Strength in Diversity: Creating Communities for Well-Being and Belonging


April 10th, 2021

Connect With Your Community!


We invite you to join the West Kootenay Early Years Conference Facebook group to share ideas, inspiration and build community.

The West Kootenay Early Years Conference is for educators, program facilitators, early years professionals, and students.  Join us for the day to learn, listen, share, and be inspired.  This conference welcomes residents of the Columbia Basin.

As residents of the Columbia Basin, the West Kootenay Early Years Conference Committee would like to acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples of all the lands that we are on today. We acknowledge, respect and honour the unceded traditional territories of the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc, Sinixt and Syilx Nations.



Morning Keynote

Kendra Hill

Elliot Wheatcroft

Embracing Social Change in the Early Years

Working in the early years in our evolving world involves conscious acts of inclusion and acceptance. Our sites of practice have the opportunity to become beacons of access, making early learning a safer space for those families pressed outside of privileged society in Canada. By acknowledging the embodied experience of diverse children as worthy of being embraced and celebrated, we stand to make meaningful impacts.

‘Embracing Social Change in the Early Years’ is an interactive and engaging presentation. Kendra and Elliot employ a personalized, intersectional approach to discuss the culture of gender and the use of intentional language to include diverse children and families. They share compassionate perspective through story and offer scenarios, role-plays, and thoughtfully directed dialogue to help prepare participants to be more “comfortable with being uncomfortable” when engaging in social change.

Afternoon Keynote

Monique Gray Smith

Weaving Love and Joy into the Journey of Truth and Reconciliation

In this dynamic and inspiring keynote, Monique will share her personal journey of truth and reconciliation and how that journey has transformed her and her family. She will share stories and offer readings from her various books. We will delve into both the truth and reconciliation. Monique will share her Cultural Resilience model: The Four Blankets of Resilience and will provide strategies for weaving aspects of this model into your work. Through our time together, we will explore the importance of story and the integral role love and joy have in the education of the hearts and minds of our young citizens.

Afternoon Workshops

Sarah West

Finding Community in Nature

Come and explore in a self-reflective, experiential workshop where you will be guided to work indoors or outside using environmental arts practices to engage with the supportive community we can find in nature with all our relations to nurture our self-care practices. We will work with the natural and recycled materials around us to create independently with our community in nature, and come back together online to share our experiences. Approaches to mindful connection with the land and its other-than-human beings will be explored for adults and children alike. The workshop will begin with a brief theoretical orientation to land-based therapeutic arts, followed by an outdoors, creative experiential.

*Participants will be required to prep outside or be outside during the workshop.

Laura Shaw

Staying Calm in the Chaos: How to Move Into Mindfulness in the Face of Others’ Reactivity

This workshop, ‘Staying Calm in the Chaos’ will give participants the tools they need to recognize and develop their own capacity to be mindful, grounded and balanced in any situation. Participants will learn a powerful process to use to support themselves and lean into mindfulness when others around them are charged, triggered and reactive. This will enable them to effectively respond from a place of calm, and objective stability. This can be used with participants’ own reactivity, or with children, co-workers, family members and in any charged situation.

Participants will be asked to submit a specific example of a scenario when they were faced with another’s reactivity and were perhaps caught off guard and didn’t respond as they would have liked to.

Monica Carpendale

Softening the Edge: A Creative Exploration of Self-Compassion

This is an experiential creative art workshop on self-care while living and working in a pandemic. Self-care is crucial as an antidote to burnout and compassion fatigue. Be gentle with yourself, take the time to be creative, to enjoy nature, to breathe, to have time for stillness and self-reflection.

Caring for children in their early years is incredibly important work, now more than ever. Children and their parents have increased fears, anxiety, and feelings of overwhelm. They all need to see the warmth and acceptance in your eyes, especially if you are wearing a mask. Like yourself, employers and supervisors have increased vigilance with cleanliness and sanitization, fears of spreading the virus through touch or the air. When we are attending to all these very critical physical aspects, we also need to remember the importance of warm presence, wonder, curiosity, and playfulness.

We will be using soft materials to speak to the need to be gentle and compassionate with ourselves and each other. We are going to make “beauty” out of all the torn and broken bits.

Some materials required  maximum of 25 participants

Natalie Lucas 

Stories: Bridges to Ourselves and Our World

We all as caregivers, educators, and family members have significant challenges:

  • to use our opportunities with children, families, and others to assist in their learning, to expand their understanding
  • to generate creative ideas and activities
  • to keep children interested and engaged
  • to honour the diversity of humanity

This workshop will use stories and storytelling to show you how one can begin to address these challenges in a positive and appealing way.

