jessie

Rituals

jessieThe following post is a guest post from Jessie Gill an Early Childhood professional who practices at Moss Rock Preschool.  Jessie has been an Early Childhood Educator since 2007. She studied at Vanier College in Montreal. She then went on to get her BA in Education and Cultural Anthropology.  She has strong image of the child, educator and Family and we were so happy to have her join our team at Moss Rock Preschool.

A Preschool is a cultural community; one that includes children, families, teachers, and community members. In beginning my new position as Educator at Moss Rock Preschool, my main objectives during the initial weeks was to observe the culture of the group and begin the relationship building process. In my observations of the children and how the group navigates through their morning, I have begun to notice daily patterns occurring, that the children, parents and educators move through with confidence.

 

I was recently reading a blog written by a particularly reflective Educator that brought to light the distinct difference between routines and rituals within an Early Childhood Environment. We all have routines in our lives that are repetitive and perhaps we go through the motions without giving much thought to what we’re doing. However, Danielle, Morgan and the children of Moss Rock have established some routines that hold significant importance for the group. Despite their apparent simplicity, I argue that they are more than routines, but in actuality special rituals. Coming from a cultural anthropology background, I studied rituals of all kinds but had never really taken the time to notice the incognito rituals that enrich Early Childhood Environments.

 

Cracker Time at Porter Park

It’s 10am and the group is dispersed around Porter Park, some children play in the spacious sand area, others groupings of children are tucked away in the trees, others stand or crouch a top the mossy rocks. The children appear deeply engaged in their work, their play. Wendy approaches Morgan in the sandpit area and asks, “Is it cracker time? Cuz I’m hungry!” Morgan replies with enthusiasm, “Yes yes yes!” The two of them head over to the coniferous tree that is our gathering place at various times throughout the morning. Wendy announces “CRACKER TIME” with gusto. The message of cracker time is passed amongst the group and children flock to the big tree. Circling around the educator, eager anticipation can be seen on the children’s faces. Morgan retrieves the crackers from the backpack and hands out crackers to the children, acknowledging each child as they are crowshanded a cracker “one for Rory, one for Polly, one for Gerta” and so on. Our park cohabitants, the crows, swoop to lower branches in anticipation of fallen crackers. The children munch on their snack and some notice and comment on the crows behaviour. As crackers are finished, the group naturally returns to play.

 

Rituals don’t have to be complex, but they must offer a sense of belonging and predictability to the children. Cracker Time can be initiated by any group member, however all participants have active and important roles. I wonder if Cracker Time would exhibit the same message of care and group belonging if the children didn’t gather all together under the same tree each day, or if the Educator didn’t acknowledge the children as the snack was handed out. From my point of view, this ritual provides children with more than a daily snack. It is a ritual that the group collectively looks forward to, where the children willingly break from their play to spend a moment gathered together with other members of their community. It is more than a routine; it is a daily ritual that holds value for the children and Educators of Moss Rock Preschool.
Jessie

 

Puddles

Puddles are part of life here on the west coast of Canada. Water gathers where it can, in the cracks and dips of sidewalks, in the depressions of a grass field, in the contours of a pathway. There are distinct categories of  puddles, the shallow watery ones that you can barely make a splash in, the almost invisible ones looking for all the world like grass, until you step into it and sink with a deep sucking sound. There are the puddles that hover on the edges of streets that you need to leap over when you cross, or leap away from when a car drives through it.  There are mud puddles, the rich chocolatey brown puddles that just get better with some stomping action, and the puddles that are really small ponds, sometimes becoming a place for ducks to gather.

Children and puddles seem to call to one another, as though a magnetic force pulls them together. And adults seem equally called to make sure puddles and children don’t get too intimate.

In the world of early childhood this means educators send out warnings: “You don’t have boots on!” Your boots will fill with water!” If you splash you’re going to get wet!” “You know you don’t like getting wet!” Most of these warnings go unheeded, but still we keep sending them out.

Why?

