April 1, 2009

Media contact: Kim Lawrence
Office: 604-864-4611
Cell: 604-302-6257

UFV student works on changing the world,
one child at a time

April 6 info session for others interested in early childhood education

If you’ve ever spent time around young children, it’s easy to see how the first five years of their lives are the most formative. Every time you turn around, it seems that they’ve grown another few inches and acquired a number of new skills.

The needs of preschool children, which once received little attention from educators and society, have now become a top priority in Canada. They have always been top priority for Elza Hunfeld. The 22-year-old Maple Ridge resident grew up in a home filled with children and a caring mother who believed in the value of investing in the next generation…so much so that she returned to school in her 50s to refresh her early childhood education training. In doing so, she inspired her daughter to pursue a similar course of study.

Elza is a student in the Early Childhood Education program at the University of the Fraser Valley. She’s also a former nanny and peer counsellor, who realized in her teens that she had a special affinity for working with children.  UFV’s ECE certificate is a three-semester program (1.5 years) that leads to provincial licensing as an early childhood educator. The university offers the program in both Abbotsford and Chilliwack, and this September is introducing a new part-time, evening program in Abbotsford, designed to give people more flexibility as to when they pursue their studies. This new part-time option takes five semesters (2 years) to complete.

Following completion of the certificate, students who wish to continue their studies can ladder into a diploma program in early childhood education, or specialized options in infancy or special needs. After that, they can carry those credits on to a bachelor’s degree in child and youth care, which is what Elza plans to do.

She recommends early childhood education to anyone who has a special way with children and who is looking for a fulfilling career than will make a difference. “We are building the foundation of a child’s life,” she says. “Every child is treated as an individual, with needs specific to their own cultural and family background as well as their unique temperaments. It’s so important in today’s diverse world that we prepare our young people to accommodate and appreciate differences. Observation of each child as an individual and within a group is key as it helps early childhood educators understand how to create a responsive curriculum to fit the different learning styles and needs of each child.”
Elza acknowledges that there are misconceptions about her field. “Some people consider this field glorified babysitting that requires no special training,” she says. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We study the social, physical, emotional, and cognitive development of children from conception to age 8. Looking at the phases of brain maturation, we can determine the most effective ways to help children develop at each stage of growth. This is a serious job that invests in the people who will determine the future of our world.”

The program involves three-month practicum periods where students are placed in childcare settings across the Fraser Valley and put their learning to immediate use. Elza has spent time with Small Steps Children’s Centre in Mission as well as Mission Montessori. “These sessions reinforce our in-class learning and provide us with incredible hands-on experience,” she says. “You learn it and then you do it. We develop lesson plans at UFV and then implement them on the job in the community. What better way to get a real taste of the career you’ve chosen to pursue?”

Elza is living at home to save money while she studies. She has already opted to continue with year two of the program (moving from the certificate to the diploma, with a specialization in special needs children) and then on to the degree after that. “My instructors are so passionate and knowledgeable that I get so excited about what I’m doing. They really encourage you to understand your own strengths and work with them. For example, I’m not a very ‘crafty’ person, but I do have a great deal of patience and sensitivity, which helps me work with autistic children.” 

Elza points out that the students in her class are of all ages and backgrounds, including some people building a second career. “The mix in our class is really valuable,” she says. “I appreciate the experience that a world-wise mother brings to the table, for example, compared to my experience as a younger person,” she says. Job prospects are excellent, with opportunities in daycares, parent cooperative preschools, nursery schools, special needs centres, the public school system, and infant/toddler centres.

UFV is holding an information session for the early childhood education certificate program on Monday, April 6, from 7 to 8 pm in room B140 on the Abbotsford campus. Everyone is welcome to attend and learn more. For additional information, please contact Doris Ball at 604-854-4580 or email doris.ball@ufv.ca


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