A conference featuring licensed early childhood care staff, Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten teachers came from all corners of the NWT this week to take part in three day workshops at the Explorer Hotel.
The Learning Together: Right from the Start Early Childhood Symposium, the second of its kind, happened from Aug. 21 to 23 in the lead-up to the new school year and involved close to 170 participants.
The three day symposium included guest speakers Don Giesbrecht, a CEO from the Canadian Child Care Federation, a national advocacy group that focuses on childhood education and Jane Bertrand, from Ontario discussing play-based learning.
There were also a series of workshops with topics ranging from Indigenous language through music to cooking, oral health, language development and building relationships with parents and families.
“The symposium is designed to recognize that we have a diverse audience (in early childhood education) with some to help specifically day homes and some (workshops) relevant to anyone,” explained Shelley Kapraelian, director of early childhood and school services.
The event is key as another school year begins and the 18th NWT Legislative Assembly ends. MLAs are considering their impact on improving child care access across the North.
Minister of Education, Culture and Employment Caroline Cochrane, said in a minister’s statement on Tuesday that there are 11 communities without licensed early childcare programs. The GNWT is working to see that childcare is offered more evenly among all NWT communities.
“We are currently working with the communities of Colville Lake, Detah (sik), Enterprise, Jean Marie River, Kakisa, Lutselk’e (sik), Nahanni Butte, Norman Wells, Sambaa K’e, Wrigley, and Tsiigehtchic to determine their needs and what the community can support,” she stated, adding that representatives from all communities attended the event.
“Although we continue to face challenges in (early childcare), I know that the work done during this assembly will have a lasting positive impact. We have increased rates for all licensed spaces, from infant to preschool, increased the number of early childhood scholarships up to 30 this year from 10 and remodelled our funding programs for licensed early childhood programs.
Among the returning professionals within the early childhood education field that say they gained great benefit from the workshops were Melinda Brown, manager, and childcare worker Stephanie Squirrel, from Fort Simpson’s Kids Corner Daycare. The two are among nine staff members of one of the main childcare options in the community.
The daycare has the potential to take 33 registered children – from 10 months to five years – although there are 24 registered in the community currently. Brown and Squirrel both admitted that the community is fortunate to have a fully licensed daycare when some communities don’t.
“I think the symposium has given a lot of great ideas and ways I can make my program better,,” said Brown, who has worked at the facility for 14 years. “It has helped with ways to provide healthy food, active living. We’ve also learned how to recognize different identities in children and ways to encourage more culture and language in the program.”
Squirrel, who has been with the daycare since 2012, said she is aware that other communities might not have the same types of services as Fort Simpson.
“I would not say we are lucky, but I would say we are fortunate enough,” she said. “Because of the cost of childcare, it is not easy and not everyone can afford it because of the prices.”
Squirrel and Brown said they have found aspects of the symposium useful where they are able to interact with other educators in their field and exchange teaching ideas that they might find useful in their own communities.
This was a key part of the three days, noted Kapraelian.
“We had the whole group together (Thursday) as well as workshops but we have also created opportunities for regional discussion so that educators can connect with one another and share their expertise with one another,” she said.