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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Public Lecture by Dr. Sharon Todd – Worlding Pedagogies: Educational and Aesthetic Encounters in the Time of Climate Emergency

Dr. Sharon Todd’s public lecture will be hosted by the Pedagogist Network of Ontario on October 25, 2023 at 5:00pm EDT at York University and streamed online.

This presentation explores the significance of ‘worlding pedagogies’ as a generative mode of engaging children and youth around their experiences of environmental collapse, which often bring with them polarised narratives of hope and despair. Unpacking the idea of worlding to include multiple worldviews and sensory encounters, the paper examines specifically the aesthetic dimensions of pedagogical practices and how they allow for new forms of co-becoming between children and their worlds. The first part of the paper explores the difficulty educators face in pedagogically traversing a difficult terrain in teaching about the climate emergency. Here I suggest a way of doing so is to find paths of co-creation, implication and beauty beyond hope and despair. The second section delves into both the idea and practice of worlding and its pedagogical value, drawing on a number of examples from educational research. The third section offers a reading of a sculpture by renowned artist Cecilia Vicuña, entitled Brain Forest Quipu, in order to suggest how aesthetic encounters can further our understanding of the power of worlding pedagogies. Finally, the conclusion outlines what I see are some directions forward for thinking about teaching children and youth in the time of climate emergency through staging educational encounters that are fundamentally sensorial and aesthetic.

Sharon Todd is Professor of Education and member of the Centre for Public Education and Pedagogy at Maynooth University, Ireland. She has published widely in the areas of embodiment, social justice and ethics in education and is currently engaged in making connections between the climate emergency, art practice, and political aesthetics in education. She is author of The Touch of the Present: Educational Encounters, Aesthetics, and the Politics of the Senses (SUNY Press, 2023), Toward an Imperfect Education: Facing Humanity, Rethinking Cosmopolitanism (Paradigm, 2009), and Learning from the Other: Levinas, Psychoanalysis and Ethical Possibilities in Education (SUNY, 2003) and her co-edited volumes include Re-imagining Educational Relationships: Ethics, Politics, Practices with M. Griffiths, M. Honerød and C. Winter (Wiley, 2014); Philosophy East/West: Exploring the Intersections between Educational and Contemplative Practices with O. Ergas (Wiley, 2015). She is currently involved in an EU funded Marie Curie Innovative Training Network ‘SOLiDi – Solidarity in Diversity’ and a Swedish Research Council funded project, ‘Forms of Formation: A Pedagogical-Philosophical Inquiry into Embodied Tensions around Gender and Social Equality in the Classroom.’

In Conversation with Dr. Adam Davies

In the early autumn, Cristina and Nicole engaged with Dr. Adam Davies to think together about the work of crafting life and joy-sustaining pedagogies in the context of the province of Ontario – a context ripe with child development, heteronormativity, and everyday invocations of human difference as deficit. Dr. Adam Davies (they, them, theirs) is an Assistant Professor of Family Relations and Human Development at the University of Guelph. They are the Co-Chair of the Anti-Oppression Rainbow Research Lab and are active on Twitter where they boldly advocate for the rights of students and professors amid the neoliberal institution. As Cristina and Nicole prepared to offer Adam an opening provocation for our dialogue, we turned to Adam’s recent publications which invoke a palpable sense of living and embodying pedagogy as it functions as a world-making process, and never resting with pedagogy as a technocratic practice. From here, our conversation moved toward thinking who we see as our co-conspirators in this work of thinking pedagogically and in proposing possible educational worlds that are infused in ethical desire, where Adam emphasized the labour of critique in dismantling child development and the normativity it produces and reproduces, and brought to our attention a certain ethos of critique as life-giving, joining a history of thinking critique as more than neoliberalism’s ‘critical thinking’. Bringing our conversation to a (we hope temporary) close, we ask Adam about their work of critique and this insistence on refusal, where insistence is a doubled move that also insists on life. Together, many threads of the work of a pedagogist weave through our conversation, from thinking embodiment, commons, critique, collectivity, and futurity, to mounting tangible gestures against technocracy, essentialism, child development, and the colonial heteropatriarchy. We are so grateful to Adam for their time, and we offer this conversation as the inauguration of a new ally relationship and thinking companion for our work in the Pedagogist Network of Ontario. Thank you, Adam.

Continue reading “In Conversation with Dr. Adam Davies”

On Inaugurating and Sustaining the Work of a Post Secondary Institution Pedagogist: Collectivity, In-Betweens, and Having a ‘Why’ – an interview with Bo Sun Kim

In Issue 2 of the PNO Magazine, we – Cristina Delgado Vintimilla and Nicole Land – interviewed two Ontario post secondary pedagogists, Paolina Camuti-Cull and Olga Rossovska. As we spoke about during our conversation, a pedagogist situated in a post-secondary institution works to reimagine practicum as a space for reconfiguring how the education of future educators unfolds. Post-secondary institution (PSI) pedagogists are in ongoing discussions with early childhood educators, students, and faculty members. In their conversations, PSI pedagogists are concerned with how, together, this gathering of people, histories, and intentions might create innovative practices relevant to both children and students’ relations and responses in a situated education space. The role of the PSI pedagogist is a complex and often difficult one as it requires the ability to think pedagogically within an in-between space: in-between the context and situations of those who are being educated to become early childhood educators (future) and the context of those who are already established early childhood educators who, alongside children and families, inhabit the everyday practices, modes of thinking, and rhythms of early childhood spaces (inheritance and present). In this in-between, a PSI pedagogist works to creates an ongoing and emergent dialogue between inheritances, presents, and futurities, and – through that dialogue – PSI pedagogists are called to activate collaborative processes that can create situations and experiences that engage students and educators with the proposition (and inherited reality) that early childhood education is a pedagogical and creative space, rather than simply a service or space for compliance. This in-between asks post-secondary pedagogists to constantly navigate how early childhood education becomes a pedagogical space, where students’ lives and responses are inseparable from children’s lives and responses. This nourishes a special kind of collectivity and a commitment to understanding and enlivening pedagogy as a layered, complex, and extremely consequential shared undertaking. 

In this interview, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla and Nicole Land speak with post-secondary institution pedagogist, Dr. Bo Sun Kim. Bo Sun is the first post secondary pedagogist in Canada, as she started her role seven years ago. In this conversation we engage with Bo Sun’s thoughts around the question of beginning this kind of work, and what pedagogical and curricular considerations and situations she had to work with as she began her practice. 

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Bo Sun, can you please share with us your views on how the role of the post-secondary institution pedagogist is concerned with creating otherwise possibilities for practicum? We are thinking in particular about how you began this work many years ago and how you continually negotiate many beginnings as your work shifts and changes, where you are both figuring out the contours of your work and getting to know the relations and practices that currently surround how practicum happens in a particular space. What did you attend to when you started this work? Why? What inheritances were you working with or interrupting? Why?

