In the Early Years sector in Ontario, educators have a wonderful framework that guides their work, called How Does Learning Happen (HDLH). Many years of research have gone into this, and the result is a deeply reflective framework that sets up opportunities for engaging with children, families, communities and the environment. HDLH is built around four foundations that “inform the goals for children and expectations for programs” (HDLH, p. 8) so it’s worthwhile considering how we can build ideas of reconciliation and treaty relationships into this existing framework.
The four foundations are as follows (coming directly from HDLH, 2014, p. 7):
- Belonging refers to a sense of connectedness to others, an individual’s experiences of being valued, of forming relationships with others and making contributions as part of a group, a community, the natural world.
- Well-being addresses the importance of physical and mental health and wellness. It incorporates capacities such as self-care, sense of self, and self-regulation skills.
- Engagement suggests a state of being involved and focused. When children are able to explore the world around them with their natural curiosity and exuberance, they are fully engaged. Through this type of play and inquiry, they develop skills such as problem solving, creative thinking, and innovating, which are essential for learning and success in school and beyond.
- Expression or communication (to be heard, as well as to listen) may take many different forms. Through their bodies, words, and use of materials, children develop capacities for increasingly complex communication. Opportunities to explore materials support creativity, problem solving, and mathematical behaviours. Language-rich environments support growing communication skills, which are foundational for literacy.
It is refreshing to see that HDLH is encouraging educators to move beyond the traditional understanding of child development to include elements “such as the creative, aesthetic, and spiritual dimensions of experience” (HDLH, 2014, p. 17), as this aligns well with incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing meaningfully into the classroom and living in treaty relationships. This is a strength of this framework, as it prompts “a rethinking of theories and practices – a change in what we pay attention to; in the conversations that we have with children, families, and colleagues; and in how we plan and prepare” (p. 17). It also places value on the unique and diverse characteristics of the children’s families and the communities in which they live (p. 18), including an explicit call for programs to “be reflective of the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the children and families they serve, including those from First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and francophone communities” (p. 18). One tangible idea includes welcoming families to share their perspectives and participate in meaningful ways on their terms on an ongoing basis in order to supports a sense of belonging (FRP Canada, as cited in HDLH, 2014, p. 18). Valuing the languages and cultures of the children and their families “strengthens their sense of identity and contributes to the well-being of current and future generations” (Chiefs of Ontario, as cited in HDLH, 2014, p. 41). Viewing children holistically as part of a wider community and cultural group, helps to bring attention to the uniqueness of each child, and provides ways of deepening relationships with children and their families.
Some good questions are posed to help educators think about the multiple ways of fostering a sense of belonging for all children and their families, including:
- What are the unique characteristics and strengths of each family in our program?
- How can we weave these into different areas of the program?
- What can we do to strengthen “cultural competence” within our program?
- How can we help families to experience a sense of belonging in our program?
- How can we engage with families as co-learners about and with their children? (HDLH, 2014, p. 18).
Through questions like this posed throughout the framework, an emphasis on critical reflection emerges, stressing the value of re-thinking some of the taken-for-granted practices in favour of new approaches and new ways of thinking (HDLH, 2014, p. 20) in an attempt to shift practice in ways that create heightened spaces of learning for children where investigation, imagination, creative problem-solving and meaning-making (p. 20) is the central focus of the classroom environment. I see critical reflection as a key component to transforming the existing colonial education system, as only through questioning our certainties, and valuing Indigenous knowledge alongside Western knowledge will we be able to develop new ways of living as treaty partners, and new ways to provide a sense of belonging to all children, including Indigenous children.