Editors’ Note – Studying: An Invitation to Early Childhood Education

Our conversation with Dr. Walter Kohan emerged from a conference that he had convened alongside colleagues at Center for Philosophies and Childhoods of the Rio de Janeiro State University on the theme of study that Fikile attended. The conversations and facilitated place encounters (what Walter describes in the interview as errant exercises) in the conference struck Fikile as highly pertinent to the work of a pedagogist. For instance, we engaged in practicing and co-theorizing study as collective, relational and improvisational – in relation with human and more than human co-participants. We engaged in place encounters that provoked dialogues on the “where of study” including the mattering of place, time, space, slowness, movement and their affective resonances in collective study. The conversation with Walter included in this issue also takes up how questions of context, time and movement are inherent to study; including in holding possibilities to resist current neoliberal and neocolonial conditions of life both within and beyond institutional contexts. In this discussion, Walter provides us with thought provoking orientations for the mattering of study in working as pedagogists concerned with early childhood pedagogical orientations that imagine, enact and nurture more livable, relational worlds alongside early childhood educators.

The conversation between Dr. Kathleen Kummen and Barbara Pytka – who are both immersed in pedagogist work within the context of the education of future early childhood educators – shares resonances with Walter’s interview in that both are concerned with noticing the ways in which current neoliberal conditions impact education. The authors speak to the striations of conceptualizing educational study through a focus on measures, assessment and productivity. Kathleen and Barbara speak to this specifically in relation to pressures faced by college professors seeking to undertake in-depth pedagogical work with future early childhood educators amidst neoliberal constraints. This conversation is an important reminder that pedagogists’ work necessitates navigating the complexities and contradictions of becoming a subject within conditions marked by hyper-individualization of systemic conditions. What might become possible from carefully attending and responding to responsibility, desire, and anxious subjectivity (de Lissovoy, 2018) as onto-epistemologies that intimately shape pedagogical work with early childhood educators?

Lindsay Sparkes’, a pedagogist with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario, article in part speaks back to the preceding question within the situated context of a pedagogical inquiry on food waste. The article makes visible the work of a pedagogist in supporting educators in situated food waste curriculum-making that enacts a turn away from neoliberal individualized, human-centric responsibility and consumptive desire in waste relations (see also Pacini-Ketchabaw & MacAlpine, 2022 ). Important aspects of this interruptive immersion in waste relations include paying attention and responding collectively where children, educators, food, critters and more are all active participants. It is also interesting to notice the multiple ways in which this article intersects with Walter ’s theorizations of temporality, childhoods and study (see our conversation in this issue). For instance, Lindsay writes about pedagogical engagements with interconnected human/more-than-human temporalities that involve slowing down and attuning to children’s affective relationalities. Perhaps then this work at London Bridge Children’s Centre, as narrated by Lindsay, shares resonance with expansive understandings of study that embrace multiple inter-disciplinary, planned, emergent and speculative forms of knowing and becoming-with human and more-than-human relations.

The final article in this issue is a conversation between three pedagogists with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario, Gabrielle Warren, Danielle Wittick and Lisa Johnston on the material-discursive complexities of enacting and conceptualizing care as pedagogists in early childhood education contexts. This discussion touches on many important considerations. For instance, it underlines how discourses of professionalization can commodify care, and points to the importance of viewing care in expansive ways beyond individual acts. The expansive view of care that Gabrielle, Danielle and Lisa share includes foregrounding mutual constellatory relations, of which the more-than-human is an intrinsic part. Importantly the conversation reminds us that early childhood education is also a space at which to notice and collectively respond to organized abandonment (Gilmore, 2020) under current neoliberal, colonial and capitalist conditions. They ask, for instance, how might the work of an early childhood pedagogist engage with an orientation that resists reproducing colonial care? What might it look like to work alongside refusal as a form of care or to enact, as Christina Sharpe (2018) reminds us, care as shared risk? We see these questions, alongside all of the offerings in the issue, as generative openings for situating pedagogist work within current challenging times – times that demand both deep study and collective response.

College Professors: Actors¹ in Early Childhood Education

Kathleen Kummen (Ph.D, ECE) is the Co-Director of BC Early Childhood Pedagogy Network and the Chair of the School of Education and Childhood Studies at Capilano University .

Barbara Pytka (RECE) is a College Professor in the School of Early Childhood Education at Seneca Polytechnic.

¹ The use of the term “actors” was inspired by the Actor Network Theory. Tara Fenwick writes extensively on the use of Actor Network Theory in education. She suggests that our realities are an enactment of many actors working together in assemblages. For further exploration of Fenwick’s work visit Fenwick (2010). 

Barbara: In his book “The Burnout Society,” Byung-Chul Han (2015) suggests that our society is preoccupied with achievement and productivity. The obsession with the never-satisfying drive for optimizing achievement and performance leads us to a level of a pathological state. This state includes burnout, depression, hyperactivity, profound boredom, sameness and becoming “achievement-subjects” (p. 8). We willingly challenge ourselves to become the best we can be and there is never a finish line. These dispositions are amplified by the lauding of agreeableness and positivity so much so that we have become accustomed to responding with “yes, we can” to all our life’s demands (Han, 2015, p. 8). According to Han, these dispositions are internal rather than external forces that propel us toward becoming “entrepreneurs” of ourselves (2015, p. 8).

Undoubtedly, the culture of achievement and productivity has found its way into early childhood education preparatory programs. It is true, now more than ever, that college professors are pressured to ensure that their “yes, we can” capacity is unlimited. From my experience, in their already abundant lists of responsibilities, college professors believe that their success depends on their continuous positive response to the pressure to achieve. For example, today’s college professors agree to work longer hours to learn to use constantly changing technological tools to teach students in various delivery modes, such as in-person and online, both synchronous and asynchronous. They push themselves to better support the overwhelming number of international students studying Canadian early childhood education.

