ENDERBY - A troop of handmade, multicultural dolls called the Backpack Kids have been deployed to local childcare centres where they are bringing a message of diversity and acceptance to young children.
The life-sized puppets, each representing a Canadian kid with a different cultural background, are part of a newly launched teaching curriculum designed to ease racialized tensions at early childhood education centres.
Created by Rosalind Williams of the Splatsin Teaching Centre Society and puppet designer Cathy Stubbington of Runaway Moon Theatre, the project has been three years in the making.
“Where the seed for this project came from was that we don’t know enough about each other and that we have different communities participating in our childcare programs,” Williams says. “So we thought if we could create a way to try and share some information about the different cultures of the families that are enrolled at our centres, that would be a helpful thing.”
Sets of seven dolls will be moving into three childcare centres, the Splatsin Tsm7aksaltn Teaching Centre on the Enderby Indian Reserve, the Sn’c’c’amala?tn Early Childhood Education Centre on the Okanagan Indian Reserve and the First Nations Friendship Centre in Vernon.
With First Nations, Japanese, Filipino, and East Indian heritages represented, the dolls share their cultures through what they carry in their backpacks. Lunch boxes, musical instruments and other special items provide baselines for numerous teaching activities.
“There’s endless possibilities just with what you can do with the food section of this project,” Williams says.
Not wanting to make assumptions about other cultures, the project coordinators arranged for each doll to have its own consultant. Each Backpack Kid has a personal story, and many come from blended families, Williams says.
“When we talked about this project… we heard a story from one of our caregivers who’s married to a First Nations person, so their child has lighter skin, a lighter complexion, but the father looks very different, the father looks like the ancestors,” Williams says. “The child is a combination of both of those parents, so when that child identifies that he’s a First Nations person, he’s questioned (whether he's) really a First Nations person.”
Through the dolls, coordinators wanted to show children that in today’s world, we don’t all look exactly like our ancestors did.
“But if our upbringing and our environment included those practices from our parents and our grandparents, that’s who we are as people,” Williams says.
Williams hopes the curriculum will help plant seeds of curiosity rather than animosity in children while they are still at an impressionable young age.
The Backpack Kids project began at the North Okanagan table of Aboriginal Early Childhood Educators and was funded by the United Way, Credit Unions of B.C. and Province of B.C. through the NOCS Aboriginal Success by 6 Committee.
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