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Building Foundations for Lifelong Learning

Ruby Anne Chartrand and her students participate in the traditional Aboriginal custom of drumming

Ruby Anne Chartrand
Children of the Future Aboriginal Head Start Program
Swan River, Manitoba
Type of setting: Preschool program for Aboriginal children ages 3 to 5 years old

I am a strong believer in the lasting benefits of early learning programs. The learning experiences in these first years can influence the rest of a child's life. I choose to be an early childhood educator to be part of such a wonderful and exciting stage of development. I try my very best to make each child that attends the Aboriginal Head Start Program feel special by providing them with plenty of affection, giving them quality one-on-one time, and getting to know their families personally. Children need to feel secure in their environments and with their caregivers before any learning can take place. Building relationships and creating supportive environments provides children with the love, nurturance and security they need to begin growing socially and emotionally.

In order to build positive relationships with children, it is essential to gain a good understanding of their preferences, interests, background, and culture. As a Metis women myself, I feel a responsibility to be a positive role model to the children in my care and to make them feel proud of their Aboriginal heritage. I teach them basic Ojibaway and Saulteaux language and incorporate words in a variety of fun games we play and songs we sing. I introduce the children to traditional Aboriginal customs such as jigging, drumming, jingle dancing, and shawl dancing. A play-based curriculum like this helps develop children's self-confidence, imagination and social skills. I also try to invite elders from the community to entertain children with fascinating stories about their past. By exposing my children to different aspects of their culture, they begin to gain a better understanding of where they come from and start to feel a stronger sense of self-identity.

Ruby Anne Chartrand and one of her students play on a computer

Parent involvement is also very important to a child's development and early learning. Without parent support, a child is less likely to be successful and engaged in school. I make sure to communicate with my children's parents on a daily basis to build effective relationships and to keep them informed about what their children are learning and how they are progressing. I involve parents and families as much as possible by inviting them to different activities throughout the year. The Aboriginal Head Start Program holds an annual Bike-a-thon, Barbecue, and family camping retreats to provide opportunities for families to spend quality time together and for parents to socialize with one another.

To be an early childhood educator, it is important to be patient, caring, understanding and have a love for children. We must strive to build positive relationships with our children and their parents in order to make a difference in a child's lifelong learning and to build a strong foundation for their future educational achievement.

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Team Work Makes the Dream Work

Angela Daniels-Drummond and her students holding signs 'Team Work makes the DreamWork'

Angela Daniels-Drummond
Dartmouth Day Care Centre

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Type of setting: Childcare centre for children ages 12 months to 5 years old

Whether you are a seasoned worker or someone new to the field of Early Childhood Education; whether you have walked through the doors of your centre for the very first time or have been there twenty years, we all have dreams, goals and aspirations. We have big hopes that everything we desire for each individual child will one day come to fruition.

I have the pleasure and privilege of working with children with special needs. My work consists of integrating children into the daycare setting and designing plans and routines that complement their level of development. I encourage parents to fully understand and take advantage of all the benefits of being in an inclusive early learning environment. Over the years, I have learned that each child is so very unique. Their parents, their community, and their culture all help define who they are. I have learned to take each stage of their development one beautiful step at a time. I have learned that building relationships is the key to any new and successful beginning.

Being an Inclusion Coordinator, I understand that children with special needs and their parents are faced with many challenges. It is my goal to assist them with these challenges and modify learning programs, classrooms, toys, and play environments to make each learning experience a successful one. It is very important to understand that each child is so very unique and should be treated as such. My daily work demonstrates that we are far from round pegs but that we can be any shape or size. We may never fit perfectly in the eyes of many but we fit perfectly in the eyes of those who love us and care.

I absolutely love the word inclusion. I love living it and making it work for my children each and every day. This one word, put in practice, has changed the lives of so many children. The children and parents who attend Dartmouth Day Care centre have the assurance of knowing we are in a fully inclusive environment. The unique needs of their child will be assessed and a wonderfully designed learning program will be tailored for them.

