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.

 

Be careful what you teach

DSCF2347 copyA four year old child says to a teacher: “Whenever I taste my sock, it always tastes like coffee.”

How to respond?  There are voices in our head… voices that say: germs….gross….wet soggy socks… ….ugh…. unsanitary….we must make sure this child stops tasting socks…that is our job…..

A colleague shared this moment with us, and heard all those voices in her head. But instead of voicing these responses, she paused. She thought about what the child might be thinking, she thought about respecting the research, she thought about listening more and talking less.

And then she asked: “Always?”

The child answered: “Yes, always.”

Isn’t that a beautiful response?

(Kinda makes you want to taste your socks, doesn’t it?)

“Be careful what you teach. It might interfere with what they are learning.”  – Magda Gerber.

 

The Art of Human Learning



WP_20141003_022 copyIn Reggio Emilio schools are built with a central piazza, an open space from which all other rooms flow. Piazza’s are more than simply an architectural idea, they are integral to the philosophy of Reggio where values of democracy, reciprocity and sociality are of utmost importance. Ceppi and Zini put it this way:

“The piazza is a place of meeting, a public place of the school which plays the same role in the school building as the piazza does in town…..the piazza supports the formation of relationships, symbolizing the “pedagogy of relationships” in the sense that it fosters encounters, group interaction, stories, social relations and the children’s assumption of a public identity.”  (Children, Spaces, Relations, a metaproject for an environment for young children, Ceppi, Zini, 1998)

The idea of creating spaces to generate relationships and dialogue among adults, children, teachers and the broader community is an uncommon idea where I live.  Opportunities for  discussing the important questions of listening to what  children know, articulating, contesting and discussing education are sadly missing …..until now! A collective of educators in Terrace have created such a space with The Art of Human Learning now showing at the Terrace Art Gallery.

With the guiding statement Young children use the arts in their everyday life as their language families, educators, and the broader community were asked to submit stories and art to be showcased at the art gallery. The submissions were then professionally curated resulting in an exhibition that provokes new ways of thinking about children, art, human learning and expression.

The exhibit showcases photography, sculpture, found object installations, provocative quotes  and stories of children and adults, ranging from the disturbing to the whimsical, all  challenging the viewer to think about creativity, education, learning and the values we as a society hold.

A blue adirondack chair inscribed with poetry invites  readers to reconceptualize our relationship with nature.

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A large branch encased in canvas created by children who are thinking about life and death, growth and nurturing.

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A gorgeously thick painting rich with texture draws the viewer to linger.

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The Art of Human Learning is a remarkable accomplishment, doing what is so rarely done but so sorely needed…..sparking conversations about art, children, education, care and expressive languages.

Go see it. And then keep talking about it……these conversations are important.

 

 

 

 

Taking Action with Green Tomatoes

The central ethical and political question now becomes: ‘how do we live
together with human and non-human others?’
(Taylor & Guingi 2012)

 

“I think we should make a trap…..yeah we can trap them with green tomatoes, that will make them sick! Then they won’t be able to work!”

 

This sinister sounding plan came from two boys as they watched city workers radically prune 15 feet off the trees in the park just outside the play yard fence. The boys were disturbed at the sight of the trees being so damaged, and devised this plan to lure the workers to eat green tomatoes, theorizing that the tomatoes would make the workers too sick to continue. Deviously brilliant!

On my visits to the centre I have observed these children on many walks through this park and have repeatedly been surprised and impressed by the attentive care they have shown to creatures and plants.

IMG_4366 copyThey gently hold slugs within a flower

IMG_4093 copyUse fallen leaves  and gravel to create small works of art

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Beautifully arrange flowers for passsersby

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Build homes out of grass and sticks to protect a wounded bee they found in the grass

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And taste frost.

The educator at this centre makes these walks a regular part of her program, and is attentive to what children notice, the stories they imagine, the naming of places, particular trees, a pile of rocks. She doesn’t impart much ‘scientific knowledge’, rather she asks and listens to the knowledges the children bring. She and I have discussed at length the compassion children show to the creatures, the curiosity to know them. In our ‘teacher role’ we sometimes assume our job is to teach the names of plants, the habits of hibernation or how slugs travel, and these are certainly interesting things to know. But in our rush to teach, we miss what children know. And knowing that a bee will climb on bark if you gently guide it is pretty impressive knowledge. Knowing how to carry a slug, naming it, spending time simply being with it, is another kind of important knowledge. Creating beautiful arrangements of flowers, tasting frost, piling rocks artfully, all these are ways of knowing as well.

This kind of knowing builds compassion, creates a relationship, a kinship. So when the trees are threatened the children are willing to take action. Isn’t this kind of awareness, of responsibility to all ‘human and non-human others’ just what we need?