Capilano University’s Early Childhood Care and Education program teaches much more than how to care for and teach the very young. It challenges students to think about where knowledge comes from and how knowledge from different cultures can fundamentally alter early childhood education.
The ECCE program’s Curriculum Development course (EDUC 173), for instance, focuses on “place-based” curriculum, and this term featured the teachings of “knowledge keeper” Anjeanette Spelexilh Dawson, of the Squamish Nation Education department.
The North Shore is situated on the traditional territorial lands of the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Anjeanette’s department makes frequent forays into the community to help non-First Nations educators and students learn about her Nation’s long, deep roots.
An emphasis on the history, culture and traditions of First Nations is key to understanding Canada’s “settler colonialist” tradition in a local context, says instructor Vanessa Clark, who invited Anjeanette to help educate both her class and herself.
“We’ve been thinking about the question of where our knowledge comes from, where our practices come from, and how we might engage with this place and the knowledge of this place,” says Vanessa. “This course isn’t supposed to be a how-to, it’s supposed to be the opening of a journey. Some students are probably already on it, or have been on it their whole lives. It depends where everyone’s at.”
In Anjeanette’s first lesson, she spoke to the class about the Squamish Nation’s history, its place names, and “how our people lived and how we raised our children in the long ago, before first contact,” she says. She also gave Cap students a brief description of the “Sosahlatch program,” which her department offers schools, for their future reference – it incorporates language, culture, oral history, legends, songs and dances.
For her second lesson, she brought some of her wool weavings to the class and explained how her ancestors once gathered and spun their own wool, using hair from mountain goats blended with other fibres. The wool was then dyed with natural resources.
“Sometimes they put in some stinging nettle and a little bit of cedar and things like that, to make them waterproof. I gave the students a history and actually had some pieces to show them, and we ended off the day with a wool-weaving bag workshop. We like everything to be relevant to our own territory.”
Central to this course is the belief that when it comes to teaching, and to learning, there’s much more than one valid approach. According to Anjeanette, whose mother and grandmother were both teachers, Squamish Nation children respond better to oral, visual and tactile teaching methods.
“My understanding is that the knowledge lies in the doing,” says Vanessa. “As Angie explained it to me, (the lesson comes from) where the wool was gathered and where the cedar was gathered to do the weaving, and the process of it—there’s math involved in it, and the weaving itself teaches you patience, and if you make a mistake you have to take out a whole bunch of what you’ve just done. There’s huge knowledge and depth to it.”
Vanessa continues: “If we take seriously that we practice early childhood education within a context of settler colonialism, which is an ongoing project, ‘place-based curriculum’ is a way we might begin to respond to that project.”
The Early Childhood Care and Education program has three core threads—Curriculum, Childhoods, and Leadership & Advocacy—that represent the focus of the education courses. These threads are woven throughout the degree inviting students to engage in critical-reflective practice, working to create classrooms of social justice and equity for children and families.
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