By Sue Tiffin
Bev Jackson is a human library of hundreds of different rhymes and songs for babies, toddlers and young children.
“When I was a little girl my mom used to sing a lullaby to me and I always sang it to my daughter,” said Jackson of her most favourite of those songs – one about a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “It just evokes such strong memories, and even now if I start to sing it, she’ll say to me, ‘oh, that gives me goosebumps just sort of listening to that.’”
For more than 20 years, Jackson has stressed the importance of that connection between children and parents while supporting families throughout Haliburton County and City of Kawartha Lakes as an early literacy educator, parent education facilitator and community outreach co-ordinator – so much so that to many of those families and her colleagues, she is affectionately known as ‘Mother Goose.’
“Who doesn’t love to be in a room full of babies?,” she laughed of her interest in such a role. “Just being able to share with parents the real power that songs and rhymes can give to children, the memories you can make with your child. There’s so many ways of dealing with different situations with children when you know rhymes and songs you can share with them. You can be fussy in the doctor’s office or grocery store, and do a familiar rhyme or song with your child and completely calm them down. It’s just, music is so powerful.”
Jackson worked in administration at the Minden OPP office for 16 years, until it was “downsized in those Mike Harris days,” she said. At the time, SIRCH was offering a one-year-long program training people to work with children with disabilities. After completing that program, the family resource program then known as CHACE was looking for a parent education facilitator, a role that Jackson happily stepped into.
“I’ve always loved children, always enjoyed children, so I was very interested in doing that,” she said. “I’ve always gravitated toward kids and enjoyed them.”
When funding for the program changed, CHACE amalgamated with the Lindsay Family Resource Program and became Ontario Early Years. Jackson continued to work in parent education but also took on a position as an early literacy specialist for 12 years. Funding changed again a few years back at which point Ontario Early Years became EarlyON. The early literacy position was no longer funded and Jackson became the community outreach co-ordinator.
Over the years she’s travelled throughout Haliburton County offering drop-in and play and learn programs to small communities including Kinmount, Cardiff and Dorset. She created early literacy and numeracy resources and programs – including story walks – that are still in use today and can be used for years to come. She was also a trainer for School’s Cool facilitators for years. The impact of her work has touched families in every corner of the county and over the years, Jackson has met, worked with and shared songs with countless parents and kids.
“Parents always want the best for their children,” she said. “Parents love their children, and want to do the best for them, and I think that’s why they access programs like the EarlyON/Early Years program, they want to do the best for their little one.”
Jackson has been able to help instil confidence in parents as they learn and grow with their children.
“I think it’s really important for parents to know that they’re doing the best job that they can do, and they need to recognize that they are doing their best for their children – that they love them, and they’re doing the best for them,” she said. “Lots of times parents will be anxious about different subjects, but parents know their children better than anybody else.”
Jackson said on so many occasions she would tell worried parents that they had to trust themselves and “that voice that you have inside,” to help support their children through challenges they might have or in determining what they might need.
“Nine times out of ten they do know,” she said. “It’s just giving them the confidence and them having the confidence to know – ‘I know my own child and I know what they need.’ Most parents really do know that.”
During the pandemic, Jackson has been able to connect even with kids as far away as California – her nephews who she hasn’t seen in the last 18 months.
“The oldest one, he’s not three until August but we’ve been doing FaceTime, and I have taught him many hand rhymes and finger plays, we sing songs,” she said. “So I’m making memories with him and getting to know him and he’s getting to know me just through that realm of being able to share some music and stories. It’s extremely powerful. And reading, of course, too.”
Jackson was laid off in August as a result of the pandemic, and without knowing what the future might hold in terms of funding, decided the time was right for retirement. Those songs and rhymes and the connection she has made with kids and parents over the past two decades will remain with her, though.
“It’s really nice, I feel good that all those years I was able to share that with different families,” she said. “Even having this retirement announcement come up, I’ve had lots of parents who have come to Mother Goose who have reached out, congratulating me on retiring and also sending pictures of how their kids look now. It’s created memories for the parents as well. It’s special, it is special, for sure.”
Jackson hopes to spend more time gardening – she hasn’t had time in the past – and enjoying the lake as an avid swimmer. She also hopes to have the opportunity to volunteer, potentially in roles that help her connect with families in the community again, but also hopes those families continue to connect and reach out to each other at drop-in programs when they can do so again.
“I loved it, I really did,” she said. “I’m going to miss it. I’m definitely going to be missing the families. I already miss the families and children that were there when COVID hit, having to close our doors. Hopefully when things open up again, families will be able to connect so much easier. It’s so beneficial for parents.”
To send Bev best wishes or share a memory, please e-mail Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the EarlyON Child and Family Centre visit http://www.oeyc.ca.