Expanding Culturally Relevant Knowledge through Early Childhood Conferences

Feb 19, 2018 | Blog, Our Programs, Restorative Teachings

American Indian College Fund Vice President for Program Initiatives, Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz and TCU ECE Program Coordinator, Cassandra Harden.

American Indian College Fund Vice President for Program Initiatives, Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz and TCU ECE Program Coordinator, Cassandra Harden attending the 2017 NAEYC Annual Conference.

Conferences can be a great place for early childhood educators, families, teachers in training, and researchers working with indigenous young children. They are a place to gather ideas and build professional development for use in the classroom. As the American Indian College Fund TCU ECE Program Coordinator and a student studying to earn my bachelor’s degree in early childhood, I recommend the Native American Conference on Special Education (NACSE) hosted by Education for Parents of Indian Children with Special Needs (EPICS) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Annual Conference. Both early childhood conferences offer rich resources about working with young children in early childhood from integrating Native language in classrooms to enhancing parent engagement through interactive sessions.


The Native American Conference on Special Education is focused on engaging Native families and professionals to become advocates for their children with or without a disability. The families are located in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Conference sessions infused interactive discussions and topics such as Native language integration, advocacy, early intervention, parent engagement, and integration of STEM and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) within classrooms and in the lives of children and families.

The conference agenda include workshops to improve early childhood teacher quality within Native communities. I attended a session titled about using STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) to expand children with special needs at home. I learned how simple everyday materials such as cardboard, straws, paper, toothpicks, sticks, Styrofoam, and other items recyclable materials around the home can be used to create activities to strengthen cognitive and fine motor skills of young children with different developmental abilities.

During the session we partnered with a goal to only use toothpicks, Styrofoam, and glue to create buildings that were taller than three feet without forming squares. My partner and I created triangles, while others used other shapes such as an octagon or diamond. At the end of the activity we went around the room to present our buildings. Participants described the shapes, textures, weight and our method for designing our buildings. My partner, an early childhood teacher, described how this activity can also be modified by building a Navajo Hogan or pueblo dwelling and incorporating storytelling.

At the NAEYC Annual Conference, the College Fund’s Restorative Teachings ECE Initiative hosted the 2017 Tribal and Indigenous Early Childhood Network (TIECN) Forum in Atlanta, Georgia. The TIECN Forum had 45 attendees which included 10 tribal college and university (TCU) grantee team members from seven states, and five early childhood education scholars.

The TIECN Forum drew a diverse group of students, parents, teachers, and professionals from across the nation to focus on issues facing early childhood professionals who work with indigenous children and families. The Forum inspired three of the Restorative Teachings grantee teams to lead next year’s Forum; they plan to focus on Native early childhood development and language at the 2018 NAEYC Annual Conference. Restorative Teachings grantee team member from Sitting Bull College shared, “Attending the conference was eye-opening for us with regards to how little representation there was in the areas of Native ECE and immersion teaching/methodology. Moreover, our centers are now inspired to submit a proposal for presentation in these areas, as we feel that we have knowledge to share on what it means to have developmentally and culturally appropriate education for Native children and families.”

The TIECN Forum was a huge success for the College Fund, participants, and presenters. Participants received resources, including early childhood articles from the College Fund’s Tribal College and University Research Journal (TCURJ) and a copy of the Wakanyeja“Sacred Little Ones” documentary.

TIECN Forum Collective Journeys small group discussions

TIECN Forum Collective Journeys small group discussions with SIPI Restorative Teachings grantee team.

I learned at both conferences that there is a continued need for engagement of Native early childhood educators. As a Native student I could only learn so much from a textbook—it’s different when you are implementing programs and working directly with children in a classroom while learning side-by-side with other early childhood professionals. Attending an early childhood conference increases opportunities to network with other educators of diverse backgrounds, increases professional development and offers innovations in early childhood curriculum and learning resources.

In the coming year, the American Indian College Fund seeks to continue supporting tribal colleges and university faculty and early learning partners to contribute to the national discourse on training more teachers, engagement in increasing STEM knowledge, and supporting expanded ways to disseminate new knowledge developed from within tribal communities.

Grantees Team Photo on stairs

American Indian College Fund Restorative Teachings Initiatives grantee teams attending the 2017 NAEYC Annual Conference.

Click on the links to learn more about these early childhood resources:

Follow the American Indian College Fund’s TCU ECE Initiatives Twitter account @Wakanyeja_ECE for the latest updates! https://twitter.com/Wakanyeja_ECE

American Indian College Fund, Restorative Teachings Early Childhood Education Initiative

Education for Parents of Indian Children with Special Needs (EPICS) http://www.epicsnm.org/

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) https://www.naeyc.org/

By Cassandra Harden, American Indian College Fund’s TCU ECE Program Coordinator

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