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Unique ECE program supports community needs, incorporates Indigenous culture

If you were to finger paint early childhood education (ECE) programming that incorporates Indigenous ways and knowledge as well as land-based play, the resulting picture would look a lot like an Okanagan College classroom at the Salmon Arm campus.erica seymour

A special intake of the College’s ECE program incorporating Indigenous knowledge wrapped up last last year.

The course was developed in consultation with local First Nations and Métis, and was launched to address the need for early childhood educators in the region.

“We are very fortunate for the leadership role taken by local Indigenous communities around early childhood development,” says Joan Ragsdale, Shuswap-Revelstoke Regional Dean for the College. “A lot of the First Nation communities have child care centres on site, and they need trained workers. They worked with us to enrich the curriculum and think about how local culture, and ways of knowing and doing can be part of the professional outcomes for ECEs in training.”

The provincially accredited program prepared students to work with young children in a variety of inclusive early childhood environments, including day cares, preschools, infant/toddler centres and other early childhood initiatives that focus on healthy early development.

“This program maintained the integrity of the ECE program of Okanagan College, but it infused Indigenous knowledge and culture into the curriculum in support of the community,” explains Yvonne Moritz, Dean of Science, Technologies and Health.

Traditional knowledge was woven into the curriculum through a variety of ways, including teachings on Indigenous healing practices, medicines, plants, animals and Secwepemctsín (Secwepemc language). Wherever possible, students were connected with community members and industry leaders, to build connections and share knowledge.ece classroom sa

“Traditionally, our Elders raised us with the values to learn through storytelling and resources we used from off the land. The unique ECE program will provide this traditional way of learning and bring our valued upbringing back to our children,” says Tammy Thomas, Director of Education for Neskonlith Indian Band.

For the in-class playgroup that visited the class last fall, students developed a play space for children that reflected the Secwepemc territory – featuring animals that are local to the region, and materials that would be found in natural environments close by.

“I’ve learned that relying on other people and asking for help is okay, and that local people in our community can help us learn and grow,” says student Erica Seymour. “Culture is very significant in my life, especially language. This program looks to our backyard to make sure culture is represented. The outdoor classroom gives us a chance to breathe, smell all the different trees, enjoy the grasses and flowers growing at the time, and listen to the birds flying by.”

The program was developed by Continuing Studies and Corporate Training in Salmon Arm in partnership with the Splatsin Indian Band, Adams Lake Band, Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, Salmon Arm Métis Association and Neskonlith Indian Band.

Additional supports were put into place to meet the unique needs of students, including challenges with transportation to campus, child care and access to technology. For example, the Electronic Recycling Association out of Calgary donated laptops for each student, to ensure their academic needs were adequately resourced alongside their aptitude with child development.

“This has been an amazing opportunity for student growth. They have been learning new skills and producing assignments of a professional quality and depth,” says Diane Little, one of the ECE instructors. “We have an emergent approach to the classroom: as life and learning emerges, it comes into the program. Indigenous ideals and values live in this program, giving students meaningful learning experiences in their communities.”

Video interviews with the instructor and students can be viewed here.