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.


CBC News. (2023). Critical lack of volunteers putting Canadian non-profit services at risk: Volunteer Canada. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/volunteer-shortage-caanada-1.6723348

CTV News. (2023). Food banks and other food charities anticipate a 60 per cent increase in demand in 2023. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/food-banks-and-other-food-charities-anticipate-a-60-per-cent-increase-in-demand-in-2023-1.6225412#:~:text=A%20new%20report%20says%20reliance,food%20program%20dependency%20in%202022

Delgado, C.V.(December 2020). What is pedagogy. Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine, 1(1). Retrieved from https://pedagogistnetworkontario.com/what-is-pedagogy/

Fisher, B, and Tronto, J.C. (1990). “Toward a Feminist Theory of Care.” In Circles of Care:

Work and Identity in Women’s Lives,  E.K. Abel and M. K. Nelson (Eds.). State University of New York Press.

Glissant, É., & Wing, B. (1997). Poetics of relation. University of Michigan Press.

Giovanni, N. (1981). My house: Poems. Morrow Quill Paperbacks.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge. 

hooks, b. (2001). All about love: New visions. Harper Perennial.

Johnston, L. (2022). Node-ified ethics: Contesting codified ethics as unethical in ECEC in Ontario. in education28(1b), 80-101.

Kelley, R. D. G. (2022). Twenty years of freedom dreams. Boston Review. https://www.bostonreview.net/articles/twenty-years-of-freedom-dreams/

Langford, R., & Richardson, B. (2020). Ethics of care in practice: An observational study of interactions and power relations between children and educators in urban Ontario early childhood settings. Journal of Childhood Studies, 45(1), 33-47.

Malaguzzi, L. (1993). Your image of a child: Where teaching begins. North American Reggio Emilia Alliance.

Maynard, R., & Simpson, L. B. (2022). Rehearsals for living. Alfred A. Knopf Canada.

Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (2012). Acting with the clock: Clocking practices in early childhood. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood13(2), 154-160.

Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2012). ‘Nothing comes without its world’: Thinking with care. The Sociological Review, 60:2 (2012) DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2012.02070.x

Smith, N. (1992). Contours of a spatialized politics: Homeless vehicles and the production of geographical scale. Social Text, 33, 55–81. doi:10.2307/466434

Tronto, J.C. (2013). Caring democracy: Markets, equality, and justice. New York University Press.

Wynter, S. (1994). “No humans involved”: An open letter to my colleagues. Forum N.H.I: Knowledge for the 21st century. Moor’s Head Press.

Pedagogy and the Role of the Pedagogista: A Perspective

This exposure event, titled Pedagogy and the Role of a Pedagogista: A Perspective, offered opportunities for pedagogists to consider what is required to take on the role of a pedagogist, what might be possible when we take up pedagogy as a social science, and what it is to hold pedagogical commitments as a pedagogist.

In this exposure hosted by the Early Childhood Pedagogy Network, Professor Silvana Calaprice from the University of Bari, Italy. In what follows, we share clips from the discussion, moderated by Dr. Randa Khattar, between Professor Calaprice and Dr. Cristina D. Vintimilla, assistant professor at York University and pedagogista with the Provincial Centre. We anchor each set of clips with some context and questions we hope you will grapple with and carry with you.

1. On the work of a pedagogist

For Silvana Calaprice and the tradition of pedagogical study she thinks with, to be a pedagogist is to grapple with deeply ethical questions: 

  • What concept of the human and of the child do I hold?
  • With what histories, knowledges, worldviews, philosophies, and relations do I build my understanding of the child?
  • How does my concept of the child shape my actions and possibilities for my actions as a pedagogist?

Silvana offers that the understandings we hold of children and humans are never crafted in isolation. Rather, these are a common project, one built within a collective of pedagogists and lively worldly conditions.