As achievement subjects, college professors in early childhood education urge themselves to learn and innovate their assessment methods in response to ever-changing societal technical developments, such as the introduction of ChatGPT. They also willingly exploit themselves in consulting many students who leave the early childhood program after experiencing the current state of post-COVID-19 programs for young children in their practicums.

How do you think a culture of achievement, productivity, and entrepreneurs in early childhood education programs contributes to the formation of students’ professional identity, and what influence may it have on the future of the field? 

Kathleen: You have asked a critical question that requires all of us in education to consider the current conditions that necessitate starting a conversation around the education of future educators and thinking about a culture of achievement, productivity, and entrepreneurship. This is an important reminder that early childhood education and the education of future educators are deeply related to the social, political, and technological conditions of our times. A recent article written by the Early Childhood Pedagogies Collaboratory (2023) problematized the narrative that investment into early childhood education is essential to ensuring the growth of the Canadian economy. Their concern is that when the dominant public conversation around implementing a Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care program privileges economic concerns instead of educational issues, we neglect to think about early childhood education as a project of world and citizen-making. When focusing on economic growth, early childhood education is reduced to an instrumental economic endeavor, ignoring the field’s rich possibilities. 

In 2014, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla wrote about how she was often questioned by her colleagues and others for introducing students to neoliberalism in early childhood education classes. Her response was to make visible how neoliberalism functions in and regulates early childhood education conditions that make possible very particular ways of being an early childhood educator. Your question requires us to carefully think with Vintimilla to articulate how the economic constructs of neoliberalism and its social consequences permeate early childhood education and produce educators that understand education from that perspective. Once we have a clear understanding of what occurs when education is an economic issue, we can work to make space for pedagogical matters in education. We can then ask more relevant and urgent questions, such as how we might co-construct curriculum that responds to the conditions of 21st-century educators.

Barbara: I agree that we need to clearly understand what is jeopardized when conceptualizing education as an economic issue. For me, we first need to identify and acknowledge the important roles of the many actors involved in the universalization of the present early childhood system. In particular, I would like to discuss community colleges as preparatory institutions for educators and powerful actors in the field.

As you know, in Ontario, in accordance with the College of Early Childhood Educators’ 2021 report, 95% of educators working with children and their families enter the field with only a two-year college diploma. There is no incentive for educators to continue their education above the basic preparatory level and pursue opportunities to enhance their academic dispositions (attitudes associated with commitment to lifelong learning). Focusing only on the college diploma in early childhood education is problematic, as community colleges are “focused on meeting the needs of the economy” (Cox & Sallee, 2018, p. 74). This is manifested in aims to produce registered early childhood educators as quickly as possible, to meet shortage demands within the field. In this way, students’ learning is dependent on establishing quick and efficient processes that move students through schooling into the field as quickly as possible. Unlike the structure of university programs, in college programs, professors are pressured to produce workers through whatever means necessary (Dennison & Gallagher, 2014. p. 77), which often translates to making theoretical concepts “accessible”. For example, this might look like providing short and easy articles to students, using quizzes for testing, creating ready-to-use educational tools, such as checklists, templates and step-by-step directions, and constructing assignments rooted in memorizing standards, rules, and procedures.  

What are your thoughts on the consequences of these instrumental, reproducible approaches to pre-service education for early childhood educators? 

Kathleen: The assertion that teacher education merely recycles technical practices is not a recent concern. George Counts, in an editorial written in 1935 for the Teacher College Record, strongly criticized the increase in the length of teacher education from two years to four if the mechanistic emphasis on practicality over transformative practices were to remain. Over ten years ago, Kirylo and McNulty (2011), in their introduction to a special issue of Childhood Education, asserted that early childhood and elementary teacher education programs are facing unprecedented demands for change to meet the needs of children in the 21st century. They express concern that, unfortunately, this call for change is often met with practices that reflect “a belief that teaching is a technical skill—a belief they feel ignores “the complexity and political nature of teaching” (p. 316). 

The consequence of a neoliberal approach to the education of future educators is that post-secondary programs are at risk of being implicated into practices that contribute to the deskilling of early childhood educators. I use the term deskilling, to imply the reduction of the knowledge, dispositions and skills that are considered necessary to work as an early childhood educator.  As difficult as it may be, post-secondary instructors must come together to consider our obligations to our students and the young children they will work with. The knowledge, ideas, values, and beliefs privileged in post-secondary classrooms make possible the pedagogical practices that provide children with the types of educational spaces they deserve – or not. If we want students to become educators that respond to the conditions of 21st-century life, then we, as their educators, need to create classrooms that nurture specific student dispositions.

As the educators of educators, we should be asking: what are the practices of our post-secondary classroom that contribute to our students engaging in practices that are ethical, situated, or meaningful when they become educators? How are we taking up the practice of critical reflection in our own pedagogical choices in the post-secondary classroom and collectively as departments when we are making curricular decisions?  For example, let’s consider a course that has, as a learning objective, to consider how societal values and beliefs (e.g., gender, race, and culture) affect educational practice. As educators we need to reflect on how we are taking up this objective in pedagogical practices that make visible and disrupt the taken-for-granted assumptions all of us hold around children and childhood. Dahlberg, Moss, and Pence (2013) argue that if we disrupt these dominant discourses of children, childhood might more easily be recognized as a social construct and children might more easily be seen, not as universal entities, but as complex, diverse, and, at times, contradictory. This recognition would make space to open the possibility of multiple ways to provide early childhood education programs for children and families. The question, then, is how might we as educators curate the conditions that will support students in an inquiry to displace or unhinge taken-for-granted notions of children and childhood. How do we create the pedagogical conditions so that students can engage in a process of collective learning, that like any inquiry worth its salt, makes spaces for new questions and curiosities that are unexpected, and disrupt our thinking in unanticipated ways?

As professors, I think we have an obligation to create early childhood education programs where students can conceptualize early childhood as a space to create more livable worlds for children rather than a space to ‘prepare’ children for kindergarten or keep them safe and occupied so that parents and caregivers can work. We are responsible for creating the conditions for students to become those educators. 