BO SUN: I began my work as a post-secondary pedagogist in 2015 at a university institution located on the unceded territories of the LíỈwat, xʷməθkʷəỷəm (Musqueam), shíshálh (Sechelt), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and SəỈílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) nations of what is currently known as British Columbia, Canada. This university has a closely connected child care centre where many education students participated in practicums under the mentorship of experienced early childhood educators.

At the beginning of my pedagogist work, I turned to the question, ‘what constitutes normal?’ and, ‘what legitimates a truth in our practice?’ With these questions, I began to discern how the educators that I was working with perceived pedagogical practice as it should be, rather than taking time to ponder why. Amid these understandings of ‘good’ practice, I noticed that how a teacher, children, lunchtime, curriculum, and pedagogical narrations should be are all examples of so-called, status-quo rigorous practice. These instances create a particular way of living and relating to each other.  

When I joined this space, there were already ongoing curriculum projects where each teacher was working on their specific curriculum project. At the time, a curriculum project meant working on the curriculum topics in which children should be interested. The central role of the educators was to follow the children’s interests and make visible children’s understandings on curriculum topics. Pedagogical documentation merely represented children’s ideas and how much they knew about the topics. There was an assumption that everything had to come from children, and ideas that come from the children were good and important. In this romanticized way of seeing children, the curriculum was understood simply following children’s lead and their interests. Making comments on each other’s work and ideas among the children was not encouraged unless complimented. The collaboration among educators was not asked for or sought. I wondered what may have inspired everyone to work in such an individual and isolated approach. The educators’ withdrawal was rationalized in the name of independence, autonomy, freedom, and respect for one another’s work. Nonetheless, this was problematic to me as it prompted an unhealthy separation and isolation among educators and increased pressures for individual achievement.

I soon recognized how much this understanding of both ‘rigorous pedagogy’ and individualized ‘curriculum inquiry’ had influenced the way educators perceive the practicum students and their relationship to the student teachers. Student teachers were required to do their own inquiry project independently of the project already taking place in order to demonstrate their competency of being independent and autonomous.

Therefore, mentoring practicum students was frequently perceived as an additional and burdensome task to carry on top of educators’ regular obligations and responsibilities.This emphasis on thinking pedagogically as a singular, dispersed, egocentric project created disconnections among the educators and the student teachers, and discontinuity in how curriculum inquiry unfolded in the space.

I invited the educators to reflect on their pedagogical approach to curriculum because pedagogy activates curriculum, and their relationship with practicum students, and then ponder on the aspirations of this sort of practice. I emphasized that the intentions of our educational practice revolve around how everyday decisions and orientations intimately correlate with the particular dominant discourses around the teacher’s image, and culture, of early childhood education that we inherited at this institution. 

My intention, in pulling our attention toward ongoing insular practices and status-quo dominant discourses was to disrupt the image of a teacher as an expert who ought to demonstrate that they can work independently to be qualified as an exemplary educator. Instead, I wanted to offer the idea that we might challenge outdated normative assumptions and implications about curriculum approach (child-centred and individualistic) and practicum – and the relations between curriculum and practicum.

I asked: “What does it mean to work with curriculum inquiry?”, “What does it mean to collaborate with others?”, ” How can we work differently with practicum students?”, and “How can we cultivate continuity in curriculum rather than breaking up an inquiry topic into developmentally appropriate bits to leave the topic intact?”

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Bo Sun, it seems that you were working hard in attending to two situations. On one hand, you were trying to disrupt notions of individualism and autonomy as ‘best practice’ and on the other hand you were provoking an understanding of a kind of epistemological hierarchy between educators and practicum students. It seems to us that both situations were intimately related to the questions of recognition and legitimation you spoke about at the outset of our conversation. We wonder, how, as a post-secondary institution pedagogist, did you understand and initiate initial, intentional steps to rethinking how collectivity matters and happens with educators and students? What has to be put at risk, and why, so that we might be able to think in the company of others within a practicum context? As we read your response to the first question, it seems that you were inviting educators to think outside logics of recognition and compliance and to consider pedagogical work as collective acts of re-invention. Along these lines, we wonder: When we hold collectivity as a pedagogical intention, what must we re-invent and refuse in the academy (both in terms of placement classes and non-placement classes, and within a child care centre closely connected to a university)? 

BO SUN: To my educators, I proposed the significance of rethinking how we engage the work of curriculum inquiry by asking “how do we understand curriculum inquiry?” To think carefully about how we do curriculum inquiry requires different pedagogical approaches from curriculum-as-plan conceptions, and refusing these mechanistic, routine, lifeless understandings opened up an initial conversation regarding how educators and the centre (and institution) understands curriculum inquiry and educators’ pedagogical relationships, including those with practicum students.

Through the conversations I had with educators and a program director, many things became of urgency to us. One was our recognition of the long history early childhood education has of representational logic, the tradition of representation and reproduction, and the practice of transmission in curriculum (Olsson, 2009); the second is how this representational logic is deeply embodied in our practice. To abide by representational logic is to uphold the separation between the subject as the knower and the world as the known. The world becomes the object of perception and discovery as if knowledge of the world pre-exists apart from us. Approaching curriculum based on the search for pre-existing and self-evident information implies that the role of the teacher is to transmit this knowledge and to dictate who and how children and educators can be amid a world that values the certainty, predictability, and universalizations of representational logic. Educators are to stress scientific ‘knowledge’ to children – this  the reproductive function of status-quo education in Canada. 

As Liselott Olsson (2009) argues, the logic of representation has remained very prominent in Euro-Western early childhood curriculum. It depicts a way of thinking that perceives the world as an independent cosmos. The (stable, instrumental) curriculum encompasses all ‘worthwhile’ knowledge reflecting the world. From this perspective, curriculum topics become substances for children’s learning which children come to understand when seeking to grasp the actual world. 

Akin to many other poststructuralist scholars, my pedagogical ethos (the pedagogical approach that I commit to) concerning this idea of representationalism is firmly against it. To concede having a valid and objective representation of reality can be the primary cause of many restrictions. The educators and I discussed how this logic (intentionally) limits a myriad of ways of knowing the worlds and our existential possibilities. 

