“As Music” – A Spoken Word Poem

I’ve decided that I wanted to more openly share some of the journey I’ve been on in terms of questioning, shedding, and challenging the colonial frameworks that I operate within the systems of oppression that I benefit from. One path forward that felt accessible to me was to start by looking at knowledge. Whose knowledge counts as credible? Where has discipline knowledge come from? I started this journey many years ago but became conscious of it during a graduate course about interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge. During this course I created a spoken word poem to mark where I was on my journey at the time. It’s now been a year since I created the poem and I’m feeling ready to share it, unedited. The poem is a winding reflection on knowledge, research, what I believed to be ‘reconciliation’, and music. The poem is purposely long, with little regard for time or efficiency.

Here’s a short rationale about writing and sharing the poem:

“This poem was created to help me gain confidence in presenting academic ideas through art. It is not a destination, but a landmark on my learning journey of decolonization and reconciliation as a scholar. It is both a call-to-action and a self-reflection that is intentionally non-linear and redundant, representing my current feelings towards academia, knowledge, efficiency, and rightness.

I have a more refined sense of where I am, who I am in relation with, how I engage in knowledge seeking, and who I am not….. In the poem I consider the things/beings I am in (shared) relationships with, and I speak directly to/with fellow graduate students, faculty, Indigenous individuals/communities, and myself. I also introduce myself to “all my relations” in an effort to identify where my personal and professional commitments lie.

“Finally, this poem pledges that my knowledge-seeking endeavours will not be completed in isolation. They will be playful and expansive and equity-seeking all at once, as I listen and contribute simultaneously. They are, in part, communal acts, two-way conversations, with all involved relations, through call-and-response engagement, expression, and communication.

As is reconciliation.

As is music.”

Lyrics:

“I knew it!” I’ve said, only to feel regret,

once I find out I’m wrong.

have I been wrong all along? How do I respond?

and how do I shape this to song?

knowledge as rightness, determined by whiteness

and colonial structures of college

I ponder my wrongness to resist in honest

attempts to unsettle and resolve this 

the trust in precision, is stifling rhythm, 

fixation with facts is so loud

turn it down, I’m not proud, it overpowers the crowd

we’ve forgotten how to play with sound

we discuss, relate, debate, agitate

and approve whose knowledge is true

we read books and papers dissect the layers

to decide whose knowledge gets moved

do you feel the groove?

is this even good science? tby rightness?

how can I make a transition?

from regurgitation to conversation

how can I learn to listen?

what’s my role in this, am I complacent, worse – 

my developing praxis

co-opts ways of being so I don’t stop reflecting 

on each of my actions 

do you hear this?

yet I put my head down, say nothing out loud

settle into the academic 

ways that exist in mentorship process,

calibrating to scholarship

“grad schools lonely! But never boring!”

is what I have heard all year. 

but I thrive on my own (see my first canoe solo!)

so… won’t I shine here?

only to find that again I’m not right,

so how do I relate to this sense? 

of place and wonder and stories and blunder

perhaps all pretense and nonsense. 

I feel like a starving solo artist.

to reconcile my feelings of intuitive believing 

with not always being correct

is an act of resisting the structures and systems 

that regulate knowledge as fact

where’s the music in that?

what we know grows, it comes and goes 

and flows in a rhythm we prose

as conversation, tiny revelations, 

that never exist alone

and spark revolutions in each institution

to reimagine our futures

and ignite something fiery to undo the binary 

and provide some resolution 

can I make a musical contribution?

you know that feeling when time is twisting

and you’re so engorged in the process

plans become abstract, bending to match

a rhythm undistorted by facts 

perhaps 

we need more of that 

there’s no finish or start to this, stop rushing knowledge

these paths are winding and infinite 

no linear progression in life lessons

they’re just interconnected

to think in relations means intimacy and faith in a

two-way conversation (Breen, 2019)

a dance of equity and accountability

with edits of refinement and persuasion 

sound is much more than entertainment

my knowledge is one piece, you may have another, 

and neither alone may be whole 

but together we weave a cohesive story 

that creates a little home 

maybe I’m not playing solo

hah, but home, you see, that’s again where we’re wrong

we’ve been telling lies all along 

home is the problem, only some beings blossom,

when we’re singing a stolen song

this predisposition to ask questions

of ownership and acquisition

unsettle institutes and dig up the roots,

to unoccupy the settlement of wisdom (Tuck & Yang, 2012)