Angela Daniels-Drummond and one of her students play a game together

At the end of the day when all adjustments have been made, when routine-based plans are polished full of wonderful and unique goals, and when classrooms and teachers have been prepped, it all boils down to the relationships that we build. How can I get a child and their parents to trust me so we can move forward with all the hard work that needs to be done?

This is when team work is crucial. The staff I work with, thankfully, has the same mindset as I do. We work very closely every day to reach goals for our children. They also see the value in teamwork and it shows in their commitment daily. I have the pleasure of working with many other professionals who visit the children at our centre. They present fresh ideas that are geared to each individual child. I am thankful for every collaborative and professional experience.

I believe the future of daycare is bright and hopeful. I believe that, as Early Childhood Educators, we need to stay committed to our children, our parents, and our communities. We need to remain diligent in our never-ending quest to demonstrate that we are competent Early Childhood Educators who make a difference every day in the lives of children and play en essential role in society.

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Fostering the Wonder of a Child; Inspiring Learning through Emergent Curriculum

Julie Kamiya and two of her students play outside

Marina Giovinazzo, Julie Kamiya and Cristina Primerano
Brentwood Nursery School Society

Burnaby, British Columbia
Type of setting: Preschool for children ages 3 and 4 years old

We believe in learning as a life-long process that happens through interactions with one another, materials and the environment. Author and education activist Ken Robinson said, "We need to recognize that most great learning happens in groups. The collaboration is the stuff of growth." Our learning community is comprised of children, families and teachers. With relationships at the core, our philosophy is based on acknowledging the questions of our community and using these questions and curiosities to develop an emergent inquiry based curriculum. Emergent—it is flexible, and emerges within the interests of the children and the classroom community. Inquiry-based—we listen and watch closely to what the children are saying, how they are using materials and what concepts they are exploring. We believe curriculum is a living process that is organic and always changing and growing.

Marina Giovinazzo engaging with her students

The cycle of inquiry is a reflective tool that we use to facilitate the planning process. It can begin with a provocation and then we observe; actively listening to children during their exploration, even when they are silent. We are inspired by the pedagogy of listening from Reggio Emilia which asks us to listen to what the children are doing, why they are doing it, and why is it important to them. We reflect. We look for patterns and connections, and ask questions as the children represent their ideas and build theories to make their own meaning. In order to make the learning and thinking of our community visible, we document our reflections. Lastly, we provoke. Based on our reflections we create provocations that allow the children to further explore their theories, leading us to co-construct meaning as a group. We encourage collaborative learning as it helps the children to identify gaps in their theories, create new knowledge and build a shared understanding.

Using the cycle of inquiry in our curriculum planning, we value:

  • Listening to the children's theories and questions to guide the process of learning;
  • The importance of all of our classes coming together to collaborate in thinking and to also inspire one another;
  • The necessity of providing children with materials to test out their theories;
  • The richness and excitement of being in our neighborhood as an inspiration for learning; and
  • Creating a learning environment where it is essential to think critically and intentionally, and to challenge one another.
Cristina Primerano and a student play with soapy bubbles

Some people may say that a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but the truth is nothing will ever grow there. We believe the cycle of inquiry is mysterious and exciting due to a feeling of unpreparedness, of unpredictability, and for the mystery of the unknown. Like any adventure, it involves risk—a risk of not knowing what is to come. But this way of thinking allows us to discover rich places, rich questions, and rich ideas with the children. As David Jardine says, "We have to risk being transformed, risk changing, risk learning more than we might have originally anticipated or hoped or desired."

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Building Foundations for Lifelong Learning

Mona Khan with two of her students

Mona Khan
Little Scholars Montessori Academy

Ottawa, Ontario
Type of setting: Licensed childcare centre for children ages 18 months to 6 years old

The first six years of life are truly miracle years. Development through these critical years sets the stage for the rest of a child's life. This simple but profound truth has inspired my education, research and work in the field of early childhood development.

