Cheryl Adams sat on the floor of a Central Elementary School classroom, her wide-eyed 11-month-old daughter crawling beside her and her son, 3, curiously exploring the room.

Tuesday (Oct.6) was her children’s first experience with Merritt’s Strong Start BC Program — a free early learning program offered through the school district for children from birth to five years old, who participate in learning activities in art, music, story time and gym time.

To better serve local families with working parents, Strong Start is now offering two evening sessions per week.

The night time sessions aim to ensure parents and their children are able to participate in the programs.

“Most people that work, work nine to five, eight to four, so programs that we run during the school day, there’s a lot of families that can’t take advantage of that,” said School District 58 district principal for student support services, Jane Kempston.

She said that given StrongStart’s mandate to always welcome new families into the program, they decided to expand their sessions.

Dinner is provided at the evening sessions, which have the same structure as those offered during the day.

An evening session is held at Central Elementary on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and at Nicola Canford on Wednesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Adams is a stay-at-home mom, so work doesn’t affect her ability to attend the daytime sessions, but the newcomer to the program says she’d be interested in checking out the evening session as well.

StrongStart aims to provide fun and engaging learning environments designed for early learners in the areas of language and physical development, as well as social and emotional learning.

“I wanted to get my son to interact with other kids because he doesn’t get along so well sharing wise, but so far he’s doing quite well,” Adams said. “He’s interacting quite well, and he’s actually going off on his own, not needing me there with him all the time.”

Parents and caregivers attend sessions with their children and are encouraged to get involved in activities.

During the day StrongStart runs Monday to Friday at Diamond Vale Elementary School from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., at Nicola Canford Elementary School on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and out of Merritt Central Elementary School from Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.

For more information on StrongStart call Diamond Vale Elementary at 250-378-2514; Central Elementary at 250-378-9931; or Nicola Canford, 250-378-2514.