remain responsive, relocate as wanted

reposition again and again 

be slightly nomadic, flexible by habit

home is created and recreated when 

I pick up and move, unearth my roots,

maybe I’m meant to pass through

I see where I have harvested, exploited, and marketed

in places that I am not native to

while there’s no place like home, and I can’t do this alone

who I am to think I’m of service,

to groups I’m not part of, I don’t hold the knowledge

and to think otherwise is a disservice

so I recalibrate, reroute, and migrate

to some space in-between

comfort and a front door, my thirst for more

means I find new ways of being

‘cause I won’t play along, when I don’t like the song 

and nothing really resonates, 

it’s too big or too small, doesn’t fit at all, 

then it finally it begins to dissipate

rodent models of schizophrenia 

my lived experience with mania, 

my research and knowledge converge

from big data privacy 

to interview anxiety

new interests mean I feel heard

nature-based pedagogy to Mad Studies

self-compassion and musicality

these things I know, although I may outgrow

my learning it emerges indefinitely

knowledge comes as we need it (Breynton, S, personal communication, December 3 2020), 

no need to master it  

just trust in the process 

it is a forest (Interdisc Class, 2020), no need to engorge in it

let curiousity be your compass

while unlearning is unnerving, unsettling, disturbing

it’s birthing new ways of being 

a yearning for learning that trusts in the journey 

of investing in our shared meanings

I hear a tune in building

my ears can’t yet decipher such sophisticated cultures

of beings all interconnected

that linger in dependence a fermata suspended  

to know who we are is all relative 

so to all my relations, future generations 

and ancestors, it’s so good to meet you.

I hear your songs: can’t wait to sing along

in a tune rings true for you too.

so who am I? and what do I do?

I’m Kim, not Kimberly, except for my family 

and I play/work/live on the lands

of Dish with One Spoon, an Educator who

belongs to tributaries of the Grand 

and what does it mean for me to be an ECE

and occupy space as student

my roles have oppressed, and I feel unrest

in honouring that I am still human

while I’m no soloist I try to make the most of this

seeking serenity in solitude

a recovering positivist (Akers, T. personal communication, Dec 1, 2020), 

wanna-be psychologist

exploring alternative avenues

extending towards my energy source 

what’s my connection to land

“Through unity – survival, all flourishing is mutual” (Kimmer, 2013, p. 20)

(there’s) no sustainability in a one-woman band

for as far as I can see, when I die my body

will feed many more beings (Elrick, 2010)

may my creations outlive me,

through interdisciplinarity

art, music, and stories

you can call me creative but I kind of hate it 

the romanticization of novelty

to know it by heart is part of my art

seeking the free flowing, softly

yet with the pressure to achieve, 

I am constantly wondering 

what this means for my own identity

to share ideas liberally, 

am I still appealing

to the academy? 

my aim is to deviate but also celebrate,

those who have allowed me to be free

to make space for more changes and liberation and

know my positionality

by disrupting discourses and dominating forces

and offer restorying lessons

a retelling of history, new ways of thinking

and address ongoing abjection

in this conversation 

I ask that we widen 

the range of human responses (Barton, 2020)

considered normal and not just neoliberial

understandings of concepts

intentional erasure of experience and nature

don’t think it’s beneath us

to centre research on whiteness is an act of violence 

the silencing is so insidious 

so how do I collect, analyze, and protect

complexity of researching communities?

recomplicate play through a commitment to name

experiences are not captured through binaries

maybe thinking in metaphors (Kimmerer, 2013), expressing through symbols 

& narratives not to just benefit me

to investigate connections and the 100 languages (Edwards, Gandini & Foreman, 1998)

of experience captured through story

literacy of place at a poetic pace 

and grace for BIPOC students 

and new immigrants and research participants 

and the more than human

mindbody spiritual and the emotional (Kimmerer, 2013)

cultural teachings and sovereignty 

I cherish your company offer space for exploring

there’s always time for tea with me (Imai, R., personal communication, November 29, 2019)

well-being expression engagement belonging (Ministry of Education, 2014)

how to foster these but not police 

From Teaching to Thinking (Pelo & Carter, 2018), listening to possibilities

that’s my commitment within the academy

that is not to say that we’re all the same,

or that we can melt the past away

but if we can at least play in the same game 

or maybe in the same key

then, I imagine we are all just passionate

players in floral orchestras

choruses of dissonance, can you hear us?

