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.



About Kim

Kim is an admitted ECE geek. She and Danielle have bonded over their shared geekdom and have come to terms with it. She is a pedagogical facilitator working with educators in a number of early learning settings supporting and extending new thinking and practice. She loves reading, writing, talking and sharing ideas about the potentials of teaching and learning with ece's and young children. ECE geeks unite!

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