The idea of a child in terms of development theories formulated within the discipline of developmental psychology sets forth universal age-related stages that continue normal child development and suggest that every child learns in a predictable, linear progression regardless of context. It represents a certain kind of subject who has the inherent potential to pursue one’s separate development, and education is reduced to the pursuit of individual development. The curriculum is carried out in such a fragmented way based on the areas of development, so learning becomes a separate and isolated activity. To break away from this logic of representation which names a separation between the world and ourselves, educators and I pondered how we could displace the solitude and docility that currently governed curriculum inquiry in the space by centering solidarity and multiplicity at the heart of our work. I proposed that educators might acknowledge curriculum as not something previously determined but, instead, as an invention. Curriculum as being composed with the material and social worlds of which we are already a part—seeing the life of the curriculum topic continually in flux.

resting thought by Sarah Hennessy Ⓒ 2021

To speculate how collectivity matters and happens in our curriculum, I brought my educators to think with David Jardine. Jardine underlines the vitality of curriculum as choosing a rich and generous topic to encompass all those who venture in, despite differences. His scholarly work on curriculum values what every participant brings into this venture of doing situated curriculum. With Jardine, curriculum’s potentialities of becoming value the multiple, various questions and experiences that individual participants express as enrichment and articulations to this work of curriculum. Educators, student teachers, a pedagogist, and families are also part of this venture as each person’s work is taken up as appending to the richness of the topic. In this regard, Jardine considers a curriculum inquiry topic as a place where we all find ourselves living in.

Jardine’s (2006) profound insights into the curriculum aroused further dialogue on abundant curriculum possibilities. He reminded us that approaching curriculum in abundance is a “way we carry ourselves in the world, the way we come through experience to live in a world full of life, full of relations and obligations and address,” (p.100) evoking us to seek and cultivate the kinships that connect us. Rethinking our pedagogical relationship through kinships opened up a different way of living and engaging with each other. I began to notice educators’ growing desire and curiosity about the pedagogical opportunities possible when working and thinking together as a team, as they realized that each person could bring a different way of seeing the world. The challenge was learning how to work together with differences without seeking an ultimate consensus; we resisted ultimate consensus because we have learned that complete harmony often conceals and silences tensions, disagreements, and divergences that nourish what it is to think pedagogically together (Delgado Vintimilla, 2014). 

Although most educators seemed to be motivated and excited about working collectively on curriculum inquiry, in the beginning, some educators shared difficulties expressing or offering different ideas or perspectives, feeling troubled that it might offend or upset colleagues, students, management, children, or families. It seemed that there was already a pre-established ideal relationship they wanted to pursue. I often heard from the educators stating, “we need to build our relationship first and then we can do this together”, “it is hard to work with her because I don’t have a relationship with her yet.” Or, “we cannot start creating a curriculum before we build a relationship with children,” as if everything could be or should be done only once the relationship is built. 

Rather than assuming that creating a relationship is not a prerequisite for what must happen before, I wanted educators to see relations as generative encounters with others or shared events with reciprocally transformative influence. It is through these connections with others that we become and continue to become who we are. To think differently about our relations with others we turned to Donna Haraway who writes of refiguring relationships through the idea of relationality; relations as a process of “becoming with.”

Some educators and students also shared that they struggled to think through engaging with each other’s thoughts, as they did not have much experience working collectively and responsively in a dialogue where they encountered their differences, which sometimes creates tensions, discomforts and disagreements. Here, we heard reverberations of the individualist, monotonous, application-oriented approaches that representational logic declares in education. We also noticed the influence of “rigorous” teaching meaning the implementation of pre-set curriculum and consensus meaning the at-all-costs absence of difference. Taking inspiration from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (poststructual philosophers), and Taylor and Miriam Giugni (common worlds scholars), I addressed collectivity as an opportunity to assemble or bring together, highlighting the reconstructive desire of our thinking and gesturing toward the productive potential of what we collectively composed in our messy work of thinking curriculum and pedagogy. Being responsive to each other’s ideas and thoughts was the process of taking risks. It took courage because, occasionally, it put educators in vulnerable situations. After all, being together/bringing together requires responsibility and responsiveness. This means that we might disagree with each other from time to time and need to work with disagreements and conflicts. However, slowly, educators started appreciating each other’s company and the opportunities of thinking and working – and sometimes agonizing – together as they began to experience that relationships are constituted and reconstituted in an exchange of ideas, perspectives, and stories. Haraway mentions how negotiating differences is difficult and risky emotional work, and we wanted to hold her assertion that thinking collectively is also a place of productive tension based on differences, where working in the muck of these differences might generate innovative thoughts and potentialities. 

Working collectively with each other and having a space for pedagogical conversation and engagement also changed the way educators related to practicum students. Practicum students often joined in curriculum meetings with educators and were invited to participate in each space’s curriculum inquiry. The educators seemed delighted by their contribution to the inquiry project. The educators often shared how much they appreciated different ideas and perspectives the practicum students brought to the curriculum inquiry and how children and educators missed them when they finished their practicum. Practicum students are no longer seen as people who just come and go just for the practicum to be done. Instead, they become co-participants who live and work together  with us on living, ongoing, unfinished conversations to which we are venturing together for better and richer understanding of the topic. Educators and the practicum students often asked if the student could go back to the same centre for the next practicum, which results in creating a back-to-back practicum to embrace continuity in curriculum and relationalities among the practicum students, educators, and the children.  

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Thank you Bo Sun. There is so much that you are offering here and that we would like to relate to and think further. As a pedagogist you are inviting educators to unsettle taken-for-granted ideas regarding the ways we come to know and the ways we relate to each other. Through this unsettling, you have invited educators to consider and engage with ways of knowing and relating that might be less based in egocentric practices, sovereignty, and control (we think these are themes intimately related with what you shared in the above questions). We noticed that you are carefully working with thinking  and activating pedagogical processes that take up relationality from a variety of perspectives. In doing so, as you have shared with us, you have been thinking with multiple companions in curriculum theory and beyond. We appreciate such diversity and at the same time we find ourselves wondering about it. We wonder because we find ourselves having an ambivalent response: on one hand, we appreciate such rich conversation, on the other hand we wonder if one needs to be careful with how we relate to our conversations with educational and interdisciplinary interlocutors. How do we enter in interdisciplinary dialogue so that such concepts can actually be read pedagogically? Or, so that those concepts can activate questions and processes and not risk falling into a kind of rhetoric or empty intellectualization? With this in mind, we are wondering what it is about these scholars’ thinking that draws you to them in this work of building collectives with students and educators? As a post-secondary institution pedagogist, how do you relate to these bodies of work when creating an interdisciplinary conversation that is first and foremost a pedagogical conversation that will involve educators and students? 

BO SUN: As a post-secondary institution pedagogist, I believe that education needs to engage with real-life, moving beyond acquiring skills and developing competencies. In that sense, education needs to be concerned with the pedagogical transformation of the self (Todd, 2015). With this in mind, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work are inevitable if we seek to work with real-life matters and concerns, as our languages of education activate what we value and enact in education. To think with interdisciplinarity calls for us to critically reflect on the languages that are present and privileged in both the overarching and situated early childhood context, and think about whom we want to bring into the conversations to produce other possibilities in the early childhood curriculum.