Last week at a centre that I regularly visit, the children, the educator and I went for our usual walk and came to the mother of all puddles, a lovely large, deep, brown puddle that stretched far and wide across a pathway. The children ran to it and waded in without a moment’s hesitation. We watched as they jumped and splashed and stomped, or simply sat in the middle, trailing fingers in the rippling water.  The educator stood back and watched, laughing with delight at the sight.

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Wet socks? Oh yes. Wet faces, hands, arms, legs, and boots filled with water. And happy happy faces.

Were there consequences of succumbing to the puddle? Sure, we headed back inside a little earlier than planned as the chill eventually set in for many wet bodies. Muddy buddies had to be hung to dry, some socks and pants needed changing, but…these things dry.

I wonder why we try so hard to keep kids out of puddles?

 

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I am sitting

In the middle

Of a rather

Muddy puddle,

With my bottom

Full of bubbles

and my rubbers

Full of Mud.

While my jacket

And my sweater

Go on slowly

Getting wetter

As I very

Slowly settle

To the Bottom

Of the Mud.

And I find that

What a person

With a puddle

Round his middle

thinks of mostly

In the muddle

Is the Muddiness of Mud.

Dennis Lee

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The Good, The Bad, The Mindful and The Self-Regulated

IMG_7269Sometimes when I have a few minutes free to myself I like to peruse the parenting or education section of bookstores to see what is being shared. My last visit to the bookstore the shelves were inundated with books with mindful, present, self-regulated in their titles. I was bothered.

I was at a professional lunch not long after when a colleague said “I just want the children to be more mindful.” As the word mindful slipped out of her lips I felt an inner cringe occurring deep within me. I was rejecting this word.

A week later I found myself facilitating a professional group discussion on practice. The word mindful came up several times in our conversations.  As the word came up again and again I could feel my body rejecting the word, cringing at its use. I wanted to interject into their conversation and ask “What does it mean to be mindful?” I knew though I may use a judgemental tone in that moment that wouldn’t convey a desire to understand but more a desire to reject that word. So I listened to their thoughts on it, as well as my own body and thoughts. What was it about this word that upset me?

What does mindful mean?  When I looked it up Mindful was defined as being conscious or aware of something. I have watched children consciously kick or bite someone. Would people label that behaviour as mindful? Probably not. To me it feels like mindful is another way to label a child. Being a mindful or self-regulated child is just another way of telling them they are a good child.  Telling parents they are not mindful or present parents is just another way of saying they are bad parents. Who decides who is mindful and who is not? Who decides how much being present makes you a good parent?

We as educators know it is wrong to label people as good or bad. We know that we internalize these labels and no longer see our choices as good or bad choices but ourselves as good or bad people. We know this but yet we still struggle not to label a child or parent. These words mindful, present, self-regulated, etc… are still labels no matter how enlightened they are.

I think all children are mindful. I think they are very aware of the choices they make good or bad. I also think parents are some of the most mindful people I know revisiting and examining  every choice they make as parents. I also think all children have the ability to self-regulate, I think we as a society just don’t like it when their way of regulating feels like chaos. I believe language has power, it’s probably one of the most powerful things I have as an educator. Words like mindful and self-regulated are not used in my practice because it requires me to make a judgement about someone and that is not my job.

 

Thinking Like a Mushroom

 

Patience and empathy, something the world could use a little more of, so start thinking like a mushroom, become opportunistic and seize this moment. Create something that can change the world, one mushroom at a time.   Tradd Cotter

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Mushrooms are on my mind.

Here in the Pacific Northwest mushrooms are everywhere at this time of year, blooming through grass, nestling in the moss, cascading down branches and tree trunks. The children I work with know mushrooms, they have favourite kinds, they notice changes in size and colour, and they eagerly return to particular spots to visit particular mushrooms. They touch them, stroke them, talk to them, they notice if a mushroom has been pulled from the ground, sometimes they pull one, but more often they put their faces very close to a mushroom to gaze intently. They seek out mushrooms much as they would seek a well loved old friend.

