Children's Curriculum Training

The Importance of ACWS Children’s Project

April 30, 2019

Based on content from the ACWS Children's Curriculum.

A child’s brain is nothing short of amazing. Weighing in at three pounds and composing primary of water and fat, a children’s brain is the source for everything. From walking and talking, laughing and crying, loving and play, a child’s brain defines who he or she is. But what happens to a child’s brain when they are exposed to domestic violence? The ACWS Children’s Curriculum Training workshop explores just that and offers practical strategies for working with children exposed to DV.   

Developed for ACWS by Dr. Dawne Clark, founder of the Centre for Child Well-Being and a Professor Emerita in the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Mount Royal University, the Children’s Curriculum Training workshop is broken up into three modules:  

1. The Core Story of Early Brain Development 

2. Toxic Stress and the Impact of Adverse Childhood Experience 

3. Brain Plasticity and Resilience


‘We often think of the brain as one organ, but it is actually several separate parts, each with a specific purpose.’ The Children’s Curriculum utilizes the hand model (Seigel) to help anyone, even young children, visualize their brain, understand and communicate why they feel like they can’t always control their emotions and ‘flip their lid’.


Link: Watch Dr. Daniel Siegel Explain the Hand Model of the Brain 





A group activity called the ‘Brain Architecture Game’ teaches participants how a child’s brain is developed. Like building a house, the more complex systems (such as memory, decision making, and emotional regulation) are built and structured on top of a more simple foundation (such as breathing, sucking, and swallowing). The heart of the home can be seen as the child’s spiritual development and the walls of the home being the areas of children development- cognitive, social, emotional, and physical.  


Toxic stress such as that experienced in family violence situations can have a significant effect on young children that lasts for a lifetime. If not mediated by responsive caring adults, toxic stress can be built into the child’s developing brain, weakening its functions. Looking back at the house model, toxic stress can weaken the foundations of the child’s house structure and impact how future complex structures are developed. This can lead to a negative impact on the body through their immune and stress systems potentially leading to both physical and mental health issues throughout life. Fortunately, even one relationship with a caring responsive adult can mediate the effects of toxic stress.  


The resilience scale helps us understand why some brains are more resilient than others. Link: Learn more about the resilience scale 

The interventions Shelters provide for children during and after family violence episodes are crucial. Childcare staff create safe, welcoming spaces and opportunity for positive experiences that support strong brain architecture. Childcare workers can also support caregivers to understand their children’s experiences and enhance their skills for building resilience and positive coping strategies. 



If you would like more information regarding Children Training or would like to be notified when the next training session will take place please email Catie Hickman: 




ways you can support children’s brain development



These tips, from the ACWS Children's Curriculum, are used by shelter staff to support traumatised children.  But every child can benefit from healthy play.  Young children learn through play- through all five senses and the opportunity to explore what interests them or what they feel they need to understand. Play, by definition is child-led 

Children who were exposed to domestic violence and abuse and are now in shelters need to be able to play, feel sad, and then play again - on their own timetable.  

  1. 1. Cognitive - puzzles, building blocks, Lego, card games such as Go Fish. 
  3. 2. Social Peek-a-boo, imaginative play like ‘house’. 
  1. 3. Emotional Regulation - Sensory Play such as splashing in water, playdough, finger paint, fidget toys. 
  1. 4. Physical - run, jump, dance, drum. 
  3. 5. Spiritual - yoga, nature walks.