For example, while inheriting dominant configurations of curriculum as children’s  acquisition of more and more skills and knowledge from a developmental psychology perspective, to think curriculum as responding to and being responsible for the worlds is about manifesting who you are as an educator and where you stand to enter a social-material fabric that is entirely relational (Biesta, 2006). Thus, early childhood curriculum must be understood as bearing and creating educational and pedagogical values and engage with philosophical questions such as what we want for our children, ourselves, and the worlds of which we are part. I often ask my educators and students to engage in a question, “what is the purpose of education?”, “what is the purpose of early childhood education?” Taking an invitation from Biesta (2006), without engaging with values and the task of education corresponding to our current time and place, it is impossible to come up with pedagogical visions and values that would orient ourselves for the educational task that we collectively want to pursue. A pedagogist needs to draw attention to how our relations and dialogues might perceive and respond to ongoing ethics and politics of education. In line with this, I refuse to draw on conventional ethical norms and instrumental relations with a predetermined notion of correct or appropriate relationships. Instead, I pay attention to creating conditions and situations where educators explore the curriculum with children to respond to the world in singular, situated ways. This means that educators need to work with various theories and philosophies that might make not taken-for-granted conversations and curriculum approaches possible. This means that we need to acknowledge the ethical consequences of presencing different theories because reality is invoked and materialized depending on what ontological and epistemological position we take (Jones & Jenkins, 2008). As pedagogists, we need to take seriously how different ways of understanding pedagogical practices offer further planning and other unfoldings with very different ethical implications.

For this reason, as you mentioned in your question, we need to be careful about how we enter an interdisciplinary dialogue, considering the purposes and intentions of those involved in contributing to any interdisciplinary piece. And the pedagogical process is “intimately related to pedagogist’s subjective dispositions towards the worlds” (Delgado Vintimilla,n.d). For me, the conversation starts with asking why a particular theoretical concept matters in this context and what it means to work with the specific theory in this particular situation. We also see ourselves, a pedagogist and educators, as one of the organisms intra-acting (Barad, 2003) with other organisms in a pedagogical event, paying attention to what we compose and generate together. In other words, interdisciplinary dialogue is necessary for new possibilities and relationalities. This makes interdisciplinarity a companion on thinking pedagogically because first, it puts in question our taken-for-granted way of practice and what is familiar, a linear path of following a principle of dichotomy that plays a repressive role in education. Second, it provides the opportunity to create otherwise, inventing and experimenting with what emerges from the interdisciplinary conversations.

For example, a few years ago, I worked on an inquiry project, Hello,Oopsie!, with educators and 3 to 5 year-old-children. Our Hello, Oopsie project presents what might be possible, what emerges, and what can become when we shift our pedagogical and ethical approach through interdisciplinary dialogue. The project was first initiated as educators shared their concerns about a fish who came to the center as a gift from a parent. The children were excited about the presence of the fish and showed a great deal of attention, and even gave him a name, Oopsie. The children gathered around Oopsie, watched him swim around the volcano in his little aquarium, observed his movements, and fed him. However, as time went by, their initial excitement and interest started to fade. Oopsie would still swim around in his little aquarium, as he has always done since he first came. Eventually, Oopsie’s aquarium had become more of a background or a decoration of the classroom. Oopsie was not recognized or remembered most of the time, and it seemed that no one was responsible for Oopsie being excluded. Only the educators paid attention to Oopsie from time to time for feeding and maintaining the freshwater. While the rest of the educators felt it was not a big deal since it happened pretty often, one of the educators expressed discomfort at how quickly Oopsie became invisible. This conflicting feeling towards Oopsie sparked a heated conversation among the educators concerning our relationship with Oopsie to human relationships with fish. 

We recognized that fish had been part of humans’ life for a long time, being bound together with the lives of other beings. We encounter fish in a dentist’s office, department store, restaurants, pet stores, streams, rivers, or oceans. It is impossible to disentangle and separate human and fish entangled lives here on the west coast. As Meyer (2010) writes, “we routinely consume and use as part of our daily experience. Everything that we come in contact with turns immediately into a condition of our existence” (p. 85). We recognized that these entangled relations with a fish called for more responsible and responsive pedagogy in our context. I often heard educators and practicum students saying, “we don’t want to continue on this because the children are not interested in the topic anymore” or “we are following children’s interests,” as if everything has to be based on what children want and their interests, rather than considering how our ethical responsibilities entangle with life and pedagogy, and name what is pedagogically and ethically valuable for pursuing. As a pedagogist, I thought it was essential to engage with the children-fish relationship to disrupt this child-centred pedagogy deeply embodied in early childhood education – and, I wanted to search otherwise for other ways of responding with Oopsie and his newfound neglect.

In that sense, the inquiry project with Oopsie was “to present a proposal intended not to say what is, or what ought to be, but to provoke thought” (Stengers, 2004, p. 994) in order to consider our (educator, student, child, community) ethical possibilities and responsibilities within this early childhood pedagogical context. This is what marks our project as a curriculum inquiry project and not a different kind of project: we paid attention to what emerged from encounters, connections, intra-actions, and situations that create otherness in curriculum, rather than relying on our prior knowledge or discovering an eternal truth about worlds. The inquiry with Oopsie was concerned with us in the process of mutual engagement and transformation as we affected and were being affected by everything else. More than anything, the presence of Oopsie provoked us to recognize and contest exclusions inherent in our relationships between human life and the lives of more than human agencies, reimagining inclusion, and thinking “beyond a celebration of individual children’s differences and individual children’s experience of awe and wonder” (Taylor, 2013, p. 78). Introducing the work of Affrica Taylor and Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw helped us to work hard to avoid to falling into doing something according to “prescribed moral codes” (Taylor & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2019, p. 6) but to pay attention to ongoing relational practices with the fish and our children. In this inquiry project, we wondered what might happen if we think about Oopsie through the concepts of responsibility and responsiveness. We asked: what story(ies) we might be able to offer through our relations with the fish, challenging essentialist ethical norms and generating new forms of ethical responsibility beyond humans?

Todd (2015) argues that encounters with others (human and non-human alike) bring transformation in us. Acknowledging the interconnectedness of our lives to others, human and non-human like, we started our inquiry project with a question proposed by Todd (2015), “could we not start to rethink what it means to live well together without a blueprint of what counts as the common good’ produced prior to our actual encounters with others with whom we share the world?” (p. 54). 

In drawing attention to the trouble that existed with Oopsie as part of a curriculum inquiry, we encountered uncertainty and unknowability of where this would lead us related to our thinking of pedagogy and curriculum. We knew that, with Oopsie, our inheritances of representationalism, individualism, universalism, continuity, and consensus failed. We focused on how we might live differently with Oopsie in ways that offer new ethical possibilities in our pedagogical context. We turned to scholars both in and beyond curriculum theory, choosing who to think with by following how the provocations they offer might contribute to or complexify our pedagogical or curricular commitments. The quotes and questions from interdisciplinary scholars, such as Affrica Taylor, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Gert Biesta, and Sharon Todd, called us to contemplate the specifics of how we would approach and respond to humans and more-than-humans relations, and to nourish pedagogies situated within everyday life interactions which broaden the possibilities of existing with others – a question that reciprocally grounds our curriculum inquiry work with educators, students, children,and families. 