Personally, I’ve always thought of mushrooms as a beautiful ingredient in risotto. Of course I see mushrooms in my lawn and in the forest, but…I guess I never really looked. Certainly not like these children are looking.

But there are many others who, like these children, are looking closely at mushrooms. Anna Tsing tells us there is a city under our feet:

IMG_4504 copyNext time you walk through a forest, look down. A city lies under your feet. If you were somehow to descend into the earth, you would find yourself surrounded by the city’s architecture of webs and filaments. Fungi make those webs as they interact with the roots of trees, forming joint structures of fungus and root called ‘mycorrhiza’. Mycorrhizal webs connect not just root and fungus, but, by way of fungal filaments, tree and tree, connecting up the forest in entanglements. This city is a lively scene of action and interaction.

She goes on to describe how mushrooms feed the trees and plants around them, they take nutrients from the organic material and rocks to make it available for absorption. She tells us how mushrooms are in symbiotic relationships with lichen, orchids, Douglas fir seedlings, how they work to decompose dead wood to create conditions for regeneration…

..the role of fungi in ecosystem renewal makes it more than obvious that fungi are always companions to other species. Species interdependence is a well known fact—except when it comes to humans.   Anna Tsing

Humans do not act symbiotically, we act autonomously. Our histories and technologies suggest human control of nature, nature as a separate entity from human culture. That interconnections are fine for nature, but we are above all that.

Clearly, this approach is not working.

Paul Stamets asserts that nature is intelligent, that we humans need to attend to the knowledges of nature for the sake of our survival. In the visually captivating movie Fantastic Fungi: The Spirit of Good he tells us “The task that we face today is to understand the language of nature.”

Perhaps those of us that work with children can begin to think about the language of nature. Perhaps this language is not verbal, not written, but ….sensed. Perhaps stopping to notice the mushrooms, spending time with mushrooms, practicing care, becoming affected, bringing voice to the species we encounter,  is a way to begin.

 

 

A Joke For a Worm

Making ECE more than a sheltered enclave that is dominated by romantic notions of childhood and nature requires imagination and courage, heart, body and mind. It demands discussion of the purpose, possibilities and intent of ECE for society, and this discussion has to include children. Iris Duhn

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Last week as we walked through the park behind the child care building we crossed paths with volunteers who were removing invasive plants. One of the volunteers handed Rory a worm in a kind gesture of camaraderie. Rory was pleased with the gift and inspected the worm carefully.

“Where is it’s head?” he asked. Then an even more important question came to his mind:

“How do you make a worm laugh?”

The volunteer paused, shrugged and said “Tell it a joke?”

Rory held the worm close to his face, looked at it intently and said “How does a leaf turn into mulch?”

If ever there was the perfect joke for a worm….that was it.

All of this is marvellously cute of course, but it made me think. Rory was not trying to be cute, he was dead serious in his comedic efforts.  He thought about the worm differently than I did, he understood the worm as a creature of respect, to be considered worthy of telling a joke to. He related to the worm as a fellow being.

An international collective of scholars is thinking deeply about moments like this, moments where children encounter creatures, trees, rocks. They are thinking about our responsibilities as educators. In these times of environmental crisis, how do we move toward pedagogies that embrace the messy complexities of human-non human encounters ? How do we open possibilities for deeper conversations with children, shifting away from romantic notions of childhood and nature as “innocent”?

Rather than learning about worms perhaps we might  begin to think with worms….how would this shift what we said, how we viewed these moments?

Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw and Affrica Talyor suggest:

We want young children to sense and register, in more than cognitive ways, that it is never just about us. And we also want to stay open to the possibility that other species and life-forms shape us in ways that exceed our ability to fully comprehend.”  (Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2014)

Rory carried the worm carefully in his palm for the rest of our walk. He protected it, stroked it, talked to it, befriended it. He got to know that worm…. more intimately than scientific knowledges allow.  He was thinking with that worm.