Barbara: Let’s discuss now the relationship between neoliberal logic in education and anti-intellectualism. I am referring to practices and structures that focus heavily on ingraining limited traditions (e.g., developmentalism) and policies and regulations established by external governing bodies; practices that limit the role of educators to the application of technical and scientific conceptions. As Vintimilla et al. (2023) suggest, such existing structures in early childhood education not only strengthen anti-intellectualism, but also create barriers for educators to envision and explore approaches that can influence the ways we think and do pedagogy. If we accept the view that the purpose of early childhood education programs is to produce skilled, technical workers, then it follows that the approaches used in preparatory education don’t promote intellectual work or creativity. Here I am referring to both what students deem as relevant for their education and also the specific theoretical underpinnings college professors choose for their courses, acknowledging that there are specific governmental and institutional parameters they must adhere to. Based on my experience working with about 80 college professors, I have seen the pressure they face to structure early childhood education curricula to promote technical and reproducible objectives rather than a curriculum that promotes students’ intellectual curiosity. This technocratic curriculum is something that Bezaire and Johnston (2023) problematize when they talk about pre-service educators needing to learn through experiencing “complex, multifaceted, even contradictory roles” (p. 436) if they are to be prepared to respond to contemporary complex social issues.

What do you think is needed to shift in the work of college professors so students can strengthen their dispositions in becoming creative and innovative thinkers? 

Kathleen: First, I would like to acknowledge that college and university professors work within complex governmental and administrative relations. As people who care deeply about children and families, they are aware of the unprecedented challenges to the field of early childhood education, such as the lack of childcare spaces and recruitment and retention issues. However, I strongly believe that as professors, these challenges should not take precedence over creating curriculum that pedagogically responds to the conditions of our times. I believe faculty need to attend to Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s (2006) argument that “the model of teacher development as training and retraining is retrograde and is inconsistent with contemporary understandings of teaching and learning” (p. 687–688). Acknowledging this requires us, as the educators of future educators, to engage deeply with literature, knowledges and practices that will support the reconceptualization of the education of future educators. 

For me, the issue of concern in the education of early childhood educators is how to live/teach/research in a world of competing and contradictory discourses. How can we invite students to expect teaching (and perhaps life) to be what Jackson (2001) describes as a “wrenching, uneven experience” (p. 388)? We, as teachers of early childhood educators, need to create learning spaces that explore what it means to teach, live, and practice in an unstable, unpredictable, always emerging world. 

For example, my colleagues Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw and Denise Hodgins have been involved in a project in British Columbia called the BC Early Childhood Pedagogy Network, where part of our work is with student educators. We have introduced the role of faculty pedagogists, who work directly with educators in practicum sites and with students. The faculty pedagogists support educators and students to engage with children and families in innovative, critically reflective practice and extend the practice of the educators and the children by introducing new ideas and materials (Government of British Columbia, 2019, p. 7). This work is supported by current research in the education of future educators that calls for intentional and guided opportunities for students to reflect on their observations of and practices with young children in early childhood education settings (e.g., Avgitidou et al., 2013; Bowne et al., 2010 Brown and Englehardt, 2016). In an article, Denise and I wrote, we talk more deeply about the process of creating the conditions for students to build relationships that create the conditions to think together about ideas and theory (Kummen & Hodgins, 2019). 

One of the things that has emerged from this work is the importance of practicum for student educators. Practicum is often considered secondary to the theory courses or other courses taught on campus and positioned as sort of a means to an end for students to meet requirements to successfully complete the program. Suppose we truly want to reconceptualize both early childhood education and the education of early childhood educators. In that case, we need to conceptualize practicum as one of the most significant courses in their education as future educators and one that is deeply connected to curriculum and pedagogy. Within the ECPN, we have expanded the Dedicated Practicum model developed at Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia, in what we call our Post-Secondary Stream of Pedagogists. 

In this model, students experience practicum at the same practicum site for one academic year, which is quite different from other practicum structures, where students are encouraged to have multiple practicum sites so that they can see a little bit of everything. By working in the same early years program, not only do the students develop long-term relationships with children, but they also come to know and be part of the life of that centre. By working with the same mentor teachers and faculty, students have the time and opportunity to engage deeply in curriculum with children and educators. The Dedicated Practicum model allows students to think with educators and children to curate experiences, select materials and so forth so that there is deep engagement with ideas and concerns that matter in that centre. This model helps students see pedagogical work as more than providing activities that keep children busy and safe while their parents are at their place of employment. By becoming immersed in the life of a centre, students can engage with pedagogy as life-making (Vinimilla & Pacini- Ketchabaw, 2020). 

Barbara: Recruitment and retention of early childhood educators have created new challenges for the field and for colleges and universities. As McCuaig et al. (2022) pointed out in their report, 82% of child care operators in Canada have been experiencing difficulties with recruiting qualified educators. In Ontario, “licensed child care has the lowest retention rate of any employment setting” (College of Early Childhood Educators, 2021, n.p.). For that reason, there is a push to graduate more students to meet the demand for educators in the field, so much so that full-time domestic students receive bursaries of $2,000 per semester to complete the program (Seneca Polytechnic, 2023). 

The retention and recruitment issue has also contributed to increasing numbers of international students in early childhood education (Admission Hub, 2021). The research on international students learning in Canadian colleges is limited. However, what we have learned from the early childhood education community in Australia is that, in addition to adjusting to the cultural differences in pedagogy (Rouse & Joseph, 2019), students are being challenged with navigating a new lifestyle (cost of living, linguistic differences, etc.) (Dai, Matthews, & Reyes, 2020; Yu & Wright, 2016). International students in early childhood education talk about being stressed, overwhelmed, and struggling to connect theory and practice (Rouse & Joseph, 2019). This is important, as educators’ capacity and attitudes, engagement, and emotional warmth are linked to children’s positive outcomes in future academic performance, behaviour, and health (McCuaig et al., 2022).

