MacEwan University student Kayla Gramlich with her horse, Bella. The Bachelor of Early Learning and Curriculum Studies student hopes that one day her career can blend her love of horses and her love of children.

Students work toward the degree the early learning field has been waiting for

June 7, 2021 | Society
Kayla Gramlich has big plans. A few years ago, she learned about equine-facilitated wellness at a conference, and she’s been thinking about incorporating it into the nature-based early learning centre she wants to open ever since.

“I just lit up when I realized the potential to merge my love of horses and my career in early learning,” says Gramlich, who has spent the last five years working in child care centres, most recently as an assistant director. “I grew up knowing how much can be learned from having an animal to care for – and from having an animal care for you.”

Gramlich, a graduate of MacEwan University’s Early Learning and Child Care diploma program, also knows that achieving her dream means expanding her education. It’s why she is a member of the first class of students in the university’s new Bachelor of Early Learning and Curriculum Studies (BECCS) program – the first degree in the province that allows learners to concentrate solely on early learning.

“So much has changed in early learning since I graduated with my diploma in 2016,” says Gramlich. “Not only will pursuing my degree get me closer to opening my own centre – and help me qualify for higher-level roles in my field while I’m working toward that goal – it will also allow me to support and share my passion with other educators.”

The BECCS program focuses on the needs of the very youngest learners – from birth to five years old – and how early childhood educators can use curriculum to foster childrens’ growing sense of identity and well-being through play-based learning. BECCS students work alongside children from ELM, the university’s lab school, and in field placements; complete research and capstone projects; and participate in a fourth-year internship that connects theory to practice.


Play factors significantly into both MacEwan University’s Bachelor of Early Childhood Curriculum Studies program and Flight: Alberta’s Early Learning and Care Framework, on which it is based.

It’s a program the early learning field has been waiting for, says BECCS student Dawn Eagles.

“Families must know that their children are in places of vitality with educated professionals who can offer a curriculum constructed with children,” says Eagles, who graduated with a diploma in early childhood development from MacEwan in 1990.

For Eagles, extending her education is less about career mobility and more about lifelong learning. She has spent more than two decades focused on out-of-school care and looks forward to helping other centres with curriculum development when she completes her degree.

“I always knew that I wanted to work with children – their curiosity and wonder in discovering the world around them inspire me to continue to wonder and be curious as well,” she says. “I believe strongly in play and seeing young children as citizens and want to know more about how we, as educators, can support them.”

Play and citizenship factor significantly into the BECCS program, and Flight: Alberta’s Early Learning and Care Framework, on which it is based, says Dr. Tricia Lirette.

“Our child-care centres, our playgrounds and our classrooms are microcosms of our world,” says Lirette, who helped co-develop the BECCS program, and is also a member of the research team that authored the framework. “When we choose to explore and learn with children, rather than doing things to or for them, we are saying very loudly and very clearly that they matter and that what they do and say has value.”

Approaching early learning and the curriculum that backs it in this way sets grads up to be leaders in the field, says Lirette. Dr. Alvina Mardhani-Bayne agrees.

“Early learning is a focus that I had to cobble together in my own post-secondary education,” says the assistant professor in the BECCS program, who holds both master’s and doctoral degrees. “This program allows students to go much deeper, much earlier in their careers.”

Andrea Harris appreciates the value of choosing the right degree. Back in 2007, she decided to study early learning after earning a science degree from another university, and now she has returned to MacEwan for BECCS.

“I immediately felt a sense of belonging when I started studying early learning, and I’m proud of my career path since then,” she says. “I know that this is the degree I am supposed to have and that the work I do to advocate for the rights of young children makes a difference in the world.”

And making a difference is something Gramlich is focused on, whether her dream to blend her love of horses and of working with children comes to fruition or not.

“If the work I do helps one child or one family, that’s more than enough to keep me going. Even if it’s in small ways, I know that the work I do is helping to change the world, and that is what has mattered most to me since day one.” 

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