aligning in harmonic performances

I think… I may not be right, 

I’ve been so protected by white,

I aim to know things differently, a gesture that learning 

is never ending in life

it’s symbiotic, entrancing, melodic, expansive

with evasive solutions

synchronicity, in many of ways being through

research as reconciliation (Wilson & Dupre, 2019) as music

so we dance and we play, listen and create

in rounds that build in crescendo

conversing through harmonies, like little symphonies,

in call and response like a tango

and I stumble my way down pedagogical veins, 

admiring roots and leaves 

I follow, I lead, everything in-between 

as I realize that knowledge is breathing

it’s coming and going, ebbing and flowing

iterative and evolving

sense-based and spiralized, enduring over time, 

it’s living, too, so be kind

it’s alive (Breen, A. V. personal communication, Dec 3, 2020) 

and it’s mighty, 

but I must tread lightly,

for it is not mine

it’s passed down by folks

I’ll never dance with or know,

so, I must know, responsibly. 

just like rightness and wrongness 

not binary opposites 

neither are unknowing and knowledge 

both oppressed and oppressor 

student and professor

untether 

settler 

from 

college

References

Barton, K. [Kim Barton]. (2020, Oct 27). Kim Barton family theory presentation [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1dQrrVUw1A&feature=youtu.be

Breen, A. V. (2019). You do not belong here: Storying allyship in an ugly sweater. In Wilson, S.,

Breen, A. V., & DuPré, L. (Eds.), Research and reconciliation: Unsettling ways of knowing through Indigenous relationships (pp. 49 – 59). Canadian Scholars.

Deane, P. (2018, May 22). A guide for interdisciplinary researchers: Adding axiology alongside ontology and epistemology. Integration and implementation insights [Blog post].
https://i2insights.org/2018/05/22/axiology-and-interdisciplinarity 

Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (Eds.). (1998). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach – Advanced reflections (2nd ed). Greenwood Publishing Group.

Elrick, M. (2010). Dwelling Where I Teach: Connections with Friluftsliv. Pathways: The Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education22(3), 4-10.

Hooks, B. (2006). Love as the practice of freedom. B. Hooks. Outlaw Culture. Resisting Representations, 243-250.

Interdisc. Class (2020, Sept 15). Metaphor assignment and poems [Class Assignment]. FRHD*6340.

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Milkweed Editions.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014). How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/howlearninghappens.pdf 

Pelo, A., & Carter, M. (2018). From teaching to thinking: A pedagogy for reimagining our work. Exchange Press.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, education & society1(1).

Wilson, S., & Hughes, M. (2019). Why research is reconciliation. In Wilson, S., Breen, A. V., & DuPré, L. (Eds.), Research and reconciliation: Unsettling ways of knowing through Indigenous relationships (pp.6 – 19). Canadian Scholars.

Episode 6 – The embedded, embodied, and imbued with Bob Henderson

In this episode, I had the great pleasure of chatting with outdoor education ‘guru’ Bob Henderson. As an experienced educator, guide and writer, Bob exudes wisdom when discussing of ways being with people outdoors. Through this conversation Bob and I find many not-so-surprising connections between my own experience as a student and Bob’s experience as an educator, despite Bob never teaching me. We cover everything from adventure narratives to play as cultural defiance to the value of baking cinnamon buns on trip. Running with Bob’s ideas, we reflect on multiple ways of being, the role of relationality while being outdoors, the usefulness (or lack thereof) of hobbies, being in the present, tumbling and fumbling, and the possibility of ‘joy’ conferences in the future. This conversation is full of nuggets of wisdom for nature-based educators everywhere!