Dr. Maria Montessori has said that, during these miracle years, children have a remarkable and innate ability to learn and absorb the world around them. As educators we can cultivate this ability and help each child build a foundation for lifelong learning. I have discovered that this is best done with a harmonized approach of following the child, sustaining their natural love of learning and empowering them as leaders and advocates. This approach has enabled me to shape my programs into a model early learning and care institute and a buzzing hub for families in the community.

I encourage my team of educators to observe and follow each child to the place they show us they need to be for their optimum development. The objective of my follow the child principle is to listen and observe what is individually appropriate, discover what is culturally important and then help each child meet challenging, yet achievable learning goals.

In order to sustain the child's natural love of learning, the environment, the educator and experiences must work together to inspire freedom and independence. In our programs, children are encouraged to seek out activities that spark their own interest. We enable children to control their own choices, movements, and activities; the educator gradually steps back from the child's active learning as children grow and become increasingly capable of managing their own activities. As children arrive at a stage of self-directed autonomy, the educator and child partner with each other so that children can learn the skills that they will eventually handle on their own. Learning to recognize and follow their own interests from an early age allows children to retain the curiosity, creativity, and innate love of learning with which they were born.

Mona Khan and her students play with a world globe

Dr. Montessori put it well when she said "free the child's potential and you will transform him into the world." Each child has unique potentials. Empowering them as leaders and advocates allows them to develop those fundamental foundations that form the basis of personal fulfillment and social responsibility. In our classrooms, students participate as members of a real, functioning community. They partner with The Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and The Red Cross to raise funds for international disaster relief, join hands to clean up their neighbourhood on Earth Day and resolve conflicts using the class peace table―learning from an early age that they can make a difference in their world!

Children are our future and, as early childhood educators, we are privileged with an opportunity to shape the future. By following their interests, nurturing their innate abilities, and empowering them with responsibility, we can inspire children to become lifelong learners—the best possible preparation for meeting the challenges of a constantly changing world.

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A Watchful Approach

Arnold Laplante with the children in his care

Arnold Laplante
Centre de la petite enfance La Goélette enchantée

Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec
Type of setting: Daycare centre for children 4 and 5 years old

I strive to take a watchful approach in my work with children aged four and five. Throughout my 34 years of experience at the daycare, I have drawn inspiration from my colleagues and artists and based my practices on data from recognized educators and psychologists.

My approach with the children essentially relies on respect for each child's personal development. I make sure that I am particularly attentive the first time I meet parents and their child so that they feel expected and welcome. For me, it is very important to greet the parents and put myself in their shoes as people entrusting their child to an adult who is essentially a stranger. When they are reassured, parents are much more receptive to prompting their child to trust me and create new ties that will lead to new experiences. This way, frank and open relationships are created over time.

Also, working together toward a child's development requires acknowledgement on all sides of the specific roles played by each person, roles that must complement one another. This joint endeavour is realized through the watchful communication I establish with the children and their parents. My daily encouragement and positive comments regarding the children's "exploits" help bolster parents in the role they play. These moments are meant to be a time of sharing with parents, where our mutual observations work to broaden and enhance how we see each child.

Arnold Laplante with the children in his care

With the children, I create a relationship that will help them see me as a partner and make them more inclined to work with me and participate fully in the experience. This bond of trust forms the basis of the basic skills and knowledge they acquire through play. Because symbolic play is prevalent among children at that age, I plan my work with them accordingly and give them free rein with their imagination. Slowly but surely, the children develop the way they create, invent, and formulate their play. I also fuel the children's imagination by telling stories and playing all kinds of wacky characters. It is a wondrous thing to open yourself up to the children's delight. Attentive to the children's games and stories, I observe, I ask questions and they ask me questions. I give them "keys" to help them make connections, find solutions, and feel ever more capable.

Thanks to my watchful attitude, the children take risks, engage in new games with their peers, and know that no matter what, I will watch over them. In short, being watchful is important to sow pride and hope, hope for a happy life and being a better person.

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