On a playground in northern Alberta, children in the Kikino Aboriginal Head Start (AHS) program are playing in the sand, filling colorful plastic buckets and letting the tiny grains run through their fingers.
From the kids’ perspective, time in the playground is simply fun and games. But to the program’s early childhood educators, the outdoor activities are part of a holistic curriculum that encourages social, physical, intellectual, creative and spiritual development.
AHS is a learning-through-play preschool says Darlene Thompson, CEO of the Awasisak & Family Development Circle Association, the organization that delivers the federally funded AHS program for children aged three and four living in Kikino Métis Settlement, Lac La Biche, and Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement.
“Through the work of our Head Start staff, as well as the support of parents and families, we are preparing kids to enter kindergarten—and, ultimately future life-long learning successes,” says Thompson. “This program is a very important step in a child’s first stage of development in school.”
The Family Development Circle’s AHS programs are free of charge and include educational programming, nutritional snacks and lunch, and free transportation.
Thompson, a former kindergarten teacher, says the AHS programs include arts and crafts, painting, story time and lending library, children’s computers and creative role play. After a healthy lunch, the children enjoy fresh air on the playground, an outdoor learning environment complete with slide, pirate area, climbing bars, and equipment for children with special needs.
What is missing on the playground of Kikino AHS is a fence enclosing the area, a licensing requirement. Without the fence, use of the playground during Head Start children’s programming requires a signed field-trip permission form on file—even though the playground is adjacent to the building.
Thanks to a $20,000 community investment grant from Enbridge, Kikino AHS will be able to install the fencing it needs this spring, and improve the surrounding landscaping at the same time.
“The outdoor space is a critical piece of (Kikino AHS’s) strong vision for healthy child development,” says Gina Jordan, senior manager of community investment with Enbridge. “The playground is an extension of the traditional classroom.”
Enbridge recently funded playground improvements at nearby Elizabeth Métis Settlement, and has plans for similar projects in other communities.
As part of our commitment to strengthening the communities near our projects and operations, we also helped support playground refurbishments in Plamondon, AB, Winkler, MB, Benson, SK, Loreburn, SK, Sherwood Park, AB, and Fraser Lake, BC in 2015, contributing more than $93,000 in total.
Supporting education is a vital component of Enbridge’s partnerships with Aboriginal and Native American communities in Canada and the United States, Jordan adds.
Outside of program hours, the playground serves as a hub—a “community gathering place that celebrates the sheer joy of children at play,” says Thompson, noting that children, their families, and the community at large will benefit from Enbridge’s funding of the fence. The community will come together to help with the landscaping—and Enbridge employees will be lending a hand, too.
Down the line, Thompson envisions a gazebo, a swing set with inclusionary seat, and a tube slide on the playground site.
“I’ve heard it said that are two things we must give our children. One is roots, and the other is wings,” she says. “We want to thank Enbridge for helping to make this happen.”