Sharing two examples – image of the child as competent, and “care” – Silvana invites us to consider how pedagogists must invent and tend to trajectories and processes that disrupt status-quo ideas of education as an applied field. Silvana insists on the provocation that pedagogists must be interested in opening up spaces and relations that create conditions for a collective to respond well to complex contexts. As pedagogists, she suggests, we must trace how our concept of the child shapes the situated relations we create, and we must answer to the local relations we create. How we participate in relations is woven with our non-innocent concepts of the human and the child. Questions that pedagogists must continually revisit include these:

  • How do I come to understand children and humans?
  • What is my concept of the human?
  • How do I understand children?
  • How do my actions, and the educational processes I open up, activate my conceptions of children and humans?
  • How am I accountable to these processes and concepts within a collective? 

2. What is pedagogy?

Silvana asserts that pedagogy is a particular mode of study – a way of knowing and navigating worlds – that is concerned with thinking the purpose of education. In thinking the purpose of education, Silvana offers that we must think with subject formation and with living well within the relations and contexts we inherit and inhabit:

  • What subjectivities do we want to cultivate to bring something generative into the life of a collective?
  • How do we care for transformational relationships within our particular contexts?
  • How do we create educational processes that open up possibilities for living well together in these times? 

We hear Silvana arguing that pedagogy is resolutely against application. It refutes the interpretivist, individualist focus of psychology, which aims to understand and remedy unitary children’s behaviours. Pedagogy orients toward invention, not intervention. Pedagogy is concerned with encountering uncertainties and opening up processes toward different, tentative, more just futures. In this way, pedagogy inhabits the edges of theory and practice, weaving them together in the name of educational processes. Pedagogy is also, Silvana contends, carefully multidisciplinary: It is in constant dialogue with other disciplines, but it knows that these disciplines do not hold dear the same questions as pedagogy. This creates multiple questions for pedagogists to carry:

  • What relations do I stand for when I center questions of living well together in precarious times?
  • How do my practices, relations, and concepts of children, humans, and subjectivities shape particular responses toward inhabiting unfamiliar futures in a more-than-human world?
  • What modes of interdisciplinarity do I bring to my work as a pedagogist – with whom, and with what histories, do I think, read, write, cite, and speak? Why? How?

3. Having pedagogical commitments 

Silvana contends that pedagogy stands for particular political commitments: it is against applying a model; it refuses regulatory neoliberal images of competence; it subtracts itself from extractive self-centered assessments of what children already know; it complexifies status-quo conceptions of following the child in emergent curriculum; it wants to erase instrumental conceptions of education where teaching is framed as assisting children to fulfil a universalized, predetermined developmental trajectory. Pedagogists must not, Silvana insists, simply be someone who does a job. They must be deeply invested in their work, because they have situated pedagogical commitments and endeavour toward uncompromisingly pedagogical dispositions of openness and attentiveness. Pedagogists believe in what they do. Silvana offers the concept of “pedagogical energy,” which is the impulse and motion that propels pedagogists to continue researching, to constantly wonder, and live as a question, how to respond to fraught contexts. This impulse fuels pedagogical questions of how we might innovate educational processes in response to a particular context: What is it to do pedagogical work that refuses to be universalizable or scalable; work that subtracts itself from inherited logics of ‘best practices’?  

For us, Silvana is invoking a pedagogist deeply concerned with responsibility, where to be response-able is to be able to respond well to questions children, pedagogists, and others get knotted up in, in particular local conditions. This is not an individualized performative notion of responsibility, but rather one that is concerned with living well together in the precarious contexts we inhabit. Responsibility here threads through our relations as we grapple with questions of how to be response-able with children. Silvana offers that stories, and the stories children live within, are a starting point for getting to know what it is we must respond within, but she suggests that we need to go beyond knowing stories to inventing processes that enact our orientations and commitments, that create possibilities that are not currently present. Pedagogists, Silvana generously insists, have responsibilities to do the difficult, uncertain work of creating processes that are grounded in our pedagogical commitments and orientations. For pedagogists, this raises incredibly complex questions:

  • Do I believe in what I do?
  • What do I bring to this work?
  • Why do I hold these orientations within this place, when I hold to questions of living well together?
  • How do I enact these commitments in response-able relations?