The desire to continue teaching and reinforce Ktunaxa culture for children and their families during the COVID-19 crisis has inspired staff at Little Badgers Early Learning Program (LBELP) to create an outreach program through the Eva Joseph Learning and Cultural Centre Society (EJLCCS).

The LBELP, located on the Akisqnuk First Nation lands, caters to children from 18 months old up to five years old, as well as offering an after-school program up to the age of 12.

“I had to lay off all the teachers until we reopen,” said Carrie Rickards, general manager of the EJLCCS, while praising a new initiative her team has orchestrated.

After being laid off from work as an early childhood educator at LBELP when daycares across the province were shuttered in mid-March, Evelyn Walker used her time off to design and distribute activities to families with the support of the EJLCCS.

“Teacher Evy started talking about putting together the kits with her free time,” Rickards said. “We have funding through Aboriginal Head Start (program) on the reserves, so that’s helped to keep the kids interested and learning.”

Walker, who is known to the children in her classroom as “Teacher Evy,” has created an instructional YouTube channel for families to watch, while assembling early years learning activities aimed at improving developmental skills.

“When COVID hit, Evy came up with the idea and she started doing kits for all of our families,” said Rickards. “The first one was a bird feeder, so the kids could assemble bird feeders with their families and paint them. Then she put a laminated sheet in there with English and Ktunaxa languages, so (families) could tally certain birds when they’re out for a walk.”

With a total of four early years activity kits successfully hand-delivered to Columbia Valley families from LBELP, popularity for the outreach program has continued to grow on a provincial scale.

The BC Aboriginal Child Care Society has begun circulating the activity kits provincially.

In addition to being a good cause with roots at a non-profit organization, delivering activity kits to families from the community is serving as a wellness check to ensure everyone is safe, happy and healthy.

“We’ve decided to start making kits for anybody who wants to buy them and keep kids learning throughout this uncertain time. It’s grown (in popularity) a lot,” Rickards said. “We would like to start doing more kits, and have them in stock because we don’t know how long (COVID-19) is here to stay. We just want to be here to support our families.”

Debra Fisher, the Columbia Valley Métis Association (CVMA) president and EJLCCS board member, has raised awareness about the activity kits to the chartered Métis communities in the East Kootenay region.

“I mentioned it at a meeting and there were three people (who) jumped on it right away,” Fisher told the Pioneer, adding the initiative will be shared with the Métis Nation of BC when the first batch of kits has been assembled.

The proceeds from any of the purchased early learning activity kits will be utilized as part of a fundraising initiative to help the Akisqnuk First Nation community improve the playground infrastructure and nature area for children attending the LBELP.

To purchase a kit for your children, please contact or phone them at 250-342-6331.