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Just Two Girl Bosses Building Their Empire - Where Education Meets Medicine

This blog isn't typical of what I usually write about, but its important to share nonetheless and this is why.

I recently had the privilege of visiting my friend Joanne and her spectacular TransformEd Creative Studio and Learning Centre in Woodbridge, Ontario for children birth to age twelve to attend with their families. She continues to spread important messages about transformative education within her conference presentations and training workshops that she facilitates for educators. Joanne’s hope is to keep advocating for children, inspiring their creativity and to encouraging their lifelong learning.

Joanne Marie Babalis in her element!!!

Joanne Marie Babalis is a mom to an infant aged girl, and preschool aged son, and in addition a Reggio Emilia inspired kindergarten teacher, Early Childhood Education consultant, PhD student, and kindergarten additional qualification course instructor at York University. She is passionate about the early years, specifically designing spaces that inspire inquiry-based learning and creative innovation for twenty-first century learners. Her blog, “TransformEd: Transforming our Learning Environment into a Space of Possibilities” and Instagram @joannebabalis continue to reach educators throughout Canada and on a global scale. Each of her posts make visible the power of inquiry, as well as the strong potential of young children. 

Joanne. I am so proud of your accomplishments and your devotion to children. They are the future, and with you and your creative learning by their side, I'm confident and excited to see what the next generation will do!!

Joanne also came to my space at NatCan Integrative Medical & Wellness Centre and interviewed me. Below you will see my responses to her questions, which I'm excited to share with all of you. 


Dr. Santos, I am so so proud of you! I haven’t actually done an interview style post in a few years and I am really pleased to have you as the first one of hopefully many more to come!

Can you talk to us a little more about yourself and your NatCan Integrative clinic?

Thank you for the kind words Joanne. I have put a lot of love, passion and hard work into building my dream clinic and team. NatCan operates under the values and ethics where we put the relationship with our patients and their healthcare needs above all. Just as important as the care you receive, the NatCan space was designed to be equally warm, inviting and comforting. We strive to provide a place where people come to gain an empowered perspective on health, and a proactive approach to living your best life. NatCan was founded by me, a primary care Naturopathic Doctor, with a clear vision: to create a small town healthcare experience, but on a large scale, to embody the same attention to care, prevention and treatment that I experienced as a young patient in my hometown of Chatham, Ontario.

In my earlier days, I fast-tracked through university, graduating from The University of Guelph with a Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Science and a Masters Degree in Biomedical Science by the age of 22. After an additional 4 years of education, I graduated from naturopathic medical school with a Doctorate in Naturopathy at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, and successfully passed my board and licensing exams.

In 2017, I established the NatCan Integrative Medical & Wellness Centre, a practice in which Canadians could go beyond the one-size-fits all healthcare model. At NatCan, patients are provided with a quality consultation with a practitioner and thorough investigation into appropriate and necessary diagnostic testing and treatment.

Since its inception, NatCan has grown to become a full service integrative health clinic, with practitioners including naturopathic doctors, chiropractic doctor, physiotherapist, registered massage therapists, holistic nutrition and spiritual coaches. NatCan practitioners strive to operate as a true integrative medical team. This model provides not only the convenience of centrally located practitioners, but more importantly, ensures that you receive true integrative care, drawing from the best of traditional and complementary medical philosophies.

In addition to my work at NatCan, you will see that I’m also actively involved in educating the public about health and naturopathic medicine through speaking engagements and media appearances. Furthermore, you might run into me out in nature, as I enjoy spending quality time outside, especially with her friends and family.

Lastly, can you share with us what you have learned through your extensive studies about children and their brain development, especially in the early years of their lives.

What are your thoughts about the kinds of activities they should be participating in? What is your opinion on screen time (television, iPads, YouTube on a parent’s phone, etc.). What do you suggest children experience at this critical time when their brain is developing?

Great questions!! With video games and social media so readily available, it seems to be harder and harder to pull kids away from their devices. On average, kids spend over seven hours in front of a screen, but only four to seven minutes having unstructured play time outdoors. Everyone knows that playing outside has important health benefits, but researchers are now saying more green time instead of screen time can be good for a child’s growing mind.

Researchers studied more than 2,500 kids, ages 7 to 10, and found that kids who had more time outdoors improved their short-term memory by as much as 28 percent. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping all screens off around babies and toddlers younger than 18 months. They say a little screen time can be okay for older toddlers, and children 2 and older should get no more than an hour of screen time per day. According to the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth, for kids between the ages of eight and 11, it should include at least 60 minutes of physical activity, two hours or less of recreational screen time, and nine to 11 hours of sleep.

So how can parents make sure their kids are getting enough time outside? Try activities that get kids involved with nature, such as camping, a walk in the park, or a treasure hunt in the backyard. Also, since kids spend a lot of time at school, parents can try pushing to turn an empty lot into a school garden, allowing kids to discover that learning doesn’t always have to be in a classroom.

Green spaces help to reduce air pollution and allergic reactions in children.

At Transform Ed Creative Studio, nature and learning with all five senses is incorporated.

This is extremely critical, but why?

During the first 3 years of life, children experience the world in a more complete way than children of any other age. The brain takes in the external world through its system of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. This means that infant social, emotional, cognitive, physical and language development are stimulated during multisensory experiences. Infants and toddlers need the opportunity to participate in a world filled with stimulating sights, sounds and people.

So what do you do? Create a multi-sensory environment (like Joanne has at her Transform Ed Creative Studio) where you:

  • Experiment with different smells in the classroom. Try scents like peppermint and cinnamon to keep children alert and lavender to calm them down.
  • Remember that lighting affect alertness and responsiveness. Bright lights keep infants and toddlers alert; soft lights help infants and toddlers to calm down.
  • Expose infants and toddlers to colours that stimulate the brain. Use colours like pale yellow, beige, and off-white to create a calm learning environment; use bright colours such as red, orange, and yellow to encourage creativity and excitement.
  • Use quiet and soft music to calm infants and toddlers and rhythmic music to get them excited about moving.
  • Create a texture book or board that includes swatches of different fabrics for infants and toddlers to feel.
  • Describe the foods and drinks that you serve infants and toddlers and use words that are associated with flavour and texture ("oranges are sweet and juicy;" "lemon yogurt is a little sour and creamy").

But let’s not forget about emotional expression (i.e. “Thinking and Feeling”)

Before children are able to talk, emotional expressions are the language of relationships. Research shows that infants' positive and negative emotions, and caregivers' sensitive responsiveness to them, can help early brain development. For example, shared positive emotion between a caregiver and an infant, such as laughter and smiling, engages brain activity in good ways and promotes feelings of security. Also, when interactions are accompanied by lots of emotion, they are more readily remembered and recalled.

Joanne's curated approach to learning is incomparable!!!

Programs like the TransformEd Creative Learning Studio stimulate brain development and incorporate critical activities that encourage collaboration/teamwork, creative innovation, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, adaptability, curiosity/questioning and confidence in your developing child.

Thank you Joanne for investing in the future - Our children!!!

I hope you find this blog post helpful and I encourage you to incorporate more wellness in your life and the lives of your family. 

Want to see more? Our video tours of both spaces have been shared on IGTV.  If you follow us both (@joannebabalis and @drsantosnd @natcanteam) you will also see some of our experiences within the stories as well!

In health,

Dr. Sylvia Santos MBS, ND



The advice provided in this blog is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.


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