treated to dinner and then spent the evening involved in the Brain Architecture Game.
“It’s a really fun game,” Holfeld said. “It’s a brilliant thing. It’s a fantastic teaching tool.”
In the Brain Architecture Game, participants draw three life experience cards for each year of life.
Positive experiences, like learning new skills, are the building blocks of strong brain architecture.
For a positive experience people received a pipe cleaner and a straw to enforce it.
Toxic stress, on the other hand, is bad news for developing brains because it weakens architecture.
Toxic stress can be things like neglect, abuse, a parent who is an addict, family financial difficulties or even a natural disaster.
For toxic stress, people playing the game received a pipe cleaner but not a straw.
Tolerable experiences turned positive or toxic depending on the balance of experiences to that point in the game.
“If you have support in your life, that stress on your brain isn’t going to be toxic later on. You’re going to be able to ride it out.”
People then used the pipe cleaners and straws to build a “brain.”
The strength of that brain was later tested by the addition of weights.
“If the architecture of their ‘brain’ is not as strong, that’s when their brain can collapse or fall over,” Holfeld said.
Holfeld is willing to hold Build a Brain sessions with Fort Macleod groups and organizations.
“You can do it with eight people,” Holfeld said. “it doesn’t have to be a huge group.”

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