Research shows that during the first few years after birth, more than 1 million new synapses (connections between neurons) form in a child’s brain every second. Through play and engagement during these early years, parents at home can set their children up for success later on in life.

Shown above: some of the supplies NIȽ TU,O provides to help introduce toddlers 36 months to 5 years to learning and reading through play in the SMART and HIPPY programs.

When parents at home don’t have access to resources or access to information to support their children in their early development, then a valuable window of time in a child’s life is missed. That’s where Vanessa, Family Support Worker at NIȽ TU,O comes in.

Shown above, Vanessa Boylan, a Family Support Worker at NIȽ TU,O

Vanessa is a mother of three and holds a BA in English, a minor in History, as well as a Teaching certificate. Vanessa has experience teaching in the Victoria School District as well as 17 years of experience working within Indigenous non-profit organizations. Vanessa has been with NIȽ TU,O for the last four years as a Family Support Worker.

“I love what I do and it’s so enriching to see parents be more empowered with helping their children learn shapes and colours and encouraging their children. It’s great to watch children who want to read, to look at books and try new experiences” Vanessa shares

Among other things, Vanessa also coordinates the two child literacy programs NIȽ TU,O offers under licence from the Mothers Matter Centre. The program for younger children is called the S.M.A.R.T. program, and the one for preschool-age children is called the Indigenous H.I.P.P.Y. program. Both programs are open for enrollment now, and are at no cost to children and families affiliated with NIȽ TU,O member nations.

The S.M.A.R.T. Program for Toddlers

The S.M.A.R.T. (Supporting Mothers And Raising Toddlers) Program is designed for mothers of children from 18-36 months old.

The S.M.A.R.T. program loosely follows the school year schedule and starts in September with breaks for the holidays including Christmas, Spring Break, and Summer Holidays that start at the end of June.

Delivered either by zoom or in person, each enrolled family receives a weekly home visit from Vanessa who arrives with the lesson plan, supplies and materials, and the plan for the visit. At the end of one year, a child enrolled in the S.M.A.R.T. program will have received 22 toys, 6 books, and 78 structured activities.

Shown above, a play and learning room at NIȽ TU,O Child and Family Services Society, fully stocked with early childhood development supplies.

The Indigenous H.I.P.P.Y. Program for Preschoolers

The Indigenous H.I.P.P.Y. (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) is similarly structured to the SMART program with a curriculum that both follows the school year, includes in-home support and materials.

The Indigenous H.I.P.P.Y. program is a continuation of the S.M.A.R.T. program and is offered for mothers with children ages 36 months to 5 years by providing instruction in the comfort of the mother’s own home.

NIȽ TU,O home visitors like Vanessa are trained and committed to upholding the Coast Salish-driven mission, vision, values, and leadership of the organization:

NIȽ TU,O’s mission is to provide programs and services that are built on a foundation of our SNEPENEK (teaching) of our SULKWAN (Elders) by NUTSAMAUT SKWALAWAN (working together as one); our trained staff support children and families in a culturally safe manner with confidentiality and professionalism.

As such, the books and materials provided for these programs are by Indigenous authors and offer a variety of toys and materials for parents to teach to their children.

To celebrate the successful completion of the Indigenous HIPPY program each year, children are given cedar headbands and lunch is shared with the family to acknowledge the growth and accomplishments of both parent and child.

Both the S.M.A.R.T. and Indigenous H.I.P.P.Y. programs are complementary to the South Island Coast Salish community members of Beecher Bay, Songhees, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum, Pauquachin, and T’sou-ke.

“Our objective is to support children and families in culturally safe ways. These child literacy programs are designed to reduce the barriers to support for parents in the communities we serve. That’s why there’s no cost for the programs, and why we meet the enrolled families in their homes. In this way, we make it easy for Aunties and Grandmothers to attend as well; we facilitate supporting parents and children within the context of our culture and within the existing community structures. As they say, there’s no manual for raising a child, so we want to give new mothers all the support they can get,” shares Katharina Stocker, Executive Director.

For more information about the S.M.A.R.T. or H.I.P.P.Y. programs or to enroll, contact Vanessa directly at 250 544 1400 or on her cell at 778 679 6808.

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