Bob disentangles simplicity, complexity, and complication, and demystifies the intentionality of teachable moments,

“Let’s be here together well. Let’s be playful, let’s be joyous, let’s really come to feel the presence of the place we’re in and the presence of each other. Let’s develop high level relationality”

Somethings I still have to look up to properly share and cite include the following:

  • Einstein book
  • Gattow Taylor book – hidden curriculum
  • aldo leopold: culture and landlessness have being synonymous
  • Play by dr. stuart brown
  • aldo leopold quote: play as cultural defiance
  • who needs a worldwind trip when you can take it slow: slow travel movement
  • john steinback: people don’t take good trips, good trips take people
  • sigmund

Episode 5: COEO Reflections

In this solo episode I reflect on my experience attending the fall conference held by the Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario (COEO). I wander through reflections and realizations that I had during the conference and since, covering themes of what ‘belonging’ means and to whom, the limits of the English language, and my obsession with spirals. Note: this episode was recorded at the beginning of October 2021.

Some things I discuss and said I’d link to:

The Playful Podcast Episode 4 – Glorified Babysitting

In this solo episode I reflect on the fight that ECEs are in to professionalize our work and gain respect by leveraging away from being considered as glorified babysitters. I wander through wonderings about different types of care and education across time, space, and cultures, and ask questions that feel unsettling to my own identity as an ECE. Note: this episode was recorded at the beginning of Sept 2021.

A special note: some of the information I shared in this episode came from being present at events and listening to Indigenous activists share their stories. I tried my best not share information that I would have had to ask permission to share, but I still don’t know how to appropriately cite this kind of knowledge. Therefore, my message to you, if you find this knowledge insightful and motivating, is to get out and physically or virtually attend events run by Indigenous communities to learn about the local knowledge that they hold and that they are willing to share with you.

The statistics I shared about residential schools can be found here:

The book I reference by Kim Anderson and Jessica Ball can be found here (but, if you can, I beg you to find another place to buy it).

The Two-Row Paddle of the Grand information can be found here:

The history of self-care and black panthers; all information I shared was from here:

Carol’s Garboden Murray’s Illuminating Care book and facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=illuminating%20care%3A%20the%20pedagogy%20and%20practice%20of%20care

#boringselfcare posts can be found by @makedaisychains on insta: https://www.instagram.com/p/CHDqLdUBTJn/

Feminist Ethics of Care articles:

  • Langford, R. (Ed.). (2019). Theorizing feminist ethics of care in early childhood practice: Possibilities and dangers. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Powell, A., Johnston, L., & Langford, R. (2021). Equity Enacted: Possibilities for Difference in ECEC through a Critical Ethics of Care Approach. Equity as Praxis in Early Childhood Education and Care, 65.

Pay Caregivers Fairly episode on Call Your Girlfriend: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5EIAn1QAR4oDothi3T279x

Instagram posts discussing the suspension of systems of interdependence: https://www.instagram.com/p/CTFBmEBH3Ww/

Ladyweb epsiode on Call your Girlfriend: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0glfXLvhEmLGP70yZyTW9p

Braiding Sweetgrass (Kimmerer)
“Through unity survival. All flourishing is mutual”

How We Show Up, Mia Birdsong: http://www.miabirdsong.com/how-we-show-up

Ontario’s changes to support rec and leisure more: https://www.ontario.ca/page/before-and-after-school-programs-what-parents-and-providers-need-know

Carol Garboden Murray quote about babysitting: https://www.facebook.com/carolgarbodenmurray/photos/a.124546839303044/327023165722076/

Educators as co-learners and researchers: https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-does-learning-happen-ontarios-pedagogy-early-years

#ichosepreschool: https://www.instagram.com/p/CTTVAUrsTgM/?utm_medium=copy_link

The Playful Podcast Episode 3 – Play! (pt. 1)

Brief summary of shownotes and references:

The Playful Podcast Episode 2 – Prerequisites to Play

In this solo episode, I introduce a mini-series that I intend to continue called Pondering Pathways, where I take a walk around my neighbourhood while reflecting on what is required to access play. I follow up from my questions about Treaty 3 from my first episode and then I contemplate some systemic limitations related to ability, race, socioeconomic status, and culture. I take a deep dive into some thoughts about music in early learning, seasonal outdoor play, and what is required to engage with sophisticated environments and tools. This episode is a little bit of an experiment… it’s a bit choppy or distorted at times and includes some input from the more-than-human world.