Working as a PSI pedagogist means bringing transformation to our pedagogical life, committing to the creation of a space of plurality and difference where being different is not seen as inferior to what is dominant (constituted as normal) and of a space where the encounters with otherness and difference is a real possibility. However, working with plurality does not mean that all pluralities are good or worth pursuing; it is not about making collage or bricolage by just adding different pieces, which might make us fall into relativism that creates more isolation among ourselves. Instead, working with plurality means, as a pedagogist, placing a dialogue at the center of pedagogy. It is a process of sharing experience and being connected with other beings who cannot work without taking the liveliness of others into account. Concerning this, a pedagogist should pay attention to creating those situations in which one shares or participates in creating a shared pedagogical commitment. However, a shared understanding should not be seen as a condition for making collective commitments. It is not that we first need to come to a shared understanding, and only then can we begin to coordinate our actions for dedication. On the contrary, it is the dialogue and collaboration in motion that produces collective commitment.


Journaling as a Choreographic Practice

When a pedagogist, who has inherited situated stories from education, encounters the concept of journaling, particular thoughts might emerge as to what this practice is allowed to be in the company of developmentalism and neoliberalism as dominant discourses. Journaling might be known as a mode of nurturing a familiar culture where learners begin to reflect and write in companionship with decorous and ameliorating logics as a means to become successful neoliberal subjects who are fluent in society’s language of capitalism.  Journaling might also be known as a dwelling to conceal one’s inner, most personal thoughts that tell the story of this writing practice as a mere means to work through feelings and document gratifying experiences with hopes to increase neoliberal happiness. As a pedagogist writing this essay, I wonder if I can set in motion an unknown, yet hopeful trajectory for journaling to become something else, a vibrant place to respond and move in rhythm with contextual, curricular encounters alongside educators within the space between what should be private and what could be public?

As a pedagogist, my journaling practices have evolved in response to encounters and exposures over the years. For me, journaling has become a process of creating micro-documentation pieces each day (Delgado Vintimillia & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2021) that work with the particular concepts that I encounter in my work. I cling to this daily pedagogical practice as I experience tension when neoliberal temporality seeks to tell me a story about how journaling is too challenging to commit to in response to a world that values logics of productivity and easiness. I respond to this tension by thinking about journaling as an alternative practice that creates pedagogical space to reveal other alternatives that complicates the taken-for-granted in our collective lives within early childhood spaces.  

Within this essay, I propose the possibility of thinking about journaling as a choreographic practice. To think about journaling alongside choreography, I offer the concept, correspondence as a triplet: co-respond-(da)nce, to think about the intimate and collective encounters that can unfold in response to a conceptual journal. Co as noticing the Other and thinking alongside a collective presence.  Respond as taking up particular encounters with hospitality and intentions to dwell with the almost or what could be. (Da)nce as moving in rhythm with what is encountered by complicating its existence and responding to tensions to set particular curricular trajectories in motion while being in relation with the present.  I also invite us to dwell with the concept of choreography as a means to begin a conversation as to how journaling can become something different. The word, choreography, comes from the Greek words: khoreia meaning “dance” and graphein meaning “to write” (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2021). In the ensuing thought provocations that I come to as a pedagogist who thinks alongside early childhood educators, I attempt to create space for us—educators, pedagogists and scholars who choose to come into companionship with this archival process —to encounter the beauty and tensions that can come from taking up journaling as a choreographic practice.

To begin this conversation, I want to acknowledge that I take up the process of journaling as a political venture. I am not called to take up particular concepts because they simply resonate with me and provide space to entertain those who read my offerings. Rather, I am called to take up these concepts because they address something in response to my pedagogical orientations which situate my gaze to attend to particular noticings. According to Manning (2009), “concepts are events in the making.  An event in the making is a thought on the cusp of articulation—a prearticulated thought in motion” (p. 5). I take up concepts in my work not to achieve a dominance of understanding, but to grapple with what is potentially living within the pedagogical unfolding and its unrecognizable existence as it comes forth. Therefore, concepts are not responded to out of familiarity, but when I notice a tugging, a potential shift or a flickering of an alternative life that responds to the multiplicities of temporality and creates space to interrogate what is allowed to exist within the realm of normality, so that otherness can not only be imagined as an alternative, but also a possible, worthwhile reality. Journaling then becomes a nourishing place to reciprocally encounter and complicate what is seen, heard, or felt in curricular processes.  These processes live within being and moving; being in relation with botherings and hopes for livable futures and moving when there are openings to enact ethico-pedagogical micro-movements. Journaling becomes an act of resistance in the presence of developmental and neoliberal narratives because of its archival capacity to hold onto and remember alternative stories that make it possible to imagine different ways of thinking and living. 

Journaling also becomes an act of invention that has the potential to incite curricular processes where ways of living otherwise are coaxed beyond the cusp of existence and perceptibility; an otherwise that creates space to think about fluid identities while dismantling fixed perceptions of who the Human is allowed to be and what it means to live a life well. Taking up journaling as an act of resistance asks us to hear unfolding conversations between encountered moments and our pedagogical orientations. Are these moments seeking to fracture and erase our situated commitments? If yes, we come into relation with tension as we wrestle within this space of the in between. It is in this dwelling that inventive movement is conceived by this union. This inventive movement does not necessarily work with elimination of such discourses, but rather creates space to insert inventive disruptions that have the capacity to tear apart threads of dominance in collective life.     

After a particular concept creates a pedagogical marking on my existence as a pedagogist and collective work with educators, I begin to thoughtfully choreograph an arrangement that entices the concept to continue to become.  This choreography is not a blueprint of future dance steps or what is known, but rather a labouring process as I think with what is unknown, sometimes through the process of un(knowing). Manning (2009) invites us to think about how

the appearance of choreography signals a reaction to a movement that seems to have been known in advance. Yet nothing here is known in advance.  What moves is a feeling more than a direction. The feeling can be harnessed into a repetition—a choreography of sorts. But what emerges in the first instance is an openness toward moving, a movement moving. (p. 14)

My desire to activate, disrupt, and implicate is what moves me within the conceptual movement. This desire for movement creates conditions for ruptures in my thinking to unfold as the dance with educators is about to begin.   

In the process of pedagogically perspiring to nurture my pedagogical gaze, I am gifted with several conceptual journals to share with educators, at the end of each week. From here, I grapple with making a pedagogical decision as to what journals to offer. What compositions work with the tensions and uncertainties of the educators? What composition is most significant and capable of enacting a shift? I take up our centre’s in-the-making collective orientations to guide me in making the decision as to what arrangement(s) to gift back to educators that work with co, respond and (da)nce in a more complicated way.    

