Preschool Podcast

Adapting Curriculum For Local Communities

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Episode 149 – Child care in aboriginal communities are conserving their cultures through early education curriculum. We chat with Lori-Ann Paige, a First Nations Mohawk who is also the Coordinator of the Indigenous Early Learning Program at Cégep de Saint-Félicien in Montreal, Canada. Lori-Ann shares her experience working in child care for her entire career. We talk about culture, heritage and adapting early education frameworks to reflect their tribes’ cultures by incorporating language, traditional meals and activities.

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Episode Transcript

Lori PAIGE:

Another resource that we tried to pull on from the communities are our elders. And a lot of elders are really interested in coming into the centers and playing with the children and talking to the children and making sure they use the language of the children so the language continues within the center, and talk about traditions and cultural events.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG:

Lori-Ann, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

PAIGE:

Thank you, I’m really happy to be here.

SPREEUWENBERG:

We are delighted to have on the show today Lori-Ann Paige. She is the coordinator of Indigenous programs with Cégep de Saint-Félicien. Very cool to have you on the show. We’re going to talk to Lori in about early-childhood education in Indigenous communities. It’s going be a really interesting, podcast. Lori, start off by telling us a little bit more about who you are and how you got involved evolved in early-childhood education.

PAIGE:

Well, I guess I got involved because I was always that kid in the family who liked playing with the little kids, and it just went from there. I was always, like, the babysitter for the family. Like, if somebody needed a babysitter, “Call Lori-Ann, she’ll babysit, and usually for free.” And I just enjoyed being around young children.

So I went to college and I took an early-childhood course and really enjoyed that, and went to university and took another early-childhood bachelors degree. And since then I really can say that I’ve never really had other jobs. I’ve always worked in childcare centers as director, as educator, as a paid counselor at one point, as a project manager, setting up a new childcare center at one point.

And then I was asked to be a Cégep professor at one point. And just so people can know what a Cégep is, it’s just our French Quebecois’ name for “college”. And I was asked by the Cégep de Saint-Félicien if I would like to teach early-childhood education in Aboriginal communities in Quebec. And a little afraid at first, but I said Yes. And I did that for about ten years.

And then at some point they asked me, Would I like to be the co-ordinator of their Indigenous programs? And I, again a little bit afraid, not sure, but I said Yes. And here I am, I’ve been doing that for eleven years now.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Very cool. And you yourself are First Nations Mohawk, correct?

PAIGE:

Yes, I am.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Cool. And can you describe to us what that means to you?

PAIGE:

About being First Nations Mohawk? Well, first I have to disclose that I wasn’t always very, very proud of my culture. Because when you grew up in an Aboriginal community, often – and especially at the time, I was born in the early [1960’s] – so heading out to the outside world in like the mid- to late-70s wasn’t always a friendly place for an Aboriginal woman. So sometimes people would be, like, “Oh, what’s your nationality?” And I’d be, like, “Oh, I’m Italian,” because I have a little bit of an olive-covered coloured skin and dark hair.

But as the years went by I kind of said to myself, “No, listen, I’ve got to be more proud of who I am and where I come from.” And now I can say that I am a proud Mohawk woman. I feel that makes me strong; I feel it makes me connected. Yeah, that’s that in a nutshell, I guess.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, so in your view you both yourself – and correct me if I’m wrong – also in society, at least in Canada, you feel like we’ve made a lot of for progress with First Nations relations?

PAIGE:

Yeah, well, I think maybe a lot of people – well, maybe a lot of people are not aware, but most people I’m hoping in Canada are aware – of the not-so-great relationships that non-Native and Natives have had in the past. But I truly believe things are getting better and Native people are looked upon with more with more interest, with more respect, with more people wanting to know, “Oh, tell us about your history, tell us about where you come from and what it was like growing up on a reserve,” or whatever.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah. And let’s go back to the context of early-childhood education. Early-childhood education [in] aboriginal communities: How is that different than in any other community? And what’s happening in terms of early-childhood education with Indigenous programs?

PAIGE:

Okay, well I’ve been lucky because I’ve been around for a while now in early-childhood, and I’ve been around a while in early-childhood in Aboriginal communities. And unfortunately when daycares started popping up in Aboriginal communities –and in Quebec, anyways – it was really kind of carbon copies from what we would find, like, in Montreal or Quebec City. And this was one of the things that the Aboriginal communities were saying, like, “We don’t want to be a carbon copy of a non-Native childcare centre. We need to have our own stamp on it. We need to make it our own. We need to make it look like… if it’s in a Cree community we need to make it look Cree. If it’s in a Mi’kmaq community we need to make it look Mi’kmaq.”

So right now there’s a huge… I don’t know if you want to say “movement”, but I know people are more aware and they’re trying a lot harder to make sure that the language is in the childcare centres, the culture is in the childcare centres, that they’re doing a lot of what we like to refer to as “country food” that’s been eaten in the childcare centres.

Because what happened when childcare centres first started coming into the Aboriginal communities, they were feeding kids the same thing kids would eat in an Ottawa childcare centre or a Montreal childcare centre. It would be like a shepherd’s pie or tuna casserole. But now I think people are taking more pride in their cultures and bringing in, like I said, the country food, traditional games, using the language more, those kinds of things.

