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Aboriginal Pedagogy

What is Aboriginal Pedagogy?

Although it is difficult to define Aboriginal pedagogy, as each Nation has their own specific teachings, there are some commonalities that can be used. Hare (2012) described Aboriginal pedagogy as “learning processes that are social, inter-generational, holistic, oral- and narrative-based, and experiential” (p. 392). With this definition in mind, I will explore four aspects of Aboriginal pedagogy: relationships within family and community, experiential learning, language and oral storytelling, and relationship with the land.  

First Peoples Principles of Learning - Laura Tait

First Peoples Principles of Learning: An Introduction

First Peoples Principles of Learning Printable
Double click the image for a PDF version

I recognize that there are many ways that Aboriginal pedagogy can be incorporated into early childhood curriculum and classrooms, however, for the scope of this project I will focus specifically on these four aspects of Aboriginal pedagogy and hope to expand as people begin to share their experiences, thoughts, ideas, and lesson plans to the site. 

Relationships within family and community

In Aboriginal pedagogy, children are viewed as sacred and are the heart of the family, community, and Nation (First Nations Early Childhood Development Council [FNECDC], 2009). Children and the education of children are viewed holistically where the whole child (spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional) is acknowledged and each child is viewed as having capacities and gifts to contribute to the community (FNECDC, 2009). Aboriginal pedagogy includes learning through interactions and relationships with others. Aboriginal knowledge stresses “interaction, reciprocity, respect, and non-interference” (Battiste, 1998, p. 24). According to FNECDC (2009), Aboriginal pedagogy focuses on relationships (with people, nature and the land, and spiritual worlds) and each member has certain roles and responsibilities within the community.

Ball and Simpkins (2004) interviewed early childhood graduates, administrators, parents, and community Elders in order to gain a deeper understanding of how Aboriginal knowledge can be integrated into early childhood practice. Indigenous knowledge was defined as knowledge within a local cultural community that is not only tied to place, but also to relationships and ways of being that change over time. Through these interviews the authors found that parents and families play an important role in establishing a child’s cultural identity by learning their genealogy and “knowing who you are” (Ball & Simpkins, 2004, p. 494).  Community Elders also played an important role in passing on cultural knowledge while maintaining relationships within the early childhood community.  Ball and Simpkins (2004) concluded that the development of relationships between community members (early childhood educators, families, and community Elders) in creating and participating in childcare programs resulted in reconnecting people in line with Aboriginal ways of knowing and being.  

In their study about Aboriginal children transitioning from home to early childhood centers Hare and Anderson (2010) also noted the importance of relationships in Aboriginal pedagogy and how children live and learn from community Elders, grandparents, and extended family.  They interviewed Indigenous parents to explore their thoughts and feelings about the transition of their children from home to early childhood centers.  The authors noted that many parents felt tension, due to the history of residential schools and the sixties scoop and how this has an intergenerational impact on the parents and their children entering early childhood centers today.  This tension points to the need for early childhood educators to understand the history of residential schools and the sixties scoop in Canada in order to support Aboriginal families entering early childhood centers.  Hare and Anderson (2010) concluded that in order to support traditional values of relationships, early childhood educators should make an effort to build a relationship with the families and meet in family homes or in their communities, to help parents to become comfortable with sending their children to school.


Aboriginal pedagogy includes Aboriginal language and cultural knowledge passed down from Elders through stories, which is an essential aspect of Aboriginal education (Battiste, 2002; FNECDC, 2009).  Aboriginal language is a critical link to Aboriginal knowledge through oral tradition (Battiste, 1998). Stories convey and teach knowledge about cultural teachings that have been passed on from generation to generation, where “teachings flow from stories” (Greenwood & Leeuw, 2007, p. 48). 

Learning from our Elders - Storytelling

Ask An Elder: Winter Solstice in the Cree tradition


Hare (2012) gave examples of how oral story telling is the traditional way of sharing and transmitting knowledge where children in her study attended ceremonies and community events, which exposed them to speeches, stories, prayers, songs, and cultural dances.   These oral forms of Indigenous language exposed the children to a broad range of language and literacy. Theories of multi-modality propose that reading and writing are only a few ways of making meaning, and that there is a whole range, such as music, movement, images, speech and digital forms, that inform meaning (Hare, 2012).

