Connecting Cultural Experiences with Early Learning

The Partnership for Anishnaabe Binoojiiyensag Tribal Home Visiting Program is dedicated to the development of healthy, happy, and successful American Indian children and their families. The project is working with home visitors and other community partners to develop an early childhood system that integrates culture-based strengths and knowledge into its programs.

The project is sponsored by the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, one of 25 tribal organizations to receive a grant from the Tribal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (Tribal Home Visiting), administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

“We heard from all of the communities we work with that there’s a strong desire for programs that serve families and children to uphold traditional teachings and values,” said Elizabeth Kushman, project director.

There were already elements of these teachings in various programs, and the project partners decided to develop a supplementary curriculum for home visitors that would pull them all together. Central to this effort was collaboration with the Inter-Tribal Council’s Head Start program. The development team used a tool called “Making It Work!” created by the National Head Start Center for Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness.

“The Making It Work! planning tool helped us stay rooted in the traditional and cultural lifeways that support children in gaining emergent literacy and early numeracy skills,” said Kushman. “We started with the medicine wheel as a cultural lifeway. Then we identified ways in which learning about the medicine wheel aligns with learning domains from the Head Start early learning framework. Based on our needs assessment data, we focused on language, literacy, and early math. So with their parent, the child is learning about and using the medicine wheel, and along the way also developing emergent literacy and numeracy skills.”

“Making it Work! gave us good guidelines to gather the information that we wanted so we could develop the curriculum to best serve the home visiting program and the parents,” said Susie Carrick from Early Head Start. “The focus was on the things that we do that parents could do daily, once they had some guidance.”

The new curriculum features 13 “lessons” supported by tip sheets for parents, games, hands-on materials, books, and community connections. It has received enthusiastic responses from both staff and parents. “Staff were really open and excited about implementation of this tool, which increases the probability that it’s going to be successful within the home,” said program evaluator Lisa Abramson. “The feedback that we’ve gotten from the families is that they are excited about the content and what they’re learning and receiving from those home visits.”

While improving school readiness is an immediate goal of the project, the potential outcomes are far-reaching. “I like to start with seeing children who are prepared for school and then having parents who will continue to encourage and support them through their entire education,” said Amanda Leonard, home visiting program coordinator.

The project also benefits the larger tribal community. “One piece I like about the curriculum is that we’re using the medicine wheel,” said Michelle Schulte, who works with the Inter-Tribal Council’s early childhood programs. “Even though we have 12 separate federally recognized tribes, which have some differences in dialect and cultural and spiritual practices, the medicine wheel is one piece that ties us all together as one nation and allows us to be able to speak across tribes and makes us comfortable in putting the culture right out there as a priority.”

“It’s almost like the answers are right within the people, within our culture, within our hearts,” Abramson added. “It’s within everything that we carry forward to now from our ancestors, and the answers to the questions about early literacy or overall health and well-being are right there. It’s just a matter of bringing it forth in a way that’s meaningful to that community.”

For more information, contact Elizabeth Kushman at or 906-440-5660.

The Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan is a nonprofit organization that functions as a coalition of 11 federally recognized tribes in Michigan. Learn more about the Council’s Partnership for Anishnaabe Binoojiiyensag Tribal Home Visiting Program. Learn more information about the Head Start “Making It Work!” framework

ACF’s Tribal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program provides grants to tribal entities to develop, implement, and evaluate home visiting programs in American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities. The grants are intended to help develop and strengthen tribal capacity to support and promote the health and well-being of AIAN families, expand the evidence base around home visiting in tribal communities, and support and strengthen cooperation and linkages between programs that serve tribal children and their families. Learn more about the Tribal Home Visiting program and grantees.

Last Reviewed: July 31, 2017