RON

Cool. And you talked here about food, talked a bit about culture and language. What about activities, learning and development activities? Are Aboriginal communities doing anything differently in childcare programs with relation to that?

PAIGE:

Well, as I was saying, in the last I would say maybe seven years there’s really been more of an emphasis on bringing cultural activities to the childcare centre. If we want to talk like… the most part of my experience is with the Cree communities. And the end of April and the month of May, it’s what they traditionally call the Goose Break. So this would be a theme, if you would, that would come into the childcare centre.

So kids are all excited because they’re going to be stopping school, stopping daycare for two weeks, and everybody’s going to go to the bush and they’re going to be hunting geese for two weeks and all that implies, spending family time and doing cultural activities. So these are the kind of activities we like to bring into the childcare center. So whether it’s around food or whether it’s around geese or whether it’s around how to pluck a goose, all those activities are great, or traditional songs.

SPREEUWENBERG:

And where do you go to get the content and inspiration for these?

PAIGE:

Usually we go back into the community because in Quebec we have nine Cree communities and no two are really alike. Even, like, from the coastal ones to the inland communities, the dialect is a little bit different. So typically what we do is we go back to the community and we asked the community, like, “What are your values? What do you see as your culture? And how can we bring that into the childcare center?”

SPREEUWENBERG:

Cool, and do you also have the opportunity to have some other families come in to the childcare programs?

PAIGE:

Oh, yeah, for sure. And I think this is like anywhere in childcare. You always have those parents who are keen and want to come and do stuff at the childcare center, whether it be traditional or not. And then of course there is always parents who are more standoffish and it’s, like, “Oh, no, that’s okay.”

But another resource that we tried to pull on from the communities are our elders. And a lot of elders are really interested in coming into the centers and playing with the children and talking to the children and making sure they use the language with the children so the language continues within the center, and talk about traditions and cultural events.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And that’s the next generation, right?

PAIGE:

Exactly.

SPREEUWENBERG:

So you want to make sure all those cultural pieces, the language, gets passed on for sure. One of the things that I’ve heard about is, through the Government of Canada there’s an Indigenous early-learning and childcare framework. I just wanted to see if you’re familiar with that and see if you’re using that at all in the Aboriginal communities that you work in.

PAIGE:

Not too much, and I’ll tell you why, because I’m sure, as most Canadians know, that Quebec tends to be a little bit different and is always trying to do things in a different way. So in Quebec we have our Ministry of Families and they have an early-childhood program that, as long as you’re a childcare center in in Quebec, you should be following their program.

And it’s based a lot… it’s actually a program that takes a lot from the High Scope learning, a little bit of Reggio, and it seems to always be in transition. So really that’s what we’re following in the childcare centers, probably with the exception of the Inuit communities in Quebec. They’re currently in a transition phase themselves and they’ve adopted the New Brunswick curriculum for early-childhood education.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Interesting. Do you know why that is?

PAIGE:

The main reason is because in the Inuit communities they’re not big on pen and paper, so that’s one of the reasons. And one of the things that they do in the New Brunswick early-childhood curriculum is they use learning stories. So it’s a lot of picture-taking and a lot of talking to the children. And once they’ve taken… for example, you have children, I guess, maybe who are outside and there they’re playing in the snow, for example. So they would take pictures of the children while they’re playing in the snow and they would print out the picture and then they would ask children, “Tell me about what’s happening here.” And they would document that.

And these are things that you would find posted in and around the childcare center. It would be in the children’s portfolios. It would be in different places. Or sometimes what they’ll do is, they’ll make books out of them so the children can go to the book corner and can take these books with their own learning stories in them.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Got it. Cool, interesting. And so you’ve spent a number of years in early-childhood education. What advice or tips would you give to our podcast listeners who might be starting out their careers in early-childhood education, based on all the experience that you have?

PAIGE:

I guess really… two tips I would give: Always going with an open mind. I find in early-childhood things change. And the other thing is, things tend to come back around. I’ve been in early-childhood now for some time and I’ve seen a lot of changes. And I see a lot of things that go out of favor and then they come back into favor again. So I guess to adaptable and keep an open mind and enjoy the kids.

PAIGE:

Cool. Yeah, always a good tip. And if we want to learn more about your work or some of the communities you’re involved in, is there a good place where we can go or somewhere we can reach out to you?

PAIGE:

Well, the Cégep de Saint-Félicien does have a website, although it’s predominantly in French. And the website is www.CegepStFe.ca. But I could give you my… if anybody is interested in about our programs or if they’re interested in in working within one of our programs I’m always looking for educators who want a new challenge. So I can give you my email address: PaigeConsulting@bellnet.ca.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Wonderful. Lori, thank you so much for coming on our show today. Awesome having you. Great work that you’re doing, and I’m sure our listeners got some valuable information, regardless of what type of program they’re working in. Some great advice and tips there. Thanks so much.

PAIGE:

Thank you very much for having me on. I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult but it turned out to be a lot of fun.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Glad to hear it. Thanks, Lori.

PAIGE:

Okay, take care.

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!

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