Ready, Set, Go! A self-regulation group for children and parents

The Cause

The CanLearn Society (formerly known as Calgary Learning Centre) is a not-for-profit agency that has provided psychological and literacy services for all ages since the early 1980’s. CanLearn Society’s mission is to create, use, and share knowledge to remove learning barriers and support life long learning and resilience.

A team of psychologists at CanLearn Society developed a program called Ready, Set, Go!, a self-regulation group for children (ages 9-12 years) and their parents. The program helps build strategies for recognizing, understanding, and managing strong emotions and behaviour. It incorporates a social emotional learning curriculum into a fun afterschool program. Group sessions provide children and parents with opportunities to learn and practice evidence-based concepts and strategies for recognizing body sensations and emotions, utilizing calming strategies, challenging negative thinking, communicating feelings and needs in a respectful way, and taking charge of behavior. Skills are taught through the use of fun activities, role-playing, social scripts, and suggested home activities to support carry-over of the skills into home and community environments.

Last year, CanLearn ran six Ready, Set, Go! sessions in-house for 28 children. The program has had great feedback and has demonstrated positive impacts for children and their families. For example, 100% of parents reported trying the strategies at home related to emotions and calming, and 92.8% of them found these strategies helpful. Furthermore, 83% of parents saw an improvement in their child’s self-regulation in at least one area. The program has received such positive feedback and several inquiries from schools in the community that CanLearn is looking to expand the scope and provide services to the broader community.

Who Will it Benefit?

Funding from the Field Law Community Fund would enable CanLearn to serve children and families directly where needs are identified. The program will be offered for 5-weeks for children in grades 3 to 5 (ages 9 to 12) who have attention and/or emotional regulation difficulties identified by teachers. We anticipate connecting with schools who have already voiced an interest as well as others in our network to enable them to identify students who they feel might benefit from Ready, Set, Go! Four groups per school year, with six children per group, will allow for various engaging and dynamic small group activities, guided feedback from facilitators, and numerous opportunities for positive reinforcement that encourages mindfulness and builds resilience. Teachers will have the opportunity to join the group during the final session.

Middle childhood is a period of fast-paced growth with increasing opportunities for “getting into trouble” with peers and in the community. Children with learning disabilities and/or associated disorders (e.g., ADHD) experience difficulties that interfere with the development of healthy peer relationships (Mannuzza, S., Klein, R. G., Moulton, J. L. 2007). Social skill deficits and social exclusion are associated with poorer developmental outcomes for adolescents and adults (Parker & Asher, 1987) and compared to peers, youth with learning difficulties are at least twice as likely to drop out of school (Dunn et al., 2004). Such difficulties include challenges in interpreting and matching social cues, conversational skills, understanding the process of friendships, judging personal space, self-control, rigid thinking and regulating emotions. Direct explicit instruction and practice are important for developing social skills and self-regulation for these at-risk children. As such, prevention programing aimed at building stronger connectedness in the community is critical at this age, especially for children struggling with learning, attention, or other behavioural difficulties.