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Sechelt Nation returns to its roots

The Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) has returned to its roots to teach preschoolers at mom-ay-mon Childcare Centre, and their success is gaining the attention of educators and the government.

The Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) has returned to its roots to teach preschoolers at mom-ay-mon Childcare Centre, and their success is gaining the attention of educators and the government.

Mom-ay-mon has adopted the Reggio Emilia approach, which focuses on a child-led curriculum based on principles of respect, responsibility and community.

Reggio Emilia calls for exploration and discovery by children in a supportive and enriching environment where adults inspire learning based on the children's curiosities.

"Traditionally our ancestors used the same format that is now called the Reggio approach," said Lenora Joe, SIB director of education, culture and recreation. "Our ancestors viewed our children as a gift from the Creator and treasured every moment they spent together watching, observing what they were doing, adding things or suggestions as they moved along. This was a two-way approach where the child also observed our elders and patiently watched what they were doing so they could mimic them."

She said it was an integral part of growing up in the culture.

"This was a very important step in a child's life to be able to spend as much time with the elders as possible while their parents were out hunting, gathering, looking after the families," Joe said.

SIB childcare educators wanted to bring back those proven ways of learning, and the Reggio Emilia approach was a well-developed program from Italy that aligned with their desires.

In 2012 mom-ay-mon launched the Reggio-inspired program and soon parents and educators saw a difference in the children.

"Before Reggio Emilia, we noticed that children were arriving at the beginning of the day and about one-third of them were ready to learn and one-third were very lethargic and in another world and we couldn't get their attention, and the other third would arrive just bouncing off the walls," said centre manager Sonya Swift.

After launching the new programming, which includes an hour outside at the beginning and end of the day, Swift said children were visibly calmer and came into the centre "ready to learn."

The Reggio Emilia approach puts a strong emphasis on the natural environment and outdoor play, which is central to the program at mom-ay-mon.

Recently a mini-longhouse was erected at the site to allow more outdoor learning experiences regardless of weather.

"We were looking for an outdoor space and it evolved into a longhouse because with everything we do we want to focus on and incorporate the culture of the community," said Swift, noting kids at the childcare centre spend about half their time outdoors.

The longhouse is the beginning of what will eventually be a complete natural playscape at the centre located on Swiwelat Avenue. "We're going to be putting in a bike path that winds through the trees and we're putting in some hills and tunnels and bringing in a lot more native plants. We want it to be just a real magical forest for the children that really inspires their creativity so that they want to be outside instead of us preaching the benefits of being outside," Swift said. "It goes hand-in-hand with the Reggio philosophy focusing on nature and curiosity and following the children's lead rather than us leading them."

While all these principles are a big part of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, what makes mom-ay-mon a legitimate Reggio Emilia inspired program is the resident artist or Atelierista that was hired thanks to a Success By Six grant, awarded through the Sunshine Coast Early Childhood Development Planning Table.

Maggie Chow, the Atelierista (a Reggio term), comes in a few times a week to help children express themselves through different mediums and oversee the program planning.

"She's working right now with mentoring the staff and bringing in more art experiences and helping the staff with documentation," Swift said.

Currently mom-ay-mon is the only Sunshine Coast childcare program that is recognized as a Reggio Emilia inspired program and a recent open house drew many interested educators excited to see the program in action. Swift has also fielded local and off-Coast calls from childcare providers wanting to know more.

Childcare workers and parents at mom-ay-mon have said that since it was introduced last year, the method has resulted in calmer, more attentive, inquisitive children who are eager to learn.

"Our job in preparing children for school is to develop a wonder of learning and an excitement about learning so that the children are excited to go to school every day. We want them to become more aware of their environment and more inquisitive so they can go to school just hungry to learn," Swift said.

The hands-on learning style is obviously benefiting the young students.

"There is a Chinese proverb that I love to quote, 'Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand,'" Joe said. "This approach along with the longhouse style of learning is going to enhance our children's potential of becoming the future leaders of our Nation. We are very honoured and proud of what our staff has been able to introduce in a very short time and this is only the beginning."

In the future the SIB plans to rebuild their entire centre to make it more suited to the philosophy they've embraced.

Mom-ay-mon is funded through Health Canada's Aboriginal Head Start On Reserve program, which has also taken a keen interest in the programming being run at the centre. Their upcoming Head Start magazine will feature an article on mom-ay-mon's success.

The childcare centre is open to all preschool children on the Sunshine Coast. To find out more, call mom-ay-mon at 604-885-5044.