How are we to create spaces that welcome the diversity of students in our programs, and create the conditions to support their well-being and nurture the dispositions that allow them to meet the complex and situated needs of the children and families in the 21st century?

Kathleen: I am working in the province of British Columbia; I can attest that my colleagues at Capilano University and other post-secondary institutions are seeing an increase in pressure to offer accelerated and other programs that work to quickly put adults in early years programs. Often this involves programs in which adults receive an assistant certificate or a short training so that they are considered responsible adults. Also, with the introduction of our degree 13 years ago, we saw a rise in the number of younger students entering our program directly from Grade 12.  However, education is a profession that obliges us to always be responding to the current conditions in which we find ourselves. This means that we need to attend pedagogically to the increase in the diversity of our students. 

First, we need to celebrate that we are having more diversity and difference in our field. This increases the possibilities for young children to work with adults who share their language, have similar culture experiences and so forth. The last thing education in the 21st century needs is to perpetuate the ghost of Lady Bountiful (Ford Smith, 1993, cited in Harper & Cavanaugh, 1994), who haunts the elementary classroom and is also present in early childhood education, and who works to keep children innocent and pure. Harper and Cavanaugh (1994) describe Lady Bountiful as a representation of the white lady missionary or white lady teacher who emerged during the time of British imperialism (p. 42).

It also means that we, as educators of educators, need to recognize how our students’ geo-political position in the world shapes the ways in which they understand childhood, education, families and so forth. In our own classrooms and with our colleagues we need to seek to bring to the forefront the complexity of teaching that results from taken-for-granted understandings that mask the political, historical, and changing meanings of discourses. How are we ensuring that all early childhood students understand the genealogy of child development and its relationships with racism and colonization? How do we ensure that the colonization and the ongoing legacy of colonization are discussed in our classrooms in ways that don’t have settlers recounting the narrative? We need to ensure that as educators, we are meeting our obligations to the students in front of us in ways that will support them to undertake the complex work of the early childhood educator. I think the words in the Early Childhood Educators of BC Position Paper on The Role of the Early Childhood Educator might be generative to our discussion:  

Current research asserts social policies and narratives maintain our profession as gendered, racialized, marginalized and positioned as a secondary market force. However, we know that early childhood educators are not limited by these narratives and images. Educators are leaders and hopeful for a better future, without knowing the shape of that future. Educators are emboldened to disrupt the legacies of the past in order to activate transformative change for the future. In relationship with children, families, communities, materials and places, educators engage in intentional pedagogical work in response to the complexity of our current conditions. Early childhood education is a space to co-create new worlds with alternative narratives.

Barbara: In addition to reconceptualizing practicum in the ways you outlined above, what specific actions can college professors take to counter current practices in programs that limit Ontario’s early childhood education field? 

Kathleen: I am unsure I can respond to your question with specific actions that faculty should take in their classrooms because I am hesitant to offer suggestions that might lend themselves to instrumental practices. Instead, I encourage faculty to come together to engage in radical dialogues to think deeply about how they understand early childhood education; to unpack the discourses they hold around education, educators, and children so that they can critically reflect on their pedagogical practices. I use the term radical dialogue to refer to a style of conversation that Moss and Dalberg (2005) describe as dialogue that fosters conditions for the participants to work with an idea or concept in ways that unpack, disrupt, analyze, and question taken-for-granted assumptions so as to collectively reimagine alternative understandings. Doing this work means moving beyond sharing ideas to negotiate a consensus. Rather, it requires a commitment to labour collaboratively, to use the words of Vintimilla, “in the name of something” that is beyond the opinions and desires of the individual. As educators of future educators, it is critical that we formulate, reformulate, and negotiate pedagogical commitment for the post-secondary classroom.

Many of my colleagues at Capilano University were fortunate to work with Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, who, as a pedagogista, curated dialogues that helped us to come together to collectively articulate our image of the student educator, the educator, education and the child. Collective thinking is far from easy work and is often filled with challenges and tension. However, it was necessary for us, as educators, to nurture, individually and collectively, the dispositions to engage in radical dialogues to think pedagogically. For example, words such as neoliberalism, globalization, colonization and racism enter our classrooms in the student’s first term. Thinking with the work of Vintimilla (2014), students are introduced to education as a political project. We ask the students to think deeply about the concept of pedagogy as a form of life-making, and we collectively commit to working with the concept of education as a political project, to think together about the language, theories, and knowledges that we work with within our classrooms. When students are introduced to education as a profession that is not innocent and neutral, they understand that they have an obligation to consider what materials and experiences they would offer to children—recognizing that what happens in the classroom makes possible particular ways of being and knowing and silences or marginalizes other ways of knowing and being. Thinking with Barad (2012), I believe that what is needed in the education of future early childhood educators is a curriculum that attends to “how values matter and gets materialized, and the interconnectedness of ethics, ontology, and epistemology” (as cited in Juelskær & Schwennesen, p.15). Therefore, we need to think beyond activities and skills so that the education of future educators is taken up as an ethical and political project.

For me personally, I am inspired in my own teaching by the words of Rinaldi (2006) who asserts that the child requires an educator who is a “‘powerful’ teacher, the only kind of teacher suitable for our equally “‘powerful’ child” (p. 125). This powerful educator, Rinaldi explains, is open to the unexpected, is one who engages in learning with the child as a researcher in order to be open to possibilities in education. Perhaps this statement by Rinaldi can be a place for faculty to start a process of collectively reimaging the education of future educators.  It is my hope that we as the educators of early childhood educator engage in what Lenz Taguchi (2010) refers to as ethics of immanence and potentialities to “transform educational practices so that they can be about challenging children’s, students’ and teachers’ potentialities and capacities to act and be inventive in the process of collaborative experimentation and production of concepts and knowing” (p. 177).

