Cook Inlet Native Head Start takes culture outdoors with a new playground

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ANCHORAGE, (KTUU) Preschool is all about making education fun and one school is working to bring learning outdoors on to the playground.

Cook Inlet Native Head Start is a cultural immersion program for Alaska Native and American Indian youth from birth to 5 years old. For kids that age, play is just as important as time spent in a classroom.

"We had to be creative in the ways to make it fun for our little guys," said Ethan Petticrew, executive director of Cook Inlet Native Head Start.

Recently the program came up with an innovative solution to getting kids excited about their culture.

"We would go outside to play and we had a traditional Western-style playground and it was a mismatch," says Petticrew.

He says teaching kids culture and getting them involved at a young age can help them immensely with their future.

"Many of us see this as an answer to the tremendous dropout rate of Alaska Native and American Indian youth in that our children, to connect to who they really are will build this strong sense of resiliency in them," said Petticrew.

So a playground that reflects their culture outside of the classroom was a dream.

"We have taken our playground and it is representative of all the major Alaska or the five major culture areas of Alaska we have incorporated that so our children can now actually go out there and pretend they are hunting whales or play salmon fishing," Petticrew said.

The dream became a reality at the beginning of this school year with each object on the playground representing part of the Alaska Native culture and helping kids learn while engaging in play time.

"I see them playing boats in the traditional boats instead of playing Star Wars-type shoot-'em-up stuff and so I see them doing these things in a really appropriate way," he said.

From a traditional sod house to ancient masks in the center of a jungle gym, these kids are now fully immersed in their culture both inside and outside the classroom.

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