Rankin Inlet came face to face with the ongoing shortage of early childhood education programs when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the community’s students to stay home.
That’s why kids and their parents can breathe a sigh of relief knowing things are getting back to normal at Pinnguaqta, a parents and tots program at the library.
“Not everybody has equal access to daycare and early childhood education is really important,” said Pinnguaqta spokesperson Tuqtu Kusugak. “We know there are people who have at-home daycares, or who might just be taking care of other people’s children, or maybe their nieces and nephews and we wanted to be able to provide them a space.”
There is limited access to daycare in Rankin Inlet, said Kusugak, and students who don’t receive adequate early childhood programs risk falling behind those who do.
“I was a kindergarten teacher,” she said. “And there’s a noticeable difference between kids who have had an early childhood education and those who haven’t. I feel that this program will actually bridge that gap.”
Kusugak, a regional program coordinator with Ilitaqsiniq: Nunavut Literacy Council, said the Pinnguaqta program allows kids and parents to socialize, play, and learn traditional skills while enjoying a healthy snack or meal six days a week.
“We have all these amazing toys,” she said. “We wanted to be able to provide everything like a daycare but also programming. It’s not just a place for kids to come and play. We wanted to enhance it and provide a place where kids can learn with their parents while being guided by facilitators.”
Pinnguaqta, which means “let’s play,” in Inuktitut, programming includes sewing thanks to coordinator Jovette Kurok and Elder Catherine Pilakapsi, who are both talented seamstresses and encourage fluency in Inuktitut and knowledge of Inuit culture through their work.
For their sewing activities, they meet with parents and decide what warm and practical garment the child needs, whatever they may be, and then help them with through the process if they need guidance.
Kurok said many parents and kids who relied on the program were affected by the pandemic, as it closed for several months, but things have been slowly getting back to normal since the New Year.
“We had to go by so many rules and having to wear our masks made it uncomfortable,” she said. “It was scary because we didn’t want to see anyone get sick.”
The program has also helped parents innovate to provide their youngsters with more interaction, education and opportunities to learn through play, especially those who might have no family, added Kusugak.
“They’re provided the tools,” she said. “They learn about the milestones each childhood goes through. They’re taught to nurture their child’s creativity.”