Barbara: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the critical role professors play in the field of early childhood education. I hope this discussion will create a space for college professors and those involved in the construction and implementation of early childhood education programs to see why continuously reflecting on and revisiting their teaching methods, as well as making tangible changes that promote deep intellectual and pedagogical thought is important. I also hope that your provocations will serve as a catalyst to start disrupting old habits that normalize taken-for-granted practices in early childhood education to create space for new possibilities in the field. I would like to close with Nietzsche’s idea that a teacher’s role is to “learn to see, to think, and to speak and write” (as cited in Han, 2015, p. 21). 


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Thinking with Waste

Lindsay Sparkes (RECE) is Pedagogist with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario at London Bridge Childcare Services.

Across the world there are stories about waste problems, calling humans to take drastic action by recycling, reusing and reducing waste. However, many of these actions don’t solve the problems, they simply create new ones. In early childhood education, we have a tendency to find quick fix solutions to these challenges that make us feel like good citizens or stewards of the earth. These include recycling with children, banning of single use plastics, engaging in repurposing activities, and so on. 

As a pedagogist implicated in this work for the past 5 years, I have been wondering how I might challenge some of these managerial approaches to the current climate crisis: What if, instead of quickly finding solutions, we rethink our response(abilities) to the growing waste crisis? With educators and children, and researchers in the Climate Action Childhood Network, I am engaged with this question. Using common worlds pedagogies (e.g., Blyth & Meiring, 2018; Iorio, Coustley, & Grayland, 2017; Lakind & Adsit-Morris, 2018; Nxumalo, 2016; Pacini-Ketchabaw & Nxumalo, 2015; Taylor, 2013, 2014, 2017; Taylor & Giugni, 2012), we are shifting our responses to human-induced ecological instability. Rather than focusing our actions on the individual, we are attending to the collective and to interrelations between humans and nonhuman others. “Common worlding” is a process of attending to the actual messy, unequal, and imperfect worlds real children inherit and co-inhabit along with other human and non-human beings (Taylor, 2013;Taylor & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2019). Thus, in a society that places waste out of sight and out of mind, our work calls us to bring waste in sight and in mind. 

Last year, in collaboration with educators, we centered our work around food waste specifically. Peels, seeds, cores from various types of produce were brought into the classroom.  Our pedagogical intention involved paying attention to food wastes’ many processes so that we might build a different kind of (non-consumptive) relations between children and food waste. 

Food waste and rituals around caring for food waste became central to our work, calling children and educators to engage deeply with what they might not pay attention otherwise.  What used to be tossed in the garbage was then something we had to care for and care with. We paid attention, not only to how children engaged with food waste but how food waste invited children to engage with it. We paid attention to how food waste disrupted and interrupted the daily movements of the classroom. For more information, please see Storying with plastic excess: Relations with plastic in early childhood education.

Pedagogical Possibilities

My role has been to think through pedagogical practices to create food waste pedagogies with educators and children. This work doesn’t happen by chance. It must be brought into existence and kept alive every day in the early childhood centre (Nxumalo, Vintimilla & Nelson, 2018) . It requires us to make careful, pedagogical decisions that bring children more intimately into the life of food waste produced in our kitchen. 

Our common worlding waste pedagogies involve creating curricular processes with children that think of waste materials as in constant transformation and as transforming, both independently and interdependently with humans. As we create curriculum with children, we work with the dynamic movements, disorderings and transformations of waste. This means that when children work with waste materials, they attend to their movements, impermanence, relationalities, connections with other materials and so on. We also pay attention to the temporalities of food waste and how food waste is in relation with other beings and creatures. 

Studying our documentation becomes an integral part of our work together. Using video and audio recordings, photos and written notes, we pay attention carefully to the moments that hold pedagogical significance. For us, these moments are ones that have the potential for bringing children closer in relation to food waste. Returning to our documentation helps us to decide how to move towards the creation of otherwise futures, and to challenge managerial relations to waste.

The Onion 

Several pieces of food scraps are lying across the table. Leo picks up the root of an onion and places his finger inside. He then begins looking for more, placing each one on a finger. He turns to Claire and begins to laugh. “Look Claire, I put the onions on my fingers.” Claire joins him and finds more onion roots. Removing the pieces from his fingers, Leo begins to place them inside one another. “Claire, we need to match them.” Onion upon onion is stacked inside. “I’m making an onion Claire.” 

We take up the idea of making an onion and ask ourselves, ‘what does it mean to make an onion?’ Offering Leo’s idea back to the children, we are not interested in simply the making of something but also in the pedagogical possibilities that exist when children think of waste as alive. Over several months the children and educators engage with the question of how to make an onion, staying with the problems that emerge. How many layers does an onion need? What are the different layers of the onion for? How do we keep the onion together? What happens when mold begins to form?  These questions revive the tensions of waste’s liveliness and particularities of the onion. Day after day, we experiment with the onion texture, size and thickness of each layer in an effort to make the biggest onion. When mold forms between the layers, one child suggests that we need to make an onion with less layers. Negotiations and collaborations take place. Perhaps mold only forms when there are many layers of onion. 

With different fabrics we experiment how children themselves might become onions. They wrap layers of onion fabric around their bodies, imagining what it feels like to be an onion.

“I don’t like eating onions, but I like being an onion”-Maria

“It feels tight to be an onion.”-Jason

“I need more layers. I need a purple layer and a yellow layer.”-Sarah

“Oh no, I’m getting moldy.”-Maria

“We need the crunchy onion skin”-Sarah

This is slow, careful work that calls us to listen and respond differently than teaching children about waste and instead, refigures children’s relationships with waste. By keeping food waste in sight and in mind, children are noticing changes – not because we are teaching them about these changes, but because we have created the conditions for them to live and notice them. Rather than seeing ourselves as separate from waste, this work brings us into relation with waste.

