Michigan State University is building upon traditional Native American cultures to create an innovative model in early childhood education. Thirty-four percent of American Indian/Alaska Native families with children under age six live in poverty; these children are at risk for arriving at kindergarten without the skills they need to be successful in school. Incorporating children’s native language and home culture into early childhood education programs can positively contribute to better learning for American Indian children.
The Wiba Anung (Ojibwe for Early Star) project is a partnership between researchers at Michigan State University, educators from Bay Mills Community College, and program directors, teachers, and parents of Michigan’s American Indian Head Start programs. Since 2006, Wiba Anung has worked to address a variety of developmental and health concerns for American Indian Head Start children in Michigan. Recently the project has developed strategies for creating environments that foster the children’s cultural heritage. The results include an increase in staff teaching skills, children’s academic skills, and the integration of American Indian culture throughout the state of Michigan. With continued success and support for the program, the future looks bright for these Early Stars.
At the festival, visitors discovered how cultural and native language activities build academic knowledge and cultural awareness. They participated in fun, hands-on experiences, such as beadwork, drumming, and storytelling, and got some tips on how to conduct these kinds of activities at home or in the classroom.