A Participant’s Perspective on LTF

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A Participant’s Perspective on LTF

Most of us realize the importance of early years for healthy child development. Two workshops I attended at MFNERC’s recent Lighting the Fire conference focused on early childhood education: Elder Don Robertson’s Awasissak Oschi (For the Children) and Who Cares About Guiding, Anyway? offered by Anne Rundle and Michele Henderson.

Elder Don Robertson (l)  – LTF Conference

I always enjoy Don Robertson’s humour. In his presentation, he followed up a mispronounced word with “my teeth almost fell out there.” Even more than his style, it’s clear he cares about kids, as demonstrated in the workshop’s title, For the Children.

Don mentioned the 30% high school graduation statistic of First Nations students. He said that clearly our system is failing, and a focus on the early years is a large part of the solution with established programs such as Headstart and Seeds of Empathy.

Don said parents are the number one influence in a child’s life, and they know their child best. He recommends asking parents about their children and holding gatherings, sometimes called Parents’ Nests, where parents can share their knowledge and ideas on education.

Education in Latin means to take “the known” out of the student, Don shared. He suggests starting with what children know already, what is innate to them. It comes down to respect for the child. Don also mentioned a focus on the soul in addition to the body and mind.

Anne Rundle- LTF Conference 

In their half-day early years workshop, presenters Anne and Michele also talked about the importance of the spirit and of the child being sacred in Indigenous philosophies. During this age of political correctness, spirituality is often neglected in mainstream education. Those in First Nations education are often willing to explore the spirit, in, as the presenters said, “whatever way that means to you.”

The workshop began by examining values and how they serve as a base for guidance and all adult decisions regarding children. Values determine what behaviour we expect from children and the methods we use to guide them. Children learn the values that we model and teach them.

Anne and Michele suggested we separate the child from any of their negative behaviours. Knowing a child’s current developmental stage will also help in understanding a child’s actions. It takes well into adulthood to master social skills, the presenters reminded attendees, and all of us make mistakes still.

The presenters described guiding as a traditional First Nations way of child rearing. It involves natural consequences within safe limits, followed by discussion. Though sometimes mistaken for letting children do whatever they want, guiding involves much care and attention and daily teachings. 

Michele and Anne said, guidance helps a child feel secure and learn desirable ways to behave and includes the following goals for children: getting along with others (relationships); enjoying work (self-actualization); taking charge of one’s behaviour (self-direction); and controlling one’s emotions (self-regulation).

The presenters suggested responding helpfully rather than punishing when children make poor choices. An ineffective approach to childcare, punishment might gain short term results but involves payback, hurt, and improper use of power. Through guidance, adults set an example versus imposing ideas, to help children become well-adjusted, self-directed, and productive.

Rather than punishments and an overabundance of rules, guidance involves choices, natural consequences, follow-through, problem-solving, options, planning together, and earning privileges. “Time Ins” is a guiding strategy where children have the option to sit with caregivers and express feelings, calm down, and come up with ideas for change.

The presenters showed a YouTube video called “Change the First Five Years and You Change Everything,” the title of which sums up the focus and importance of the topic of these two workshops on early years given at Lighting the Fire this year.

by Kirby Gilman, MFNERC Editor

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