  • In this episode I start by following up with my action item from the first episode and share some information I learned about what Treaty 3 is. I stumble my way through discussing an article written by Dr. Brittany Lubby and Dr. Alison Norman about Treaty 3, their history class, and Anishinaabe culture. Here is the full quotation: “Caroline Bridge: Due to the large bodies of water being dealt with in Treaty Three, we can speculate that input from the Nation’s women was important. Women in Anishinaabe culture, of which the Mississaugas are a part, are considered “Keepers of Water,” meaning that when it came to the usage of water, their word was likely to have been considered invaluable in 1792.”
  • I briefly mention my reflections on water as a white settler begin with this Instagram post, and the time of writing this there are 7 total posts documenting these reflections, plus a few others in there that are clearly related.
  • As I stepped outside and started discussing outdoor play and nature-based learning, I reflect on the quotation “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. I had no idea who initially offered this quotation, but with some digging it seems that most people attribute it to Alfred Wainwright although that appears debatable. I need to also say that my reflections about expensive clothing and sensory integration are not my own. I wish I had kept tabs on where I first learned about being critical about this quotation, but I can only track down a few references that I consulted prior to recording this episode:
  1. Regarding how sensory integration occurs outdoors, I learned about this whenI attended a talk by Jon Young and Kathleen Lockyer put on by the Guelph Outdoor School. Kathleen’s website is available here.
  2. I started reflecting on Canadian winter culture after reading this article. Some of the international differences in outdoor play that I referred to are likely discussed here, although I haven’t yet read it (I’ve just read other work by the authors).
  3. A few inspiring resources for playing outdoors with children include the book There’s no Such Thing as Bad Weather, Balanced and Barefoot and Last Child in the Woods,
  4. The clothing library I discussed was from Outdoor Play and Learning as discussed at a Conference by the Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario.
  5. “..long periods of uninterrupted play” is a concept that is discussed in Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years
  • When I talked about the affordances available in wild spaces, this comes from authors like:
  1. Dr. Mariana Brussoni
  2. Dr. Zahra Zamani
  3. Dr. Helen Little
  • When I reflected on what counts as musical play, I speak from a place of being really inspired by Dr. Susan Young’s work. Here is an example of some of her work related to playing with music in early childhood.

Thanks for listening!

Stay playful

The Playful Podcast. Episode 1 – Playful Pedagogies and Podcastings

Welcome to the podcast! In this solo pilot episode, I introduce myself and my orientations toward play, share some ideas about my intentions for this podcast, and try my hand at defining ‘pedagogy’ from the ECE perspective. After disclosing some of my own playful journey into podcasting, I try answering some rapid fire questions I created for future guests. Let’s hope my dream list of guests will manifest!

  • In the first 4 minutes I introduce myself, discuss my positionality, and share information about the land from which I’m chatting on. I talk about living in a city in Ontario known as 2 Rivers and the historical and contemporary relationships that Indigenous groups have had with the land, which reflects the City of Guelph’s land acknowledgement.
  • Next, I try to define pedagogy, but I noticed I forgot to include to say that it’s the theory and practice of teaching and learning, which is literally in the Wiki definition of pedagogy.
  • I also oooze appreciation for Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. If you haven’t bought the booked or got yourself onto the hold list at a local library, seriously, you’ll want to start the process. That book is life changing.
  • The graduate course I talk about around the 13 min mark is called Interdisciplinary Approaches to Family Relations and Human Development at the University of Guelph and the book that I read a quote from is called Research and Reconciliation by Shawn Wilson, Andrea Breen, and Lindsay Dupre.
  • I touch on how this podcast can resemble pedagogical documentation of my learning journey. If you’re not familiar with this terminology, trust that I will explain it more in future episodes. But also, if you are as curious as I am, I’d recommend checking out these resources:
  1. Making Learning Visible
  2. Habits of Documenting
  3. Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

As always, you can reach my at @playfulpedagogies on instagram and facebook; @playfulpod on twitter, and at kem@playfulpedagogies.ca for feedback or to collab!

