Untrained eyes might think the small community garden on the coast and Straits Salish Territory, on what is commonly known as the University of Victoria Campus, looks unruly. It’s hard to tell the boundary between the garden and its surrounding dandelions and lamb’s ears.
Children, educators, and researchers from the University of Victoria Child-care Centre who work in the garden have been challenged to find out where these boundaries begin.
They threw themselves into the overgrowth of the garden with enthusiasm rather than managing it. They had no idea what or how it was growing. These unknowns helped them move past the concept of “controlled garden plots.” They think instead about what they want and why they want it, as well as what they don’t know.
These approaches are essential for the children of today and future generations who inherit an environmentally precarious world.
Climate Action Childhood Network
Climate Action Childhood Network includes educators at the University of Victoria Centre, as well as educators in more than ten early childhood centers from five countries: Australia, Ecuador, Canada, and the United States.
As the director of this network of international researchers and practitioners who are interdisciplinary, I am aware of the importance of creating and experimenting with young children to generate responses to climate change. Teachers in early childhood centers create climate-specific activities with children to explore topics like food, animals, and weather. They also discuss waste, water, and energy.
Children today face a variety of environmental problems, including toxicity, destruction, destruction by extraction, pollution, wildfires, and extreme weather. Children are seldom consulted about ecological issues.
Read More: Federal Budget 2021: Seven actions to ensure Canada’s “child-care plan” is about education.
A paradigm change can lead to the deeper social required modifications. This shift is about moving away from information-driven learning to learning that is situated, explorative and experimental.
As part of the Climate Action Childhood Network, children in a Toronto daycare created a garden. (Lisa Gagliardi), provided by the author (no reuse).
Gardeners can collaborate to create a beautiful garden.
The community garden in Vancouver Island, run by B. Denise Hodgins and Narda Nelsen challenge the notions of management and stewardship. Children are taught to work with gardeners by participating in activities such as planting, digging, fertilizing, and watering.
Before working with children, educators attended Colonial Reality Tours led by Cheryl Bryce. Bryce comes from the Songhees Nation – also known as Lekwungen. The educators engaged in a dialogue with Earl Claxton Jr., who is an Elder, ethnobotanist, and Knowledge Keeper from the STA, UTW (Tsawout), and WSANEC (Saanich).
Challenge your assumptions
We can imagine alternative worlds when we invite children to speculate.
“These beans will grow so tall they’ll reach the clouds!” One child told me this on a recent garden visit. This is an incredibly beautiful statement that challenges our assumptions.
Together with the Common Worlds Research Collective, the Climate Action Childhood Network positions early childhood as a collective practice of “learning together.” The goal is for children to go beyond “learning about” climate change to see themselves as part of the problem.
It is important to go beyond just learning about climate change to actually becoming part of the problem. (Narda, Nelson) Author provided (no reuse).
Conversations With Rain is an example of a collaboration between the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Mindy Blaise, and Jo Pollitt.
They worked alongside young children to respond to a painting, Raining on Kurtal, by Wangkatjunga/Walmajarri artist Ngarralja Tommy May. Asked children to use their breathing as a way of thinking. Children began by drawing a line on each page for every breath they took. Consider the question: “What if writing is raining?” Children wrote as quickly as rain without planning or stopping.
A second project had children, educators, and researchers explore creeks in their respective environments around the world. Cruickshank Park in Wurundjeri Country in Melbourne, Australia, was the location of one group. Once a grassland and then a bluestone quarry that polluted creeks, it is now a greenbelt winding through a rapidly gentrifying suburban area. One group was in Haro Woods on Canada’s West Coast, a second-growth urban forest that is on unceded ancestral and traditional lands of the Coast and Straits Salish Peoples.
FaceTime was used by researchers Nicole Land and Catherine Hamm to explore new connections with children in Australia and Canada. Children and educators used FaceTime to share stories about water and creeks while sitting at the creekside. The children listened and asked: Where does water go if it is dry at certain times of the year? What stories was this place telling before colonialism by settlers?
The project collaborators wrote, “Our water stories do not concern saving or rescuing water.” The stories are more about how to stay in touch with the problems that have been made visible by polluted creeks within urban nature spaces.
FaceTime was not designed to promote the idea that children are “global citizen” learners who should be exposed to other cultures.
It resisted the urge to share facts about parklands. It was more concerned about what Donna Haraway, a feminist scholar, called ” transferring patterns.” Haraway uses the cat’s cradle game, a children’s string game that can be passed from person to person (and then elaborated on), as a metaphor.
A child noticed that a stick resembled the leg of a hen walking through the garden. (Karina FERNANDEZ), Author provided.
We responded to this pandemic with our work. In Cuenca Ec,uador, a project turned the difficulties of lockdowns into an opportunity for an itinerant classroom.
Researchers Cristina D. Vintimilla and Veronica Pacini and educators at Santana’s Children’s School created home gardens throughout the city. Teachers and children met three times a week to develop a curriculum based on the environment.
One child in an itinerant classroom on Cabogana Mountain noticed that a certain stick looked like the leg of a chicken walking through the garden. The child began to explore the movements of the bird through drawing and imitation.
The Climate Action Childhood Network created new engagement modes in early childhood environmental education. These modes will help create conditions that will allow society’s youngest citizens, who are most likely to be affected by environmental challenges over the long term, to actively take part in changing the world they inherit.