Educators in Conversation

In February, educators in our CAN inquiry came together in conversation and shared much ‘food for thought’ about how we come to think deeply about materials and sustainability (sustain-ability) and how this inquiry entangles into our daily practice in our centre, yard, garden, and personal lives, even when we are not in the forest directly thinking or engaged with trees.  For example, the materials we think with, the way we consume or try not to, and the challenges and tensions that exist within all of the consequent actions and descisions.

Why do these materials end up in our centres?

Where do they come from and how to they live in our centres? 

Where do they go? 

Why do we continue using them the way we do? 

What else can (must?) we do? 

Paper towels, snack sheet reminders, paper, pencil crayons, clay, tape, food waste and plastics were discussed as part of the everyday (often unconscious) go-to’s in ECE spaces.  We also discussed some of the tensions of extracting clay from Haro Woods [the small urban forest that borders our child care centres] and of drawing pictures on (albeit recycled) paper to gift to a tree scheduled for cutting down on the street.  In light of the global challenges at hand, we talked about interrupting the habits and established patterns of thinking and doing together that got us into this condition as part of the collective responsibility as educators, in an effort to create new ways of everyday worlding.  

Clay from the forest.
Message to the trees

What is the impact of rethinking our consumption?

How might sometimes promote or encourage disconnection in pedagogy and practice with young children? 

How are the children involved in these thinkings and doings?

Are we creating conditions for expressing their ideas? 

What would it be like to live with heightened sensitivity to the lives given for ours?  To consider the tree in the Kleenex, the algae in the toothpaste, the oaks in the floor, the grapes in the wine; to follow back the thread of life in everything and pay it respect?  Once you start, it’s hard to stop, and you begin to feel yourself awash in gifts. I open the cupboard, a likely place for gifts.  I think, “I greet you, dojar of jam.  You glass who once was sand upon the beach, washed back and forth and bathed in foam and seagull cries, but who are formed into glass until you once again return to the sea.  And you, berries, plump in your June-ness, now in my February pantry.  And you, sugar, so far from your Caribbean home-thanks for making the trip. In that awareness, looking over the objects on my desk-the basked, the candle, the paper-I delight in following their origins back to the ground.  I twirl a pencil-a magic wand lathed from incense cedar-between my fingers.  The willow bark in the aspirin.  Even the metal of my lamp asks me to consider its roots in the strata of the earth.  But I notice that my eyes and my thoughts pass quickly over the plastic on my desk.  I hardly give the computer a second glance.  I can muster no reflective moment for plastic.  It is so far removed from the natural world.  I wonder if that’s a place where the disconnection began, the loss of respect, when we could no longer easily see the life within the object. And yet I mean to disrespect for the diatoms and marine invertebrates who two hundred million years ago lived well and feel to the bottom of an ancient sea, where under great pressure of a shifting earth they became oil that was pumped from the ground to a refinery where it was broken down and then polymerized to make the case of my laptop or the cap of the aspirin bottle-but being mindful in the vast network of hyperindustrialized goods really gives me a headache.  We weren’t made for that sort of constant awareness.  We’ve got work to do. But every once in a while, with a basket in hard, or a peach or a pencil, there is that moment when the mind and spirit open to all the connections, to all the lives and our responsibility to use them well.  And just in that moment, I can hear John Pigeon say, “Slow down-it’s thirty years of a tree’s life you’ve got in your hands there.  Don’t you owe it a few minutes to think about what you’ll do with it?”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 2013, pp. 154-155