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Event taught child ‘executive function’ strategies to parents and teachers  

When Annie McDonald heard “executive function” expert Sarah Ward talk about how to support good mental skills in children, she knew right away that she had to bring the popular speaker to the Sea to Sky Corridor.

“I first saw Sarah Ward in Vancouver at a two-day conference May 2018,” said McDonald, Child Development Service Coordinator at Sea to Sky Community Services (SSCS). “Executive function skills are used for everything at every age. When executive function skills are not working efficiently, things are disorganized in our brains and we have a hard time organizing space/time/information and emotions and this can create a lot of chaos. Having your child be successful in these areas will only make things easier for them to accomplish and create good habits in the future. I immediately recognized how useful many of her strategies would be for both parents and teachers.”

Unfortunately, Ward’s speaker engagements are so in-demand that it took a considerable amount of time to secure a date. But McDonald was persistent, and her resolve never wavered.

“Large-scale popular speakers book far in advance,” she said. “It took me a long time to figure out the channels and players I needed on board for the logistics of making this all come together. Once I had this, I could reach out to Sarah… who I found out was only booking two years into the future!”

Not only was McDonald trying to plan a major speaking event two years out, but she also had to take into account how she could have teachers and parents attend sessions separately, so Ward could help educators support those same mental skills in the classroom.

“Even with the complexity and limitation of this, there are also only specific dates that PRO D days are slotted for,” she said. “We got super lucky and she ended up being able to make one of them work with only eight months notice.”

McDonald said her persistence really paid off.

“She is an incredible presenter and one with a message that I think most people would find fascinating and useful,” she said. “But more importantly with today’s busy world and an overwhelming inundation of technology, I feel like we are losing some of these core skills even more than ever. Our kids need us to know how to support them, and what better way than allowing parents and educators to have the same research and education?”

Ward spoke in Squamish to parents on February 23 and then teachers on February 24. The parent session was also live-streamed to venues in Whistler and Pemberton. More than 375 parents attended the live and streamed event.

“The feedback we had after the event was fantastic,” said McDonald. “Many parents felt that they were able to leave with strategies that they could use immediately. Sarah is a very engaging presenter and although she does a great job at describing the ‘why’ behind what executive function really entails, she gives you a lot of practical ‘how-to’ to support these strategies in our kids.”

She said it is critical, especially as the Corridor continues its exponential growth, to host these types of events.

“It’s important because it takes a village, and because current research is showing that you need a multidiscipline approach to anything,” she said. “More and more service streams are collaborating and moving as teams together and this is because it is proven to have better results. In my opinion, investing in your youth is never a loss. I also see how much fundraising parents do to support their schools, but what better way to see some of it spent than strategies that will live in your child’s classroom today and be able to be supported at home by yourself?”

After so much effort, McDonald has no immediate plans to host another education event soon, but she does hope people will keep the executive function conversation going.

“We have such an amazing engaged corridor and I think that we need to keep this momentum going and raise the bar for our kids,” she said.

Would you like to see more events in the Corridor that support early child education and positive parenting practices? Donate to SSCS today.