Storytelling Make n Take: some materials required – maximum 25 participants

Christina Pickles 

Outdoor Play in the Early Years

Everything is possible outside – children are more physically active, the natural world enters through all the senses, community connections are made and emergent curriculum takes off! During this session, we will connect outdoor play to the Early Learning Framework, explore how outdoor play supports child development and give you practical places to start with loose parts, simple activities and inspiration!

Presenter Bios

Kendra Catherine Hill, BCYC, ECE

Kendra is a youth and family counsellor and an inspired leader in the early childhood education field for the past fifteen years. Her passion to see access, inclusion, and diversity forefront in British Columbia led her to spearhead new programs and to implement early years focus and innovation for many local and provincial organizations.

Elliot Wheatcroft

Elliot has extensive experience in inclusive early childhood education, with over 10 years of working in the field in a variety of roles and settings. He has also spent over 12 years supporting trans and gender diverse children youth and families in various roles, including as a youth group facilitator and as a child, youth and family community support health liaison. He currently cares for his three young children on the traditional lands of the Tsawout First Nation on Salt Spring Island while studying Child and Youth Care at UVIC.

Monique Gray Smith

Monique Gray Smith is a proud Mom of teenage twins and an award-winning, best-selling author. Her first published novel, Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience won the 2014 Canadian Burt Award for First Nation, Métis and Inuit Literature. Since then, Monique has had 6 books come out that cover a broad spectrum of ages, topics and emotions. Woven into all of Monique’s writing, speaking engagements and online courses is the teaching that Love is Medicine. Monique’s novel, Tilly and the Crazy Eights was longlisted for Canada Reads 2021. Monique is well known for her contributions to the journey of Truth and Reconciliation, including being honoured with the 2019 City of Victoria Leadership Award for Reconciliation. She is an appointed member of the Board of Directors of Royal Roads University and the Minister’s Advisory Council for Indigenous Women for the Government of BC. Monique is Cree, Lakota and Scottish and has been sober and involved in her healing journey for over 29 years. She is well known for her storytelling, spirit of generosity and focus on resilience.

Sarah West

Sarah West is an environmental arts therapist and graduate of the Kutenai Art Therapy Institute.  She has 10 years’ experience advising and leading consultations on environmental issues with government and Indigenous communities. Her work is grounded on promoting wellbeing through land, story and arts-based healing modalities. She lives and practices in Nelson, BC.

Laura Shaw, B.A., B.Ed, M.A., CHT, CCHT

Laura has a private practice in Golden BC where she supports adolescents and adults through mindfulness coaching and clinical + counselling hypnotherapy. Laura is passionate about supporting others in discovering their own capacity to live with mindful awareness so they can find healing, empowerment and fulfillment in their lives. She is also a local and international mindfulness meditation teacher.

Monica Carpendale, BFA, DVATI, RCAT

Monica Carpendale is the founder and Academic Dean at the Kutenai Art Therapy Institute. She is deeply committed to using creative processes to building health in individuals and community.

Natalie Lucas

Natalie Lucas has been an early childhood educator since 1987 (you do the math). She runs the programs at Wee Ones and Valhalla Children’s Center by using a democratic approach where every child has a say. The programs both include outdoor adventuring and advocating for our mother earth and her creatures (see salmonspeaks.ca).

She is a descendant of Doukhobor immigrants to Sinixt territory who as a child personally experienced the forceful assimilation process.

Now as a mother, grandmother and advocate for children, she strongly believes that each child comes from their own distinct family cultures and deserve to be valued. To build on these and extend the children’s worldview, stories, projects, different languages and field trips are part of the everyday programming.

Christina Pickles

Christina Pickles has been an environmental educator for 20 years connecting people of all ages to the natural world. Six years ago, she pivoted her work, putting outdoor play at the centre. She believes play is the best way children (and adults) connect with nature, their communities, their bodies and each other.

Conference Committee


Alison Salo – Selkirk College
Glenda Newsted – Kootenay Kids Society
Angela Morris – Kootenay Kids Society


Kate Billingsley – Kootenay Boundary Community Services Society
Colleen Watts – East Kootenay CCRR

Tracy Spannier – Revelstoke CCRR

Kristine Forbes –  Trail FAIR Society
Hayley Ratcliffe – The School House ECLC
Amanda Neuman – Kootenay Family Place
Frankie Seitz – East Kootenay CCRR
Renee Quanstrom – Golden CCRR
Naomi Ross – SD8
Tracy Barkman – The School House ECLC
Crystal Laren – Circle of Indigenous Nations Society
Rita Romeo – East Kootenay CCRR
Heather Broad – West Kootenay CCRR
Natalie Lucas – Wee Ones Childcare Program


We gratefully acknowledge the Columbia Basin Trust as our conference partner, alongside sponsorship from the East and West Child Care Resource and Referral programs (CCRR), the Kootenay/Boundary Supported Child Development Program.