By: Dr. Diane Kashin, RECE
I am currently the volunteer chair of the York Region Nature Collaborative (YRNC). I am a retired early childhood education professor, committed to the mission of the YRNC to increase access for ALL PEOPLE OF ALL AGES to nature in York Region and beyond! During my long career in early childhood education, I have been passionate about professional learning. To that end, I have been working with YRNC so that we can offer meaningful experiences for the early learning community. I am so energized by the direction the YRNC has been taking in the past few years and grateful to Gokoomis (Grandmother) Jacque Lavalley, Oshkaabewis (Helper) Hopi Martin, and Fire Keeper Johnny Moore. It is through the relationships that we have established with the Indigenous community that we have been able to move forward in a good way offering experiences for children, families and educators.
Our next conference is Land as Teacher: Renewing Relationships. This is the second time we are offering this conference and we hope to make it an annual event. This family friendly conference represents a unique professional learning experience. Not only will it help ECEs understand the importance of Land-based pedagogy and play, it will represent a response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “we call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to develop culturally appropriate early childhood education programs for Aboriginal families”. This is an opportunity to experience Traditional Ojibwe Sunrise Ceremony, Sacred Fire, Jingle Dress Dancing, Drumming, an Anishinaabe Wigwam, a Water Walk, Spring planting, and other workshops led by Indigenous facilitators. It is our hope that this potentially transformative experience will inspire all in attendance to continue this good and important work in their own contexts. We are working on establishing a digital professional learning community through the platform Storypark so that we can stay connected as we learn on the Land with children, families and other educators.
Following an Indigenous methodology that revolves around the seasons, we are offering workshops and events throughout the year. One recent participant at our winter event at the majestic Kortright Centre on February 15th, noted that it was “the most inspirational workshop I ever attended”. Another posted on Twitter, “this beautiful place which looks out over the storied valley on the Humber River - it’s a perfect place to revisit the principles that help us cycle deeper through learning, in kind relationship #landasourfirstteacher. Thank you to all in @YRNature for this day”. We are a grassroots organization with each workshop and event, funding the next offering. We hope that you will be interested in experiencing a professional learning conference that is unique and important to your own learning and to all of us moving forward in a good way. If you can join us, you can click here to register. If you are unable to join us, we hope that you will be able to make a donation to our Land as Our First Teacher educational fund. We use the funds raised to help urban Indigenous children, youth, and families reconnect to the Land. It also helps with honorariums for Elders, Knowledge Keepers and to purchase traditional medicines to be used in Ceremony during our events. Following the spring conference, we will once again be offering the Rhythm of Learning in Nature which is a nature retreat for Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators walking together on the Land to the benefit of our youngest learners. At beautiful Lake St. George we will be able to learn and play together in the Bush Early Years Centre there. I recently visited this inspiring place and it is amazing to see how it has changed from season to season.
In the fall, we offer a free event for families, The Family Adventure Walk in the Forest. Our winter offering for 2021 is yet to be conceived but we know that as we move forward in a good way, the focus will present itself. For me, this is about an opportunity to create a legacy that will live on. We invite you to be a part of the YRNC legacy!