Living with Tensions

As food scraps live in our space, their transformations brings tensions and discomforts. Children talk about the smells and textures of the decomposing food scraps and we are confronted with various problems. We feel tension around the health and safety of working with molding food waste. Questions around contamination, exposure, and impact bubble up as we are unsure how to proceed. Do we protect children from it? Can we touch it? Is it bad for us? These become questions that also live in our encounters.

Mold and fruit flies become protagonists in our work as decomposing food provides life to others. We slow down and stay with these problems, as children share ideas of where the flies come from and how they got into our classroom. We use drawing to bring their stories to life and offer different materials that help us to think more closely with the world that is being created between the children and the other. Decomposing food invites children and educators to re-compose stories of waste. 

“The bees(fruit flies) are here! They followed the black bananas”-John

“How are they here?”-Darius

“They came in through the door straws-the space between the door”-John

“They follow the smell of the black banana”-Joe

“All the bees fly to the black banana. These are the mommy bees and these are the baby bees.”-Darius

“The leader bee leads them to our classroom.”-John

It is by keeping waste in sight and in mind that our ideas of caring FOR waste become a caring WITH waste. Shifting this narrative, children attend to the circularity and importance of food waste and rethink care as a deeply relational process. We wonder about how to move with these ideas. Do we set traps to remove the fruit flies? Is it important for the children to know they are not bees? By listening to the stories that are being created between bananas peels, the children and the bugs we begin to see familiar narratives with waste being replaced with new ones. Tensions are important components in pedagogical work. We keep waste in sight and in mind as we pay attention to its transformation processes and embrace the smells, textures and decomposition processes that give life to both other living creatures as well as our curriculum. 

Waste Management to Circularity of Waste

Although we engaged in unusual relations with food waste, we also worked through more familiar ways of rethinking waste management practices with young children. Composting and vermi-composting become important rituals in how we move through the day. Drawing on the work of Narda Nelson (with Yazbeck, Danis, Elliot, Wilson, Payjack, & Pickup, 2018), we thought about how we might reconceptualize pedagogies of care in order to care for food waste differently. As Nelson mentions, “putting them (pedagogies of care) into action, is messy, imperfect and sometimes difficult work” (p. 48). Rather than seeing ourselves as separate from, how does caring with food waste become part of our everyday relations in which, we as humans are very much entangled with the more than human world?

At the end of each week, the food scraps in the classroom are carefully gathered to bring to the outdoor compost bin – this becomes our response-ability. We take seriously this notion of caring with waste, not to create good stewards of the earth but to respond to waste’s presence. The children visit this compost bin regularly as they notice the changes and life that is taking place inside. The compost bin becomes another setting for world making. Bees, flies, spiders, mold, and other living things share this space. As the lid is lifted, bees frantically fly out and hover around the children and the compost bin. We wonder together where the bees come from and what they are doing inside.

“There’s too many bees.”-Cameron

“The bees live in the compost because it’s dirty.”-Emmanuel

“I think the peels are their home.” – Cindy

“The bees are checking on the food scraps”-Alex

We notice their quick movements around the compost bin. 

 “They do a zig zag everyday”-Alex

As a way to pay attention to bees and their relation to the compost bin, we engage in these ideas of zig zagging with children over several months, enacting zig zag stories as a way to bring visibility to the constant movement between the children, bees and food scraps and the relational process of collective life. The compost bin doesn’t become a way to manage waste but becomes an alternative way of being with waste.

Overall, this work calls us to think and live differently with ideas of waste and waste management with young children. It asks us to stay with the tensions of waste so that we may create a different narrative with children. Rather than seeing waste as a problem to solve, we create curricular processes with children so that children get closer to the constant transformation of waste materials. We think about processes that open up possibilities for other kinds of relations for children in which we don’t know what will emerge. It is by moving with our pedagogical intention that we are able to respond to moments of significance and create this common world together.  


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Dialogues on Complexifying Care in ECE

Danielle Wittick is a Pedagogist with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario at NYAD Community Inc.

Gabrielle Monique Warren is a Pedagogist with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario and a doctoral student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto.

Lisa Johnston is a Pedagogist with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario and a doctoral student at York University.

In her poem “My House,” Nikki Giovanni (1981) quips, “English isn’t a good language to express emotion through/Mostly I imagine/Because people try to speak English instead of trying to speak through it.” This conversation takes on the spirit of her words by taking up the concept of care in early childhood settings and challenging its underlying assumptions. In a time when we pedagogists are reckoning with a multiplicity of epistemologies and ontologies within educational spaces, how might we think about language in a way that both honours and brings us forward toward a more fulfilling future? How might futurity be derailed when there is an assumed unified definition of care? How do we materially see the variance of the care within ECE spaces? How might we interrogate the processes that create varying care definitions within those spaces? This piece emerged from conversations in our small group about the devaluation of care in early childhood education. What follows are excerpts from our discussions that wove together our varied contexts as we exchanged ideas and grappled with the concept of care.

In this conversation, we explore the concept of care within education and society as a pedagogical movement to interrogate how we take specific words and concepts for granted. We discuss the precarious nature of care under capitalism, the role of government in neglecting responsibilities, and the importance of redefining the title of early childhood educators. We also emphasize the interconnectedness of care and the need to move away from individualistic thinking. We introduce various authors and their perspectives on care, including Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Joan Tronto, Robyn Maynard, Leanne Simpson, bell hooks, and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa.

As pedagogists, we offer that it is vital to notice the interconnectedness of a child in space and place. The asymmetry in educational spaces and the exclusion of certain children based on their disabilities or immigrant status is also highlighted. We discuss how the harmful effects of universalism and the dominance of narratives rooted in white supremacist and capitalist logics must be resisted in favour of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial values of love, reciprocity, and mutual responsibility.

We end the conversation by discussing the intersection of pedagogy and care in education. We explore the need to move away from technical conceptions of care and instead engage with care that involves the heart, mind, and spirit. By questioning inherited narratives and embracing curiosity and openness in pedagogical gestures, we open a material space to reflect those we engage with.


