Sharon Nazaroff

Sharon Nazaroff, mother of 3 has 34 years of experience working with her and many children in her Krestova community.  She is a licensed Early Childhood Educator currently working at the Children’s Orchard Russian Exposure Preschool in Brilliant and at the Robson StrongStart.  Sharon has had the privilege of being part of the Salmon Speaks Project and the Leadership Institute.  She continues to participate in the Investigation Quality In Early Childhood Education and Care Research Project from the University of Victoria .

Romina Perman

The Salmon Speaks Project has been an all round adventure for both the Early Childhood Educators and the children involved. The salmon's journey emulated the children's growth and interest in the story, starting from the birth of a small seed of information implanted in their imaginations. They flowed through a river of creativity and wonder, which ended in an ocean of knowledge.
And we were privileged to flow along with them.

This is a classic example of what I believe Early Childhood Education is all about. In my 18 years as an Early Childhood Educator at Sunshine Children's Centre in Trail, BC, these are a few of many things which I feel make it all worth while: a hug, a giggle, and the 'ahah' moment when a thought or an idea makes sense in the mind of a child.

I am no longer an active participant in the Salmon Speaks project as my own journey has taken me on the tributary of writing an inspirational book based on the activities and comments of children. But I still share the passion and purpose of Salmon Speaks. It is my hope that projects such as these will stimulate public awareness of the ocean of possibilities that lie within each child.

Natalie Lucas

In my thirty years as an educator I have learned a lot from my students, and one student has taught me the most.  Natalie Lucas came into my Early Childhood Education classes at Selkirk College in Castlegar, B.C. in 1986 as a shy and determined mother of four young children.  Her husband’s back had been injured in a lumber mill accident and “somebody had to support the family”.  Rarely talking in classes, she has gone on to be the one graduate asked to speak to the college ECE classes every year, and to lead workshops at ECE and parenting and literacy events on an ever-changing variety of topics.

Natalie’s expertise in art came first to the forefront.  Getting parent support for creative, open-ended art facilitating children’s skill development, rather than “cutsey” look-alike copies of, for example, adult bunnies out of paper plates or colouring books, is a challenge in the field of ECE, abandoned completely in elementary schools.  Natalie became well known for bringing in rabbits, dogs, plants, insects, tadpoles and chickens who hatched and grew into the life of her child care centers and for her frequent walks with children to the woods, gardens, ponds and waterfalls, creating experiences for a process of close multi-sensory observation of the birth, life, death and healing in the world around.  Discovery and self-expression through multi-media art became a regular feature of children’s days with her.  Parents and grandparents found themselves enticed along on these adventures, and learned more about the value of them in the open-house workshops Natalie created to give them first-hand experience of what art could mean in their own and their children’s lives.  She was inventing in the Kootenays what others were marveling about in Reggio Emilia, Italy’s now world-famous early childhood centres.

In 1988, opening the first child care centre in a valley where excruciating turmoil over education between Doukhobors and English had occurred for six decades, building it from nothing by scrounging for supplies and equipping it with amazing hand-made materials she’d recycled.  Natalie overcame the resistance of a community about having others care for their children, building trust by her gentle and respectful listening skills and most of all by her exemplary relationships with all children.  She next became a leader in challenging the practice of shallow holiday-based curriculum to respect and include families who chose not to observe the typical holidays.  Any day became a day to make a gift for someone special to the child or someone in the community who needed such a surprise.  Everyday was a day to celebrate and sing and decorate.  Pumpkins were grown and explored and cooked, not just carved.  Teachers in other preschool programs and our college students came away with “millions” of ideas of activities and processes for inventing them from Natalie’s workshops and the inclusiveness of programs in the region improved.

By 1996, I had participated in the publication of Honouring Diversity within Child Care and Early Education as a provincial project.  Looking around at the ECE and elementary programs in the Kootenay region I found little or no multiculturalism.  For my M.A. thesis, I initiated a participatory action research project inquiring whether Doukhobors  from a variety of backgrounds (factions which had not had contact for years) might like to develop materials to be added to local programs.  People of Doukhobor background made up 30% of the population of the Selkirk College region so this group seemed like a logical starting place to build culturally relevant curriculum.  The group found commonalities in their own experiences and started interviewing elders about their childhood learning experiences and what they might like children to learn about Doukhobors.  Natalie was one of the members of the focus group who later co-authored and illustrated the first book ever published (1999--coinciding with the Doukhobors’ first century in Canada) about Doukhobors in Canada for children, Brilliant: a New Place for a Way of Life.  This book provides a way for teachers, librarians, grandparents, and parents to talk with children about local and family histories, about the Doukhobor pioneers in B.C. based on a compilation of several grandparents’ lives into a character going through a week’s events in his communal village.

Natalie helped develop and lead workshops growing from this project and book designed to help people talk to each other about the specifics of their own and varied cultural experiences.  Storytelling became her forte at this point, bringing alive stories of children from many cultures, and of her life with her grandmother, and the brave stories of the Doukhobors who took seriously the injunctions not to kill and who burned their weapons in Russia in 1895.  She was a major resource to the expanding family literacy programs in our region as well as to college students and the UBC teacher training program.  Her own experiences entering grade one in our region as a child who did not yet speak English in a classroom where daily whipping of children who spoke a single word of their non-english first language led to the easy conclusion that many languages need to be welcomed in every class.

The next direction was clear, Natalie learned and taught songs and stories from many languages and cultures to children and others who would gather around, fascinated with the props she produced to make understanding clear.  Sign language was the primary other language of all of her classes, incorporated in songs, incorporating children with special needs, and providing another visual and kinesthetic illustration of the meanings of the songs and stories.  Communication in many forms flourishes in her early childhood programs.

Another area of exemplary practice of Natalie’s is child guidance/discipline and fostering positive family-child relationships.  Natalie knows how to communicate at children’s levels, no matter what difficulties they are experiencing, and to bring them into a sense of welcome and belonging in the group and in their families.  She should be working in the United Nations with her skills at facilitating negotiation and understanding, and making many lives healthier and safer through conflict resolution skills.  What a delight it has been to watch a student, parent or grandparent observe Natalie in action with a child and hear their realization of new approaches to try with their children and other adults. 

I feel so privileged to have gotten to learn from Natalie, and to take my practicum student-teachers to her programs year after year, watching their learning as she, in her modest, patient and persistent way guides them to expand their skills and find their own talents as people and teachers.  She has taken all that I have been able to learn about child development and adult learning, applied it in difficult situations, and extended it in many directions.

Madelyn MacKay
Retired Instructor, Human Services
Early Childhood Education, Selkirk College
Castlegar, B.C.
Phone: 250 767-3005, email:
Peachland, B.C.
January 30, 2006



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