Educator-As-Community-Keeper

This post is a bit of a brain dump as I’m unwinding a cognitive knot. It is the result of my participation in a few book studies, both personally and professionally. The books we read were Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer and How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong.

My personal reading of Braiding Sweetgrass led me to some deep reflections and contemplations about my relationships with plants (in addition to animals). Kimmerer’s words really slowed down my experience outdoors and allowed me to focus on small moments.

How We Show Up challenged me on a deep personal level. As an introvert who values my independence and singlehood, I found myself questioning what it means to live alone. The chapter about queering friendships, specifically, got me in the feels.

But it wasn’t until I discussed these books in their respective book study groups that I truly felt transformed by the knowledge gifted in them. I’ll share a few examples of things that we questioned and the new understandings I have come to.

Through a conversation about Braiding Sweetgrass we got to a point where we were talking about gifts, and how when you give a gift you shouldn’t expect a gift in return. One person shared that if they were to give money to someone sitting outdoors, they would do so without strings attached, meaning that they trust the person would spend the money on whatever they need, not expect them to purchase food or clothes or save it. They said that there shouldn’t be an expectation of return within our reciprocal relationships. But as a group, we lingered on that, because is that not part of the point the reciprocal relationships? If we are in two-way relationships, can we not trust that we both give and receive? I felt stumped by this for a second and I didn’t see a way out. But then another person offered a path forward: aren’t we still talking about being individuals rather than being truly interconnected? An systems of interdependence mean that what we give, we do get back. In interconnected systems-thinking, we are constantly giving to each other and ourselves. This also means that survival occurs through unity; all flourishing is mutual. In this way, giving money is act of perpetual, unconditional kindness, but it also questions and resists the ownership and hoarding of money. To give is not necessarily to expect to receive, but it is to know that people around you and before you are looking out for you. If we all take responsibility for our part in a community, we all survive and thrive. So ow does this relate to being an educator? My explanation requires a reflection on my next book study: How We Show Up.

This book is a critique of the racist and heteronormative American Dreamism culture and a reimagining of family, friendship, and community. Early on in the book the author makes a point of how family units are a replication of our toxic individualist culture in North America, whereby we exist separately from our neighbours, and things like relying on friends for childcare is considered a shameful last resort for many people. For middle-and lower-class families, paying for childcare seems to be the dominant idea of “what is best for the child”; yet, this rationale reinforces the idea that early childhood educators know what is best for children and that somehow other adults like family and friends do not. I’ve been trying to challenge this notion because, despite our specialized knowledge and years of experience, we are not more knowledgeable than parents, elders, and generational or cultural wisdom. Our collective vision of parents is to see them as capable and competent; therefore, our role becomes slightly challenged when we shift to viewing our livelihood as interconnected communities rather than supporting toxic individualism. If we don’t have the expertise we think we do, then why are we demanding higher pay? If we are as capable and competent as parents and families, then why should we be asking for better occupational conditions, when this is straying further and further away from the home-life experience. How might we lean into these questions, rather than been threatened? I’ve provided a consideration from the book Illuminating Care to demonstrate this notion:

In our conversation about this book we talked about our differing perspectives on individualism. Myself and another person shared that we experience intimacy as threatening, whereas another felt that they had always had friendships that pushed boundaries of intimacy. We discusses our experiences of living with or feeling connected to family, but then realized that family to us, is something that tends to feel permanent whereas friendships can feel transient. We were sensing agreement that the transientness of friendships came with grief, protectiveness, and a resistance to change. We talked about what it means to move, to leave behind communities, and how some folks can feel quite angry when our good friends move. This is especially relevant given our current life stage, not quite 10 years into our careers when moving can happen frequently. But I recalled something that was getting called upon within me: Mike’s wisdom of how home is created and recreated on our paths throughout life, with new people. It’s not about the structure and it’s not about who is kept in or out of a space. It’s about community, bringing people together with the struggle of food, survival, and hard work. I think he would have liked this book a lot.

So again, what does this mean as an eduator?

