Friday, April 25, 2014

Community-Based Partnership Launches the “Unplug & Connect” Initiative

With the proliferation of mobile screens, the challenge is finding how to help children balance screen timewith real time. This means developing in children a strong connection to people and nature to balance the connection they have with screens.

Research indicates that the more time children engage with screens, the harder time they have turning them off as they become older children. The brain is also very dependent on human social interaction and excessive screen time decreases important face-to-face communication skills development.

In a coordinated effort to spread the message throughout the Tri-Cities about the need for children to balance screen timewith real time, the Coquitlam Optimists, Coquitlam School District, Tri-Cities Early Childhood Committee, and Tri-Cities Middle Childhood Matters have partnered to launch the Unplug & Connectinitiative.

Angelo Lam, Coordinator of Tri-Cities Middle Childhood Matters, said Weve been working on the idea for a screen smart initiative for several years with the Coquitlam School District and Early Childhood Committee. We knew from the Early Development Instrument (EDI) and Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) data that any focused effort to enhance the social competence and pro-social behaviour of children 0-12 in the Tri-Cities would contribute to children growing up happier and healthier. What we were looking for, to make this project a reality, was a strong community-based partner so we are thrilled to have the Coquitlam Optimists on board.

Distribution of Unplug & Connectposters will begin April 30th at the Family Play & Learn Night which takes place at Coquitlam Centre. In the following weeks, theyll be distributed through schools and be available at participating libraries, non-profit agencies and community centres. The themes of the first two posters are: connecting to nature and connecting to people. Other themes will be added over the next 12 months.

To further strengthen the Unplug & Connectmessage, Tri-Cities school students are also engaged in a contest to design a creative outdoor learning space using natural materials. Coquitlam Optimists will select 3 winning entries and contribute $1,000 to the winning entries to put towards building their designs. Once the learning spaces are built, they will be designated Screen Free Zonesas part of the Unplug & Connectinitiative. Contest details are available at

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Screen Smart Week School Contest

The Coquitlam Optimist  will award $1000 to each of three schools as prizes in a contest to develop an outdoor learning space at their schools.  In addition, one grand prize of a free school visit by the Tumblebus ( will be randomly drawn from all entries received.

The Optimist Club has teamed with School District 43, The Tri-Cities Early Childhood Development Committee, the Tri-Cities Middle Childhood Matters Committee, The City of Port Coquitlam, YMCA Tri-Cities Child Care Resource and Referral, Westcoast Families Centres Society and the Evergreen Foundation to provide this contest as a part of Screen Smart Week.  The objective is to build awareness of the opportunities afforded students to learn and “play” outdoors and away from screens.

Whole classes are invited to design an outdoor “classroom” using natural materials and/or indigenous plants. The class project will be student driven but facilitated by the teacher. Entries can take many forms including, but not limited to, dioramas, drawings, models, videos, etc. 

We encourage students to discuss what the outdoor space might look like; why they would want it; what they would do in it, and how they might share their ideas with others.  Selection criteria are listed below.

Evergreen ( is available for an Initial site consultation to help classes strengthen their proposals. Winning schools may choose to receive additional Evergreen support to further refine their design towards implementation.

Each participating class must present their concept to the entire school during Screen Smart Week (the first week of May). Only one entry per school will be accepted for the contest, so the student body will need to decide which entry will represent their school. The school's winning entry must include the actual design as well as photos of the project presentation at the school assembly.

All submissions are to be sent to Jackie c/o The Coquitlam Optimists Club ( ).  The deadline for submissions is May 16.  Please contact Jackie if your school submission needs to be picked up.
The prizes will be awarded in June.

 Criteria used for prize selection: 

1.     Use of natural materials and/or indigenous plants  in the design

2.     Evidence that all students in the participating classes were involved in the design process (e.g. photos of group work, documentation of class processes, etc.)

3.     Explanation of how the space encourages and enhances more interesting and creative play

4.     Indication of ways that parents and/or the community might support the implementation of the project