Tips & Tools for Health Promotion

Aboriginal Head Start programs strive to empower all those involved with AHS to increase control over and improve their health and well-being. In many centres, a variety of medical practitioners volunteer to visit in order to familiarize the children with health care. Some programs arrange speech therapy, counselling and physiotherapy for children with special needs.

“While my youngest son, Zachary, was a student at Head Start, his speech and language progressed rapidly.”
- Glenna Johnson: Family Involvement Worker and Former Parent, Kermode AHS

The goal of the program is for all AHS community members to take actions that contribute to holistic health; that is, healing on the spiritual level, as well as physical, emotional and mental. Some storytellers share lessons about personal safety and getting along with others. Others teach about traditional healing rituals, such as ‘smudging’ and teachings about the ‘four sacred gifts’ (sage, sweet grass, cedar, and tobacco).

“Smudging is to clean our minds and our bodies from all the negative stuff that’s going around us, and what we’re thinking. That’s what the smudge is for – cleansing for the day, to help us have a good day.”
- Willie Alphonse: AHSABC Grandfather Elder: Little Moccasins AHS

  • Help parents set up support for their children with higher needs who are preparing to enter kindergarten. The Early Childhood Development (ECD) resource people do not work with the children once they are in the school system. It is important to provide parents with information about how to obtain assessments for their children and what services are available for medical, physical, behavioural and other supports.

  • Invite health experts to visit the preschool at the beginning of the school year to set good habits in place with regard to dental care, diet and healthy living. These practices are modeled at snack time and during the daily routine.

  • Invite parents of children with higher needs to participate in physiotherapy and speech therapy sessions that their children receive in the program; this can provide opportunities for continuing the same routines at home.

    “Arranging vision screening by an optometrist has been one of our most important milestones in obtaining health care for our children. Already they have dental and hearing check-ups and speech therapy. We are the only preschool in Williams Lake who offers this free service. Last year, 11 out of 15 children had problems with either vision or hearing alone, so we know this makes a big difference for our kids.”
    - Ana Rawlek: Family Involvement Worker, Little Moccasins AHS

  • Smudging can be a powerful way for children to connect respectfully with healing plants and with traditional ways of cleansing themselves and praying. It can be can be used daily or for special occasions. Here is a sample Smudging Procedure from our Aboriginal Head Start program.

  • Pamphlets on diabetes, celiac disease, allergies, and other health concerns can be made available at the AHS centre and discussed at PAC meetings. If parents are interested in learning more, experts can be invited to attend an information session.

  • Charting Your Course Towards Health is a workshop offered by Suzanne Johnson, Registered Dietitian, and Kelly Terbasket, Executive Coach to First Nations and government organizations. They believe that what you eat makes a huge difference to your overall life experience. The primary focus of this workshop is healthy eating, nutrition, and stress management. Participants are provided with a facilitator’s kit and trained to deliver this workshop at home. To contact Kelly’s about this and other workshops, go to

  • A Place for Sacred Plants in the Preschools: Candace Hill (Brown-Bear-Woman) is a Métis traditional healer with over 20 years of knowledge in holistic nutrition and herbalism. She created a sacred circle 6 years ago with preschool-aged children for the Aboriginal Head Start program, teaching them about smudging, drumming, singing and most importantly, nutrition. For more info, go to:

  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder describes a range of effects that result from fetal exposure to alcohol during pregnancy; these can include physical, behavioral, and cognitive disabilities. Teresia Louden of Comox Valley AHS has developed an award-winning program called Friday’s Child that has grown to become a successful learning and support program for FASD children and their families. For more info and FASD resources, scroll to the bottom of our Other Resources page.

  • Understanding the Mask of Anxiety: Learning How Fear Impacts Behaviour is one of many workshops offered by BC Aboriginal Child Care Society. Go to:

    “Immersion in our culture and our language wakes up the stories from long ago and reminds us of the gifts we have and how these gifts will help us to return to our strong and healthy ways of knowing and being. This renewal bridges us from yesterday to today and into tomorrow, with our children inspiring us to continue on in this journey.”
    - Joan Gignac: Executive Director, AHSABC

  • Aboriginal health resources can be found on the First Nations Health Council website. Here is a list of First Nations Approaches to Traditional Medicine. The entire article can be downloaded from the FNHC website. This page also has many other articles and links to organizations that support traditional healing practices.

  • The First Nations Health Authority and the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health have produced Childhood Health and Wellness Resource booklets that are filled with information about Growing Up Healthy. These booklets would be a great resource for any Early Childhood program that includes Aboriginal families.