Rabbit and Bear Paws - CBC Saskatoon

Moore & MacDonald (2013) documented how the Halq'eméylem language was being preserved and spread by Elders, family members, and teachers in a Stó:lō First Nations community in British Columbia. They discussed how teachers at the Aboriginal Head Start Family Program communicated with Elders for direction, recommendations, and confirmation of their teaching and storytelling (Archibald, 2008 as cited in Moore & MacDonald, 2013). Halq'eméylem language was promoted through main traditional activities and practices that took place throughout the year, which are a major part of the community’s spiritual and social life (Carlson, 2001, as cited in Moore & MacDonald, 2013).

Learning from our Elders - Language Acquisition
Learning from our Elders - Teaching Methodologies

Experiential Learning

Aboriginal pedagogy values experiential learning.  This includes hands-on instruction in traditional skills based on a child’s evolving capacities and gifts, with limited questioning, instruction or intervention (Battiste, 2002).  Children observe, listen, and participate with minimal instruction in order to learn new skills and knowledge (Battiste, 2002). 

Early Science & Nature: Learning through observation and experience

Preston, Cottrell, Pelletier, and Pearce (2011) explored the need for, and the importance of, Aboriginal early childhood education and the impact it has on a child’s academic and social development. The author’s discussed Aboriginal pedagogy in terms of increased wait time for teachers to give students to answer, control over class pacing, and independence in their learning. In terms of experiential learning, the authors found that from an Aboriginal perspective, learning is lived experiences through storytelling, cooperative learning, demonstrations, role-modeling, personal reflections, talking circles, and hands-on experiences (Preston et al., 2011, p. 8). They also suggested that a quality-learning environment for Aboriginal children includes “feasts, cultural camps and Aboriginal ceremonies in which students actively partici­pate” (Regnier, 1995 as cited in Preston et al., 2011, p. 8). An experiential learning environment is one where children can watch and emulate adults who are involved in meaningful activities.

Lethbridge School District's Mini Pow Wows

Relationship with the land

There are different ways of knowing and being and Aboriginal peoples have their own values and way of living that is connect to the land (Hare, 2012). This Aboriginal way of knowing is connected to the way Aboriginal children view and make sense of the world. A fundamental principle of Aboriginal knowledge is the social relationship with others, including the land (Hare, 2012). Land and community are valued resources of knowledge, where meaning is made through the interaction with these resources.

Place-based Education: Star 3 to 3rd Model

Place-based Education: Dr. Suzanne Stewart



Ball, J., & Simpkins, M. A. (2004). The Community within the Child: Integration of Indigenous Knowledge into First Nations Childcare Process and     Practice. The American Indian Quarterly, 28(3), 480–498.

Battiste, M. (1998). Enabling the autumn seed: Toward a decolonized approach to aboriginal knowledge, language, and education. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 1(22), 16.


Battiste, M. (2002). Indigenous Knowledge and Pedagogy in First Nations Education: A Literature Review with Recommendations. Retrieved from

First Nations Early Childhood Development Council (FNECDC). (2009). BC First Nations Early Childhood Development Framework. Retrieved from Consultation Document Dec 17 09.pdf

Greenwood, M., & Leeuw, S. de. (2007). Teachings from the land: Indigenous people, our health, our land, and our children. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 30(1), 48.

Hare, J. (2012). ‘They tell a story and there’s meaning behind that story’: Indigenous knowledge and young indigenous children’s literacy learning. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 4(12), 389–414.

Hare, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Transitions to Early Childhood Education and Care for Indigenous Children and Families in Canada: Historical and Social Realities. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 35(2), 19–27.

Moore, D., & MacDonald, M. (2013). Language and Literacy Development in a Canadian Native Community: Halq’eméylem Revitalization in a Stó:lō Head Start Program in British Columbia. The Modern Language Journal, 97(3), 702–719.

Preston, J. P., Cottrell, M., Pelletier, T. R., & Pearce, J. V. (2011). Aboriginal early childhood education in Canada: Issues of context. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 10(1), 3–18.

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