Sharing a particular conceptual composition creates conditions for educators to implicate the choreography with the concept.  As an opening for the concept to be put into conversation with other concepts and encounters that are pedagogically potent to educators emerges, I attempt to situate the myriad of contextual connections and tensions that begin to come forth, with the intent to orient the concept to a particular becoming. In complicating the responses that emerge from educators, our correspondence can continue as we grapple with what that concept does and can do within the making of our collective life. As this collective life lives within the making, fragments of thinking, unfamiliarity, images envisioned by differing orientations and their uneasy presence become known to its dwellers. Tensions begin to exist in the decision making when deciding what to nurture further within the emerging correspondence.  Ideas are taken up over others, creating messy relational moments alongside the juxtaposing notion that all voices should be sought and heard. Encounters with perceived impossibilities might stall this slow work and provoke a revisiting of the correspondence’s initial conception. 

In a way, the relation between educators and a pedagogist can be similar to that of a relation between dancers and a choreographer. In response to a conceptual provocation, a choreographer may begin to craft a piece with the intent to implicate those that come into relation with the dance or art. I wonder if this process is similar to the process of arranging a journal piece as a pedagogist?  After sitting with the composition in the making, choreographers might offer it to dancers or colleagues, giving space for the very ethos of the dance to be exposed. The dancers may implicate the arrangement with their own orientations and ways of moving their body. This dance then becomes a conversation much like what can unfold when pedagogists and educators come together to work with a particular concept. This conversation brings messiness and tensions to the relations.

Manning (2009), offers us a seemingly distressing and perilous, yet generative image of pedagogical dependency within unfolding conceptual choreography: 

We take a step. My step leads me forward, but before I can step I must call on you to move almost before my own displacement. It is this almost-before I must communicate. This silent question takes the form of an opening. (p. 14) 

Within moments of dance disequilibrium, vulnerability is revealed, creating conditions for courageous acts of co-labouring (Delgado Vintimilla & Berger, 2019, p. 189-190) to become incipient and for weaving struggles together. As thoughts of fragmentation are spoken, others are called upon to take up these loose stitches by working at weaving what is present, yet unfamiliar. In this grappling, the limits of language are pushed, creating space to think about relational dance possibilities within this dialogue. An attunement to the following questions can nurture our emerging dance in curriculum making as a (de)activating process: In the name of what are we dancing together? What are we seeking to activate within displacement? How will we encounter what lives beyond the initial choreography with gratitude? In other words, how will the unfolding dance implicate the choreography? Taking up these questions creates space for pedagogists and educators to make decisions as to what concepts can continue to be danced with and choreographed into their collective life. Slowly attending to what is influencing these decisions creates openings for ethical and political conversations to contaminate the unfolding process. In this process, we risk overlooking what demands our attention and taking up concepts that have little pedagogical significance. To carry forth these ethical and political conversations, a labouring culture must be nurtured where fixed identities can become dislodged, concepts can continue to become in response to contextual encounters, and status quo grievances can be spoken to set in motion a new imagining of the otherwise that can exist in early childhood education. Within this labouring culture, an attuned gaze makes it possible for me to notice a particular concept’s reemergence within a different packaging of dominant discourses or ways in which lively, pedagogical concepts can become arrested by these narratives of dominance.  Oftentimes, situating conceptual journals alongside others, offers me provocations to put concepts into conversation with each other, which adds layers to their (co)existences. At the same time, concepts might not continue to be nurtured when they become pedagogically stale and are unlikely to incite generative movement. Delgado Vintimilla & Berger (2019) urge us to think beyond this precariously invigorating image of work always in motion and call us to think about the possibility of dancing in the absence of movement: “Laboring demands that we collectively experiment and work at it, as well as let ourselves be disappointed, troubled and even exhausted in the birthing of the multiple possibilities that a common project might bring” (p. 192).  This act of labouring then creates space for movement to be responded to and exhaustion to be taken up in the name of something. 

From the dance of ballet, we are offered the concept of adagio, “a music term used for slow, sustained movements” (APTA, 1998).  This concept creates space to labour within the slow work of living the dance and nurturing space for it to contaminate the curriculum, ethos, and relations, much like the process of thinking with pedagogical documentation. Manning (2009) calls us to think about how this actualizing and curating process might invite less micro-movements in relation to the concept and require nurturance from novel conceptual choreographies. Manning offers that

In the preacceleration of a step, anything is possible. But as the step begins to actualize, there is no longer much potential for divergence: the foot will land where it lands. Incipiency opens up experience to the unknowable, follow-through toward concrescence closes experience on itself. Of course, this closing-in is always a reopening toward the next incipient action. (p. 7)

Within such closings, there are always new beginnings; beginnings that have already begun or beginnings on the cusp of becoming that call us to dance within the messiness of togetherness alongside a particular concept when journaling as a choreographic practice lives within pedagogy in the making. Taking up the imperfections of a fragmented, conceptual dance creates space to weave together new realities and engage with the performative nature of journaling as movement with others that nurtures the beginnings of (un)doings and what could be possible within collective life.


I would like to acknowledge that taking up journaling as a choreographic practice is possible in companionship with others.  It is here that I would like to acknowledge the educators with whom I work and my past and present managers for co-creating a studio with me where we can dance together.  I would also like to acknowledge with sincere gratitude: Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, Nicole Land, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Randa Khattar, Erin Manning, Justine Chambers, Carlina Rinaldi and the Pedagogist Network of Ontario for complicating and enriching my image of journaling as a choreographic practice.


Sweet Sweaty Play

I always go back to the Girl on the Monkey Bars. I sketch scenes from the slow-motion film that runs before my eyes: torso swaying, hands desperately holding on, body weight shifting, muscles flexing, failing, succeeding. Her palms are sweaty. Irritated skin turns pink and then tomato-red. The Girl is in a state of perpetual discomfort of swinging legs and twisted elbows. The doctors (12) warned her: monkey bars are the playground structure heavily associated with injury. Nonetheless, she persists. 

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

1. Setting off.

This piece is written in solidarity with the Monkey Bars and the Girl holding one another. Each paragraph, each thought is a moment of simultaneously gripping on and slipping off. Each movement in the narrative is a disjointed and clumsy attempt to propel a piece somewhere (perhaps not towards an end, but towards an opening?), in a way that has a critical intention in mind, yet is saturated with multiple pulls, in the way limbs and muscles jerk in search of momentum. The essay is an experiments-in-the-making (for which I beg your forgiveness and invite responses of all kinds, but no hate mail please!) where I mix sketches with short vignettes and sprinkle on theoretical promiscuity.  