To that I would ask, am I not recreating home indefinitely? Am I not embracing the transientness of children temporarily being in my care? Do I not enter into very intimate relationships with families and children, even becoming part of families? Am I not empowered and humbled by this, rather than threatened? Do I not operate within a community hub, bringing families together, supporting children’s young friendships, and fostering dispositions for lifelong learning? Do I not uphold community through my responsiveness to both individual and group needs? Don’t I turn local wisdom and familial cultural practices into sacred, shared experiences for all children to benefit from? Do I not prioritize my relationships above almost all else? Am I not a reciprocal partner, ally, and co-conspirator in children’s lives? Defender of wonder, play, and joy in ways that invite children into relationship with humans and the more-than-human world? Do I not resist toxic individualism almost as a job requirement, whereby I use systems-thinking to understand, extend and support the many interlocking relationships I have entered? Am I not a keeper of this community knowledge, resources, and connections?

I think am and I do. And this is how I am choosing to reframe myself. I’m not just a researcher, co-leaner, play partner, care mentor, and nurturer; I am a community keeper.

When Children Ask “Why” Part 1

If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know that I have two major sources of inspiration: Ann Pelo and Margie Carter’s From Teaching to Thinking, and my outdoor education experience in high school with the late Mike Elrick. I’ve been returning to their wisdom in the past few months with a refreshed lens, and I am taking away new insights.

I often think about the way Ann describes her experiences outdoors with children, in-particular the stories of the skunk and the trees in Chapters 1 and 2 of FTtT. While I read some of her writing this morning, I was prompted to think about how I could bring these attitudes into the workshops I’ll be facilitating over the next few months. How can I translate some of this inspiration into digestible prompts for diverse groups of educators?

While reading Ann’s story, I imagined myself in her position. What would I do in response to children asking ‘why do the leaves change colour?’. What have I done in the past? I can’t quite remember. I thought about how some educators would say that they would reflect the question back to the child “I don’t know…why do you think they might change colour?”. Another might say that they would discuss the changing seasons or the amount light during fall. Another might say they don’t know, so they would engage in research to bring books into the classroom to answer the question. Another might say that, since there are filling many other roles while outdoors, such as counting children, putting on mittens, and watching for parents, they are unlikely to feel like they have time to appropriately answer this question and do it justice. Someone might say that in their culture changing colours of leaves holds particular significance. There are so many beautiful ways to respond to this question as well as systemic factors to consider.

I contrast these answers to what Ann did in her experience, which I elude to below. And then I re-thought what I would do again: what would I do if I had enough time, space, and resources to respond in a way that aligns with my pedagogical commitments?

When young children ask “why”, as in, “why do the leaves change colour”, I doubt they are searching for an answer.

I honestly believe, instead, they are reaching for guidance on how to think about this perplexing concept. They might be looking for how to build their skills to follow their curiosities. They might be asking “how do I respond to this inquiry?” or “what should I do when I feel this sense of wonder” or even “this feeling of reverence is powerful! Am I okay?”.

Our job as ECEs is not to be a first responder in these moments. It’s not to react with answers, wisdom, or solutions. I believe, instead, that our job is to take our training and use it to linger in these moments of questioning. Rather than answering in-the-moment, how might we slow down time for children and think though these dilemmas with them. If our job/training/philosophy is to scaffold children’s schemas in meaningful ways, then it’s clear that providing quick answers does a disservice to children’s learning. Instead, I wonder, how might we answer this question slowly, over time? How might we collaborate to think about our own answers to this question? Is a scientific fact really what is being asked for here? Or is it a larger life question about birth, death, and transformation as Ann suggests. Thinking in this way, my role as a co-learner might not even be to think in scientific terms about this. Nor is it to bring in books about trees and seasons. Perhaps, instead it is simply to commit to watching the trees more, learning from our senses, and creating our own language to articulate what we experience here. What do we call it when we feel the exhilaration of noticing a leaf fall, twirling from branch to ground?

Ultimately, I am currently thinking about how children are seeking guidance on their own learning, rather than factual answers, when they ask why. Providing provocations through engaging environmental set up, the use of open-ended play/learning materials, and the intentional use of questions can extend these curiosities through scaffolded guidance, support, and co-learning.

What Would Mike Say?