Danielle: To start with, why is it that we need education to validate this word of care? Why do we not see care as something of value on its own?

Gabrielle: From my work in the nonprofit space, I have witnessed the precarious nature of care under capitalism. I believe this concerns the precarious nature of nonprofits under capitalism. Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2022) speaks of the “shadow state” concept. She posits that this space, defined by the voluntary and nonprofit sector, gathers the abandoned pieces of society where the market fails to utilize extra-economic values like kindness, generosity, or for the sake of this conversation: care (Gilmore, 2022). Being cast to stand in the gap for what the state will not provide in terms of care, you are placed in the middle because you are not allowed to be a political actor or speak out against the state. However, the state does not necessarily need to give you resources to provide the gaps or help you provide the gaps you are filling within society. When you develop a community program, a volunteer program, an after-school program from the nonprofit, or the shadow state perspective, care can be complicated because the execution is very conditional on the state’s political will to fund various projects. In a post-pandemic era, Canadians are in need of more programming and food banks have skyrocketed in use; however, giving and volunteering is down (CBC, 2023; CTV, 2023). When I think of care, this is my standpoint. Care is not merely a personal action. It is a way of thinking about how various parts of our society work together to provide for the most vulnerable. 

Lisa: This makes me think of Joan Tronto’s (2013) work with feminist ethics of care. In Caring Democracy, she offers the idea of privileged irresponsibility which she defines as governments taking a pass out of their responsibilities to care for their citizens. In a sense, the creation of the College of ECE is an example of this. In the absence of government policy that assures good wages and working conditions for Registered ECEs that would support them in doing their work well, the College of ECE instead steps in to regulate professionals through increased accountability measures and stricter enforcement and punishment.

Danielle: Yes. I really like Fisher and Tronto’s (1990) definition of care as “… a species activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue and repair our world so that we may live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, ourselves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex life-sustaining web” (p. 40). I’ve been talking with educators recently about this idea of “care.” One of the questions I’ve asked them is, “if we were to redefine our title would it be early childhood educator or early childhood care professional? Nobody focused on the word care as being of importance. It was the word ‘education’ and the term ‘professional’ that mattered, because it gives us viability. Maybe parents would respect what we’re doing if our title had these words attached to “early childhood”. A question raised in these conversations was, what does the College (of ECEs in Ontario) do for us in supporting care? I referred to Lisa Johnson’s (2022) paper, Node-ified ethics: Contesting codified Ethics as unethical in ECEC in Ontario, which asked the same question. When our governments do not put value in care, why would educators see their role of care as a value? The simple act of wiping a nose and giving a hug is important. From my perspective, care involves meeting needs, and is always relational. While wiping that nose, we create a condition for the child to feel safe in the world (Tronto, 2015). Gabrielle, as you talked, I kept reflecting on what one of the educators said. They asked, how can we care when the ratios of educators to children are 1:13? When our afternoons are spent taking children to the bathroom? How can we care when the finances aren’t there? How can we care when our College doesn’t support us? 

Gabrielle: I believe this conversation reflects what is happening in society regarding desiring to professionalize our relations and isolate us from one another. When we returned to the “Black Spring” of 2020, there were calls for mutual aid and community accountability (Kelley, 2022). Furthermore, this idea of care is not just about the educator; it is not just about the child. It is about the parents. It is about the aunties. It is about the uncles. It is about the shopkeeper. It is about the puppies in the street. As we have seen in COVID, there has been such a disintegration of community and public space and people coming together. Sometimes I get frustrated within ECE spaces that there is such a myopic conversation on just the relation between the educator and the child, that we do not look at the fact that we are part of a constellation. This is a concept which Robyn Maynard and Leanne Simpson (2022) eloquently write of in their book Rehearsals for Living. From an Indigenous and Black Radical perspective, they relay this idea of constellations and how we are part of something so much bigger that is interconnected and interrelated. Moreover, I think moving away from myopic positioning or capitalistic individualistic urges and thinking about the connection of all things – human and non-human, seen and unseen – allows us to think about care in a more expansive way. This expanse reminds me of the black praxis of Bell Hooks. Her meditation on love is all-encompassing. Love is an action, and care is part of love (Hooks, 2001). In Teaching to Transgress, Hooks (1994) speaks on education as an act of love itself. Personally, I think about my work as an act of love.

Lisa: I was also reading Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (2012), who talks about how we do not pre-exist relationality so, care cannot just start; it’s already happening. We’re already in relations of care and understand our needs by being in relation. There’s a lot in there, so I am still working through the ideas, but I found it quite an exciting and provocative way to think about care, including the engagement with posthumanism. 

Care and Citizenship

Danielle: In thinking about the “whole” individual, Malaguzzi discusses the same points in the paper, Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins. Malaguzzi states that when we think about a child, when we pull out a child to look at, that child is already tightly connected and

linked to a certain reality of the world — she has relationships and experiences. We cannot separate this child from a particular reality. Put differently, when we think of care, it is ourselves knowing what we want. At the same time, you have to know what you want to be able to express what your need is. I like what Tronto says: we need to view not everyone as an adult or a child, but we’re all citizens. And if we’re all citizens, does that help or aid in how we view our relations because it puts us all on the same spectrum? Whereas care right now, we think of it as a hierarchy: I need to care for you, so you’re lucky. I want to look at care as reciprocal, as an ongoing continuous democratic practice.