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

“Sweaty concepts”, writes Sara Ahmed (2017), come slowly, come out of bodies in discomfort, of pushing against the world in a desire to transform it. This piece of writing is also a partial view into my sweating with the concept of play in early childhood education.  How might we chip away at the universal image of a child at play? How might we warp the notion of “play” from a naturalized shape of public marvel (at playing children) to a distorted struggle that resonates against the public institutions of “good” teaching and parenting? What might become possible in early childhood education if we take up play not as yet another dress rehearsal of already existing social norms, but as propositions of constructing worlds (good, bad, ugly, and different), powers, knowledges? 

I now wish to make space on these pages for Sara Ahmed’s writing in a page-long excerpt from Living a Feminist Life because, firstly, the sustained space this quote takes in this essay echoes her very propositions of continued, strenuous working at something that matters. It is also a question of uncovering the circumstances and others (bodies and minds) that shatter or replenish my/your own experience and thinking. Lastly, I hope that you trace Ahmed’s writing as she does it: along your own skin, bearing all the weight of your situatedness. 

I write this piece as I work, alongside educators and children, in a playground space in a city in Canada’s ‘chemical valley’. It’s a stifling 340C by 9 am. The soft strap of the plastic face shield that I, like the educators, am wearing over the face mask captures the drops of sweat that want to get into my eyes. We collect rocks and sticks. We take off shoes, squeezing clay soil and the fuzz of the picnic blanket between our toes. Dust glues to damp skin. On Monday afternoon, the unescapable heat mixes also with the air horn alarms. It’s the refineries’ weekly emergency system testing in case of a chemical leak. If you saw our bodies strained, sweating, sticking, slowing, would you name us playing?

By trying to describe something that is difficult, that resists being fully comprehended in the present, we generate what I call “sweaty concepts.” I first used this expression when I was trying to describe to students the kind of intellectual labor evident in Audre Lorde’s work. <…> Her words gave me the courage to make my own experience into a resource, my experiences as a brown woman, lesbian, daughter; as a writer, to build theory from description of where I was in the world, to build theory from description of not being accommodated by a world. A lifeline: it can be a fragile rope, worn and tattered from the harshness of weather, but it is enough, just enough, to bear your weight, to pull you out, to help you survive a shattering experience.

A sweaty concept: another way of being pulled out from a shattering experience. By using sweaty concepts for descriptive work, I am trying to say at least two things. First, I was suggesting that too often conceptual work is understood as distinct from describing a situation: and I am thinking here of a situation as something that comes to demand a response. A situation can refer to a combination of circumstances of a given moment but also to a critical, problematic, or striking set of circumstances. <…> Concepts tend to be identified as what scholars somehow come up with, often through contemplation and withdrawal, rather like an apple that hits you on the head, sparking revelation from a position of exteriority. <…> Concepts are at work in how we work, whatever it is that we do. We need to work out, sometimes, what these concepts are (what we are thinking when we are doing, or what doing is thinking) because concepts can be murky as background assumptions. But that working out is precisely not bringing a concept in from the outside (or from above): concepts are in the worlds we are in. By using the idea of sweaty concepts, I am also trying to show how descriptive work is conceptual work. A concept is worldly, but it is also a reorientation to a world, a way of turning things around, a different slant on the same thing. More specifically, a sweaty concept is one that comes out of a description of a body that is not at home in the world. By this I mean description as angle or point of view: a description of how it feels not to be at home in the world, or a description of the world from the point of view of not being at home in it. Sweat is bodily; we might sweat more during more strenuous and muscular activity. A sweaty concept might come out of a bodily experience that is trying. The task is to stay with the difficulty, to keep exploring and exposing this difficulty. We might need not to eliminate the effort or labor from the writing.

Not eliminating the effort or labor becomes an academic aim because we have been taught to tidy our texts, not to reveal the struggle we have in getting somewhere. Sweaty concepts are also generated by the practical experience of coming up against a world, or the practical experience of trying to transform a world. 
<…> We should be asking ourselves the same sorts of questions when we write our texts, when we put things together, as we do in living our lives. How to dismantle the world that is built to accommodate only some bodies? (Ahmed, 2017, pp. 12-14)

1__2. Everyone is naked

In just a few paragraphs, Ursula K. Le Guin (1985) sets the stage for a feminist uprising:

They used to be called 
yaks, rats, poodles, sea otters, 
and other names which are now lost. 
She is a woman formerly known as Eve. 
Like them, she takes on namelessness 
in a refusal of certainty of knowing and being known. 
She and they crawl and swim 
and lay closely to one another. 
They and she touch, 
eat and become eaten, 
they taste blood and affect, in which fear and love 
are no longer distinguishable from one another. 

Play, we are often told, is difficult to define but is easy to recognize. This magic trick fools you only if you buy into the homogeneous images of shiny happy children playing. As if they were speaking about play, fellow admirers of Le Guin’s short story “She Unnames Them” (which inspired the above passage), Gough and Adsit-Morris write (2020, p. 218): “Naming is not just a matter of labeling existing distinctions. Assigning a name constructs the illusion that what is named is genuinely distinguishable from all else”. 

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

2. (Un)naming

What does (un)naming ask of us? Not to fall silent, refusing words that make up our sometimes-shared vocabulary. Not to reprise the move of a vengeful god who takes away the common language to stop mere humans from reaching heaven. Not to look up alternatives in a thesaurus (although tracing word origins, definitions and synonyms is infinitely fascinating). In thinking of language and power as inexplicably linked, we ought to consider naming + un-naming + not-naming as a feminist practice of thinking critically how, and at whom, violence is directed through words (Ahmed, 2017); to fiercely question constructions that purport to explain away but themselves ought to be explained (Pignarre & Stengers, 2011, p.13):

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

What might need (un)naming in early childhood education? What is “free play” free of? What are “loose parts” loose from?[1] What does “risky play” actually risk? Who is excluded from the mantra of “the right to play” (Article 31, UN Convention on the Rights of a Child) that adorns nearly every article and document concerned with play in the Global North? How might we move beyond sweeping generalizations that couple play and children’s so-called nature (as in “natural response”[2], or “natural curiosity and exuberance”[3])? How do we un-mechanize the X-marks-the-spot on the playground where an educator takes her supervisory stand?  

2_3. They are here. 

The opening vignette of Valerie Walkerdine’s Schoolgirl Fictions (1990) acts out for the reader moments of play in a nursery school that tightly weave gender and power discourses with Lego bricks. This play is volatile, spilling from the boundaries of classroom appropriateness into sexualized violence:

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

What I wish to gesture towards with the introduction of this very small piece of Walkerdine’s writing is the need for more complex thinking (and, consequently, more complex language, conversations, practices, documentations, ideas, etc, etc) about play in ECE settings.  Neither the binary categories of safe/risky, free/guided, nature/playground, outdoor/indoor, toys/loose parts, etc nor the non-critical adjectives like fun, voluntary, adventurous, constructive, etc are capable of grasping the complexity (and the darkness) of play, thus impoverishing its pedagogical and world-making possibilities. 