A friend messaged me today out of the blue. She was in CELP when I was in Headwaters, in 2009. She said she was thinking of her next steps and asked “what would Mike do?” We exchanged a few messaged reminiscing about Mike’s mischievous ways, his smile, and sense of peace and optimism with life. It reminded her of the book Why is God Laughing? (because he gets the joke). It reminded me of the book The Music Lesson (where a music teacher, Mike, makes a journey out of the point of music). These connections to literature remind me of quote Paul pulled from Halfway Man about weaving landscape and narrative. I felt deeply moved by this brief conversation, and, naturally, it sparked a flurry of memories for me. I re-read the 2010 Pathways issue, Zocalo’s blog post from 2015, sifted through photos, only to arrive here, my own journey through writing.

I have to admit, I’ve never stopped to ask myself what a conversation with Mike might be like today. I have been so focused on finding my own mentors, carving my own journeys, and creating my own communities that I never really thought about what he’d have to say about it all. I feel like he’d probably tell me to have more fun.

“So… what’s in the news?” he’d say, with a smirk and arms outstretched, briefly, only lowered to pull one leg over the over and sit with his hands clasped. He’d wiggle his nose, blink, and then tilt his head to the side and wait for one of us to speak up.

Mike, the news right now is wild. I had to stop tuning in daily because it feels like a constant crisis. I think if you were here during this pandemic you’d be in full force to get people outside. More access to trails and rivers and trees, I’d think.

I wonder if you would have made a new trail somewhere in Arkell/Eden Mills since they are getting so busy. Perhaps maintain the popular ones. Or spend time in a tent somewhere.

I’m sure you’d have things to say about the whole stove-in-the-winter-tent issue that came up last year. Warmth, after all, was the point of a hot-tent.

You would not believe that the other day I told my friend about The Hero’s Journey. It came up naturally in conversation and I probably butchered the description. But the wild thing is that the next day she read about it in the book she’s reading. That prompted me to get the audiobook. I feel like you’d tell me to find a physical copy somewhere.

I returned home, Mike, 10 years after we embarked on our journey to The Source. But I’m still returning. I think that this is the fourth story that you told Paul hadn’t happened yet. It’s all your students returning home, in their own time. We trickle back, one by one, to visit the old places that were so sacred. Edgewood. The boathouse for ice cream. Your solo spot. Sacred places from sacred journeys.

I live by the river now, by the way. Close to the mill where we did our interview. Imagine I could interview you today?! You’d give me such fantastic prompts, challenges, and insights to wrestle with, I’m sure. You’d probably tell me to be a musician instead of a scholar. Music was important to you. I think you’d like the role of pedagogical consultant though. I get to mentor other people, hopefully. And I think you’d like what’s happening in early learning in terms of emergent curriculum, pedagogical documentation, and risky play. We would have some fascinating conversations.

I’ve learned so much wisdom from Paul, you know. He doesn’t carry your relationship lightly. He is moved, deeply, by his love for you. We all are.

“We were so in love with each other”. That rings in my ears from time to time. It’s something my friend said to me a year ago, at an Outdoor Ed conference, as we reminisced about you back then. That was the magic you created for us in your programs. It was beyond community and activism. It was poetry. It was belonging. It was transformational.

I wonder what you’d think of this blog and my writing. My songs. My presentations. My research. My work ethic. My break down a few years ago. I wonder if I would have ever attended COEO in 2020 or if it would have happened at a different time. I wonder if I would have never failed Uni Geography. I wonder if I would have gone to Queens. I wonder, if you had lived longer, when I would have returned home. I suspect it would have been so much later.

Noticing my own sense of wonder makes me proud. I feel like it would make you proud, too.

Your sense of wonder is one of the things that sustains me today. Alongside your hard work was your visionary style, compassionate leadership, and commitment to reflection and documentation. Reading your writing today demonstrates how deeply you had journeyed with your ideas. You showed us that at 17 we could get published, noticed even, if we journey to the source and offer something meaningful for our community. You showed us that we had the strength, ideas, and endurance to create innovative solutions to the world’s problems. You made us into the farmers, engineers, entrepreneurs, partners, architects, teachers, nurses, and community partners we are today because, to you, were always those things.

Thank you for showing me the power of an authentic educator, father, lover, and community dweller.