Gabrielle: I want to complicate the concept of the citizen concerning care. In educational spaces, there is an asymmetry on multiple scales, even in these spaces where we are wiping a runny nose or picking up toys and facilitating children’s experiences. From the scale of the body to the city a child resides in, to the state or province they reside in, inheritances are latched onto how we view who gets to be a citizen and how that citizen is meant to be. Geographer Neil Smith (1992) defines a politics of scale. He argues that social processes create certain places and certain places create social processes. In the case of care, I think about how scale helps us better understand how the exclusion of a disabled child or a neurodivergent child or an immigrant child in how we conceive citizenship and care, which therefore creates specific educational spaces that are exclusionary. In other words, universalism is harmful because it subsumes the various genres of the human. These children are peripheral at best and a nuisance at worst. It is usually a one-on-one specific kind of child that is being centered. To unthinkingly believe that I am part of a democratic society obscures an understanding of master narratives steeped in white supremacist, capitalist logics that are void of love, reciprocity, and mutual responsibility. These dominant narratives say that I clock in and clock out of caring responsibilities through employment. Not all narratives and discourses floating around about what care is, how it is, or how it is coded are necessarily created nefariously. They are just naturalized. 

Care and Inheritance

Danielle: How do we do pedagogical work as always in question? One sentence that I wrote down from Langford and Richardson (2020) is in relation to how care has been instrumentalized. It’s not the kind of care that requires engagement with your heart, mind and your spirit. It’s more robotic right now.  This perspective made me think of the technical aspects of an everyday life, but instead ask how we separate ourselves from technical conceptions of care to really look and feel with our heart, our mind and our spirit? Educators are asked to work from 7:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening with a three hour split in between. They are required to do all these ongoing tasks throughout their day, and go home and care for their own family. How are we doing this “ethics of care” when we walk into a room or into any situation? 

Gabrielle: I think part of considering care requires bringing up conversations about pedagogy and inheritance. I’m interested in inheritances and I’m interested in narratives; I’m interested in asking “what are the narratives we’re telling about education?” What are status-quo narratives telling us about who the child is meant to be within the Canadian context? Who is a citizen? And then who is left out of that? And in our contexts, how are we abiding by these discourses?  In my non-profit work, we had a specific program that we were developing and although we had our own vision for how we thought it should go, we realized that this was not enough. By making mistakes and asking questions, we began to develop programming that was more culturally responsive to the community we were working with. By suspending master narratives, we were open to curiosity. I argue that this curiosity and openness is a critical component of care. Pedagogically, in my mind, it’s thinking about “how do we just attend to this moment?” There is an overarching desire for uniformity in education and a fear of impermanence. Yet, in education, things are always changing, whether it’s the places we educate, the students we are educating, or revelations about past atrocities or the curriculums that are handed down from on high. Inheritances do not have to be stumbling blocks but might be a way to move honestly and humbly through the worlds we exist within. 

Lisa: I think that’s the thing about pedagogy: that it resists universalization. Returning to Cristina Delgado Vintimilla’s (2020) definition of pedagogy, as “that which thinks education”, pedagogy entails an active, ongoing process of thinking about education as a project and not as something just to be implemented. This requires a lot of time and effort, which is not productive in a capitalist context of checking boxes and of production and consumption. I think that’s what I, as a pedagogist ask: how do we push against the surveillance of universal, inherited conceptions of care? Perhaps it’s at the heart of what we’re talking about as a collective of pedagogists.

Danielle:  I know we started this discussion to think education alongside care. But I wonder, thinking pedagogically, how do we understand and view care?  I know this isn’t the same level of inheritance that you’re speaking of Gabrielle, but as pedagogists with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario, one of the first readings we engaged together was Acting with the Clock: clocking practices in early childhood, (Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2012). Together with this reading, we questioned how we often inherit past practices as a new early childhood educator. There becomes a question of how we as pedagogists, enter into spaces with educators who have inherited particular histories of care. Dominant approaches ask mostly women, women of different ethnicities, how they view care; if their vision is different from status-quo governmental mandates, we want them to conform to “our” (governments and agents of the government) care. As pedagogists, we might instead ask how we might keep diverse educators from conforming to inherited conceptions of care, knowing that reproducing master narratives of care has long been the practice advanced in educational institutions.

Gabrielle: I believe a large component is being intentional with a diversity of standpoints. Bell Hooks speaks on an anecdote of a colleague who advocated for her hiring at a university. She recalls that the colleague witnessed the hiring committee beginning to make worrying comments about hooks – comments that would not have been said if another standpoint was in the room. She stopped the meeting and suggested they incorporate others into the conversation (hooks, 1994). The power in that anecdote was the understanding of one’s limitations. We cannot be all things to all people, but we must have the wherewithal to go beyond ourselves. This is not an argument for multiculturalism, but something beyond – something Wynterian (see: Wynter, 1994). Care, in both thought and action, becomes richer when more standpoints from community, parents, children, community organizations, educators, and the elderly are present. I think this idea relates back to relationality as a pedagogical imperative. We do not have to fully understand one another to be in relation with one another (see: Glissant, 1997). Is this relationality something that is providing a more expansive vision of what we want to do as pedagogists? I think that one commitment that matters to me as a pedagogist requires giving us the power to flip the script a little bit. 


In this conversation, we foregrounded that in our current time, it is vital to resist a universalized pedagogical practice where there are unchecked inherited conceptions of care. In the movement of our conversation and contemplation, we are grateful for the time and space to engage collectively with this question of care, each of us bringing a distinct perspective. As the conversation moved, an invitation from Cristina Delgado Vintimilla remained in our minds’ foreground. In this invitation, during one of our large group gatherings, she asked us to think about feelings of stuckness that can take hold in our pedagogical work and to consider what practices we, as pedagogists, might create to bring momentum. This makes us wonder how care can become stuck in institutionalized, routinized, and instrumentalized practices. How might we disrupt this stuckness and engage with the momentum of care already happening in ethical relations? Through our conversation, we practiced creating a momentum space by accentuating the significance of the distinction of standpoints and generative relationality in reflecting on care and pedagogy.


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Thinking with Study in Early Childhood

Dr. Walter Kohan is a Professor at Rio de Janeiro State University.

In this conversation, Dr. Walter Kohan speaks with Dr. Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw and Dr. Fikile Nxumalo on the potentialities as well as the challenges of closely attuning to study as a practice and a concept within and beyond its institutional formations.