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Vital People: Teaching preschoolers to celebrate Indigenous identity

Children can learn about their Indigenous identity while preparing for the public education system at Journeys of the Heart, a program hosted by the Hulitan Family and Community Services Society.
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Julia Clifton, early childhood educator for the Hulitan Family and Community Services Society: ÒCaregivers who have taken the program have told us they learn just as much as their children,Ó she says.

Children can learn about their Indigenous identity while preparing for the public education system at Journeys of the Heart, a program hosted by the Hulitan Family and Community Services Society.

In this program, funded in part by the Victoria Foundation, Indigenous preschool children, ages two to five, embark upon a 10-month journey that celebrates their identity while providing them and their caregivers with skills and tools for a successful transition into the public-school system.

The program requires the children attend the sessions with a caregiver.

“Caregivers who have taken the program have told us they learn just as much as their children,” said Julia Clifton, early childhood educator for the society.

“The program supports the traditional role of parents and extended family members as their child’s first teacher.”

Including the caregivers empowers them and instills a sense of pride by being part of their child’s early childhood development, she said.

The Journeys of the Heart program has been running for 12 years, with about 24 youngsters enrolled every year.

In class, youngsters see themselves and their culture reflected through books, posters, curriculum, art, toys and puzzles. The children drum, sing and dance in regalia daily and give thanks before having a snack.

For many of the children, this is one of the few places that their culture is reflected all around them.

“We have developed our own, season-based curriculum ... from the ground up in consultation with the community,” said Clifton, who has been an educator for more than 21 years. The classes also include an Aboriginal language component.

The goal of the program is designed to foster inclusion, communication and relationships among the youngsters.

The society is hopeful that Journeys of the Heart can serve as a template for other First Nations, as well as a model for developing strong partnerships with non-reserve service providers.

For more information, go to hulitan.ca.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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