Aboriginal Head Start Program

Northwest Territories

Fort Smith

NihKanis Aboriginal Head Start Program
Salt River First Nation #195
113 Conibear Crescent
P.O. Box 960
Fort Smith, NT X0E 0P0
Tel: (867) 872-5051
Fax: (867) 872-3012
Email: headstart.srfn@northwestel.net

Program Description
The NihKanis Centre Aboriginal Head Start Program (AHS), administered by the Salt River First Nation #195, was introduced to Fort Smith in 1998 to serve 3 and 4 year old Aboriginal children. Over 400 children have since passed through the program.
From Monday to Thursday, we offer a half-day preschool program with one morning and one afternoon group. 

We are following our own Aboriginal Head Start curriculum ‘Making a Difference in the Northwest Territories. A Child-Centred Curriculum’ which was first released in 2012. The program focus is on Culture, Aboriginal Language & Arts, Social and Emotional Development, Literacy Development, Health Promotion, and Cognitive Development. We put a strong emphasis on PLAY as children learn best in active involvement. We provide an environment where children can explore and engage in active learning (see ‘Learning Centres’ below). Besides playfully learning about the world and themselves, the children follow a routine, work in small and in large group settings, and with different teachers.

Learning Centres
As mentioned before, our centre puts a strong emphasis on PLAY. This play is organised in learning centres:
Dramatic Play Centre: In this learning centre, children engage in play with others. They learn how to negotiate roles and to cooperate with others in order to successfully play out their ideas. Children deepen their understanding of the world and process life situations. Overall, this area helps children to grow emotionally and socially.
Block Centre: Children grow in many developmental areas through block play: they learn how to negotiate and discuss ideas with others, they develop small muscles through carrying and placing blocks, they experience and recreate the world around them, they explore concepts like size, shape, numbers, orders, length, area, patterns, and they are very willing to share their thoughts and discuss their ideas.
Reading/ Book Centre: Children get to explore the world of books and other print materials. They get inspired to draw, write, or tell stories, listen, relax, and dream. By changing out the books on a weekly basis, the children get to re-discover this learning centre over and over. Children develop the motivation and skills for reading and writing.
Puzzle Centre: Through puzzles, children explore shapes and sizes and develop problem solving skills. They also practice their fine motor skills and their hand-eye coordination. 
Sand Table/ Water Table: Sand and water play provide sensory experience and can promote all areas of development. Children are encouraged to work together to build or explore materials, they strengthen their muscles and develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, they explore materials, make observations (measurements, comparisons, etc.), and explore cause and effect. They also expand their vocabulary by learning words (i.e. sprinkle, compare, shallow), and they ask and answer questions.
Art/ Writing Centre: Children can create and represent their ideas and their feelings, they refine their fine motor control which they need for writing, and they use thinking skills to plan, organise, and select materials to represent their impressions. They experiment with different materials and learn about cause and effect.
Science Centre: This is a place to introduce new and interesting materials. Children can touch, feel, taste, smell, and see. They can try things out and observe what happens next. They pose questions and think out loud, they use their thinking skills. 

Language & Culture
We teach the Cree language throughout the day. The children hear the language in stories and during their learning centres. They are encouraged to learn words, phrases, and commands as well as prayers and songs. Cultural activities include cleaning fish, beading and sewing, making crafts, making bannock and cooking other traditional food. In the spring and fall time, we do outdoor activities like picnics and nature walks. 

Social Support
In order to meet all the children’s needs, we work closely with a variety of Fort Smith agencies. We have a Speech Therapist and an Occupational Therapist come and work with the children once a week. The Dental Hygienist visits at the beginning of the school year to check on the children’s teeth, and usually follows-up on them in February. Furthermore, we stay in touch with Social Services, J.B.T. elementary school, and the South Slave Divisional Education Council.

Janine Rommel (Aboriginal Head Start Teacher)
Mary-Ann Beaulieu (Classroom Assistant)
Tai MacPherson (Special Needs Assistant)
Mary Schaefer (Cree Culture and Language Instructor)

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