Category Archives: Nature

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.

 

The Dead Duck

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So yes that’s a picture of a dead duck. A duck the children found on the beach. A duck I tried to keep them away from. A duck I was worried little fingers would poke. As I tried to usher the children away from this duck a child stood their ground and said “But we have to do something. We can’t just leave him here!”

“Well what do you think we should do?” I asked.

“We should put him in the Ocean.” I was told.

“Well okay.” I said “But I am not touching it so we need to find a long flat piece of wood.”

The children searched the beach for the right piece of wood. It was found rather quickly and I slid the duck (without touching it) onto the long flat log. We walked it down to the water’s edge. I had visions of sending the duck off in a Viking style funeral sailing it out on his wooden pyre. (there would be no fire in this ceremony though) It would be a more sailing off into the sunset type funeral.  I place the log on the water and hold one end.

“Should we say something?” I ask.

“Goodbye dead duck. We will miss you.” Says a little girl.

As I go to launch the duck into his last sail across the sea, he falls off and I am left with his body lapping in the waves by the shore. I was always taught to be respectful of the dead creatures we find. So as I try to push him out to sea with my failed pyre I find myself apologizing to the duck.

Finally the duck starts to drift out to sea. The children are wishing him well. “Go to the sunset.” one little girl yells to him.

WP_20131011_009 (768x1024) Eventually the children and I walk up to the driftwood where we were first playing.  The children start talking about death and the duck.

I ask “What does it mean when you die?”

“You never see them again.” says a little boy.

I listen as they talk about death with such honesty. I am moved by their openness to discuss it. I have had a year full of death. I have had to say goodbye more times then I cared too this year. With all this death I had been witness to I had never once engaged in such an honest and philosophical conversation. As I listened I could actually feel a swelling of emotion. There I was on a beach trying not to cry over a dead duck.

A young boy comes up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder and says “Danielle its okay.” And I brace myself for it, that big truth this child is going to share with me. “There are lots of ducks out there.” he says.

 

 

Something Pink

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A beautiful spot. Peaceful. Loons glide on the lake, turtles sun themselves on rocks, hundreds of electric blue damsel flies hover over the shoreline. There are maybe 9 people in truck campers and trailers on the entire lake, just a perfect spot.

Off in the distance I spy something that seems not to fit. It is pink. Am I seeing Barbie pink? I look more closely, and yes, there is definitely something Barbie pink over in the distance. I stand and squint and then I know what it is. A child is driving a Barbie pink motorized mini car over the sloping hills. Oh my gosh. Is this how children are connecting with the natural world?

The discordance of the pink mini car in this secluded natural spot is jarring. But who I am I to be judgemental?!  For all I know the child had spent most of the day looking at bugs and rolling in the long grass. And why do I suppose that rolling in the grass is the best way to be with nature?  I know many families enjoy dirt bikes, ATV’s and other motorized vehicles in the outdoors and have strong ethical and spiritual connection to their environment. I cannot suppose there is a ’pure way’ to be outdoors. I cannot suppose that this child’s outdoor experience is somehow inauthentic because I don’t like pink mini cars!

So I reprimand myself. Maybe seeing a Barbie car out there at that secluded lake was a good reminder to me that there are many ways to connect, to be with and enjoy the outdoor environment. That the issues of connecting children with nature are complex and filled with contradictions.

 

But it sure was pink.

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The Heart Shaped Leaf

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“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.”

Rachel Carson

 

Yesterday while outside a child came up to me with the glimmer of excitement in her eyes.  She was clutching something in her hand.

“Danielle I found a heart shaped leaf.” She unrolled her fingers to reveal a small green leaf in her hand.

 I asked if I could take a picture and she excitedly said yes.  We talked about where she found it, what kind of plant we thought it might be and if we could find a leaf book that would help us figure it out. She proclaimed she had such a book at home.  Plans were made to do some research. She then excitedly went to show the other children. Soon heart shaped leaf hunts had started and theories were being constructed on why the leaf was heart shaped. The moment was but a small fraction of my day but it has stayed with me.  As I sat at my computer last night preparing to write a narration on our explorations outside, I couldn’t help but pause and just look at the picture.

I found myself in a deep state of reflection. I thought about the opportunities that are constantly presented to the children and I when we go outside. I found myself trying to think of a parallel experience in the classroom.  Treasures have been found but usually I put them there. Rarely do we find something that is surprising to everyone in the room.  Except for maybe a spider or a bug, which did originally come from outside.

I found myself thinking of a classroom visit I did a couple weeks ago where the teacher said excitedly to me “We are trying to spend more time outside. We are allowing more natural play and learning like the nature kindergarten.” I wondered later in an email to her if teachers felt like the nature kindergarten was legitimizing outdoor play. Yes she replied.

I thought of how I have observed play that continues to be revisited over long periods of time.  I am talking months here. Children engaged in play that they designed.  Trying on roles of strength and vulnerability to see how they feel.

I thought of all those times I decided to go outside even when I didn’t want to and how almost always I was thankful I did. How something amazing and/or unexpected always presented itself.  Like crows breaking into our backpack and flying off with our snacks, a young falcon in a turf war with said crows flying and dipping overhead, a sap tree that magically turned blue after the first frost, the Camus lilies that bloom in the spring and make our green hills seas of blue and I thought about how I couldn’t of planned any of that.

I can create the loveliest stream with fabric, tape or paper for the children to jump over in the classroom but I cannot recreate the sense of accomplishment they feel from jumping over the deepest darkest mud puddle.

I can give them climbing apparatuses to challenge their bodies but I cannot recreate the mind body connection a child builds from running on the rough unpredictable surfaces you find in nature.  

I can plan elaborate treasure hunts with beautiful jewels to be found at the end but I cannot recreate the sense of wonder a child feels when they find something as special as a heart shaped leaf.

What is my role then?

I remembered Lella Gandini’s wise words she shared with us this fall “It is not the job of the teacher to be prepared, it is the job of the teacher to be ready.” This is what I believe outdoor play requires of me, to be ready.  It requires me to look at the world with fresh eyes,  be ready to think with the child and embrace my sense of wonder.

 

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in” 

Rachel Carson

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Everything is Better on the Beach: Part 2

Danielle is right, everything is better on the beach.

 This past weekend, my family and our closest friends went camping. We’ve been doing these trips annually for 27 years starting with the four of us and one baby. Now there are four adult kids plus partners, 12 of us in all. While the trips were wonderful when the kids were small, there is something even more amazing about camping with them now that they are in their mid 20’s. Watching these intelligent, talented and caring adults still enjoying each other’s company well, if you are the parents of adult children you know what I mean. So there we were with lots of great food, campfires, guitar and banjo music, maybe a bit of wine and beer(!!)…..and the beach.

 We set ourselves a challenge: make something from materials found on the beach. We brought along a few hand tools, some sandpaper, some string, some glue. We spent an entire day at it, no deadline, no expectations, no pressure. Some people started making something and never finished, others gathered materials and then just left them in a pile, and some didn’t do anything at all. Others made intricate and complex pieces.

 

 

The found materials didn’t demand perfection. They are beautifully odd, randomly curved, smooth and cracked, rough and silky. They allow a freedom in creation that commercial materials don’t offer. Perfection is not an option.

 

At the end of the day we all felt equally satisfied whether we made anything or not. There was joy and camaraderie in the making, mistakes and imperfections were embraced as part of the creative process.

 

No matter our age we all thrive in the freedom to play, to create, to embrace a project of our own choosing…..or make a pile of sticks and leave it be.

 

The spirit of the beach……that ‘s what I want all year.