At this St. John's daycare, you're never too young to learn throat singing

The Turtle Island Childcare Centre in St. John's is teaching its young charges Inuit throat singing as a way to pass an ancient tradition forward.

Preschoolers sway and laugh as they learn the ancient Inuit tradition

Preschoolers Burgess Doyle and Jacob Billard practie the art of Inuit throat singing in St. John's at the Turtle Island Child Care Centre, which is run by the St. John's Native Friendship Centre. (CBC )

A dozen children between the ages of two and five stood in pairs, swaying rhythmically, holding each other's elbows.

Tama Fost guided them through Inuit throat singing — in this case a love song.

It ended after a minute or so, when everyone laughed.

More funny than my  Legos.- Preschooler on learning throat singing

In fact, one young boy declared that throat singing was "more funny than my Legos."

This was no one-off session: the goal is is to teach the children at the Turtle Island Childcare Centre in St. John's how to throat sing, so that they can carry on the tradition when they get older. 

Preschoolers at the Turtle Island Childcare Centre in St. John's link arms while throat singing. (CBC )

Fost is the Inuit Program Facilitator with the St. John's Native Friendship Centre.

She had explained to the children that throat singing is a game that ends when the first person laughs. 

Along with throat singing the sessions, which Fost began two months ago, also include other Inuit traditions, such as drumming. 

'It makes me laugh so hard' 

The children seemingly can't get enough.

Four-year old Burgess Doyle said his favourite part of throat singing is what he called "the laughing part." When asked why, he thought about it for a minute before elaborating. 

"Um, speed up. It makes me laugh so hard," said Doyle, referring to how the songs get faster and faster. 

In his excitement, he almost yelled the word "hard."

Tama Fost learned Inuit throat singing 12 years ago so that she could share the tradition with her son, Fred, who is now 11. (CBC )

It's exactly the kind of response that Fost — who started throat singing herself 12 years ago — hoped for.

Not all of the children who attend the bright, inviting childcare centre are Inuit, but that doesn't matter to her. 

"I just think that it's very important for children to have a broader respect and understanding for diverse cultures," Fost said. 

"Not just Indigenous, but many cultures."

Her 11-year old son, Fred Fost, had come to the centre with her so that the pair could demonstrate throat singing together. 

"When my son was born, I realized if I don't do something now, perhaps he's not going to be able to teach my future grandchildren," Tama Fost said.

'It's coming back and growing'

As an urban Inuk woman, Fost did not learn the tradition growing up.

Neither did Tabitha Blake, who joined Fost at the childcare centre to help demonstrate the craft.

Tama Fost and Tabitha Blake demonstrate Inuit throat singing at the Turtle Island Childcare Centre in St. John's. (CBC )

Blake is originally from Rigolet, Labrador, but has lived in St. John's for many years. 

She performs with the Blake Sisters, and her three children are also learning to throat sing. 

"To me, the importance of throat singing is keeping with traditions and culture as it was done by my ancestors all those many years ago," said Blake.

"I'm happy to see that it's coming back and growing." 

Children at the Turtle Island Childcare Centre, an arm of the St. John's Native Friendship Centre, are also learning some Inuktitut words, including parts of the body, and how to count. 

The children are really getting a kick out of who can keep the eye contact the longest.- Debbie Ingram

But a throat singing piece by Fost and Blake that mimics the sound of a saw cutting wood garnered requests from the little ones to do it again. 

Debbie Ingram is the Child Development Coordinator with the St. John's Native Friendship Centre. She operates the Turtle Island Childcare Centre in St. John's. (CBC )

Debbie Ingram, who manages the Turtle Island Childcare Centre, said the children see throat singing as an intriguing game.

"The children are really getting a kick out of who can keep the eye contact the longest," Ingram said.

At first the sessions were monthly. Then they were bumped up to twice a month. 

Ingram said they've been so successful that the visits will now take place once a week.  

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Ramona Dearing

Ramona Dearing has worked as a reporter, host and producer at CBC's St. John's bureau.