Moreover, failing to critically consider the taken-for-granted language of play may leave our educational practice impotent. Consider, for instance, the closed circuit of the “romanticized amnesia” (Malone, 2015, p. 6) of risky and nature play movement (see the works of Mariana Brussoni and Richard Louv). Here, we are told, the playing child’s development and well-being are under threat by lack of access to nature, parental fears (aha, the mothers are to blame!) or societal emphasis on safety standards that “smother” adventure (Vollmar & Lindner, 2018). While safety standards may dictate certain conditions for work and play, they are neither pedagogically instructive nor indestructible.  The work done by, for example, members of the Common Worlds Research Collective shows what play(ing) is possible when we refuse to be swallowed by bloated regulatory jurisdictions (whether safety or developmental), and instead work to agitate bonds that wish to capture the playing human.

Not only do I suggest that safety standards cannot constraint the pedagogical potentials of the work of educators and children in outdoor and playground settings, but that the destitute landscapes surrounding many childcare sites across Canada can be, must be, sites to think education politically. Plastic play structures, tarmac steaming in the summer heat, dirt and wood chips, chain-link fences, weeping mulberries and cedar hedges, shade sails, trike loops, and sand boxes are the very conditions that make us ask how did we come to think of a trike as a staple of early-year centers’ playgrounds? What do we enact when we insist that sand must stay in the sandbox? How might we care for the dandelions that spoil our lawns? What stories might we tell when we see the chain-link fence as keeping in, andkeeping out, and letting through, and springing back, and framing, and breaking, and, and, and…

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

3. Play and learn 

I favor the boldness of Erica Burman (2017) declaring: “there is nothing natural about play” (p. 254). By attending to how play is constructed in ways that reflect class privileges, neoliberal values, culture, Western rights-based world views, and regulation (of mothers and teachers, in particular), we, too can follow Burman in tracing how neither play itself, nor our management of it are benign or free. 

If we take pedagogical processes as subject-forming, then play-based learning[4] is, too, an ethical practice open to “ontological violence” (Todd, 2001, p. 435). This means that not only educators organizing “free play” (when distinguished from “guided play”, as in Danniels & Pyle, 2018, referenced in the CECE document above) is an oxymoron, but any suggestion that this play is indeed “child-directed, voluntary, internally motivated, and pleasurable” (p. 1) ignores entirely the political instruments that wish it into existence and the ethical questions such practice ought to raise. Thus, play-based learning techniques both delineate and produce the very activity they claim innate to children. They also are offered as a solution to a problem (learning improved through play) before asking a critical question: what and whom is it for? 

3_4. In business 

Within developmental discourses, play is paradoxically narrated as both children’s natural inclination and as their work. Declarations like “unstructured play is the business of childhood” (Canadian Public Health Association) echo the Progressive reformers’ ambition to “fix” juvenile delinquents by teaching them how to play (the right way) on newly-organized playgrounds (Hines, 2017; McArhur, 1975) and trope of the era commemorated in Maria Montessori’s utterance: “play is the work of the child” (in Mobily, 2018, p. 152).

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021

4. Letting go

Reflecting critically on the offering of ‘risky play’ (normally defined as thrilling outdoor play with a possible occurrence of physical injury; see Sandseter & Kennair, 2011) easily reveals the end-product: resilience building, itself the nation state’s favourite trait in a neoliberal citizen committed to self-care. Within a broader context, the regime of resilience obscures suffering and marketizes endurance of Black and Indigenous people, women and children, and marginalized others (see Casco-Solís, 2019; Clay, 2019; Burman, 2017; Lindroth & Sinevaara-Niskanen, 2017). Within the discourses of play, we might ask to what (un)known dangers or crisis does risky play plan to govern children towards? How might play (particularly in outdoor settings, where much of the ‘risky play’ conversations are situated) be considered as more than means of developing harder (resilient), better, faster, stronger children? 

Sweaty play as a pedagogical project asks us to undo play as the last defense line in the project of an innocent child and that of a developing child. Accepted narrations of play as “free” or materials as simply constituting loose bits and bobs that are used “dependent on the children’s interests and imagination” (Dietze & Kashin, 2019, p. 83) blossom from the same child-centeredness that houses developmentalism and anthropocentrism (Land, et al., 2020). They ask us to either marvel at the beautiful play, or to subvert it, narrowly defined, in supporting determinacy of existing regimes and neoliberal futures. In defiance, we might think of play as experiences which conjure up something “that makes us new, that makes us into something that is neither one nor two, that brings us into the open where purpose and functions are given a rest” (Haraway, p. 2008, p. 237). So conceived, play requires a recognition of interdependence beyond a child, of releasing the tight grip and letting the body feel the pull of the next bar, putting the Girl’s world on the line. 

© Tatiana Zakharova, 2021


[1] In asking this question, I repeat Cristina Delgado Vintimilla who blew up my world by uttering it in February 2020 at Responding to Ecological Challenges with/in Contemporary Childhoods: An Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Climate Pedagogies
[2]  Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, 2012. Online:
[3]  How Does Leaning Happen?, 2014. Online:
[4] As, for example, College of Early Childhood Educators (2018) encourages RECEs to do. Online:


On Becoming a Pedagogist: Brief Thoughts on Pedagogical Documentation

In January 2020, we gathered together with a group of pedagogists for three days to intensify our attention towards pedagogical thought and curriculum making, and to enrich the possibilities for the role of the pedagogist. To do this, we created a series of pedagogical and curricular processes that enabled us to collectively and actively think with the concepts and metaphors that shape the pedagogists’ emerging understandings of their role. We also invited a poet, a photographer and a visual artist to intersect their artistic processes with our thinking, as well as share their work, metaphors, and interests. Through these encounters, our interests and intentions were to intensely enact interpretative and trans-formative practices.

During the gathering, we created spaces for provocative and collective thinking and doings, carefully documented these thinking and doings, and curated provisional narratives that propelled further thinking and doings. We submerged ourselves in collective listening through visual note taking, photographing and videotaping the different processes, projecting those images on the walls, writing detailed individual fieldnotes, and sharing and collectively interpreting fieldnotes1. These different trajectories moved us to create the documentation below.

In the documentation and during the gathering, we used the metaphors of stitching, as acts that form and deform pedagogical and creative processes. Pedagogists placed their pedagogical energy in the processes of collectively making and doing, inserting something that is threaded by a living memory within a present. For us, stitching was not only a language to think pedagogy. It was also a way to: thread some of the loose ends that remained from a year of virtual meetings, make a mark in our collective (and challenging) journey, and create new lines to bring texture to our dialogues, and insist on what emerges as significant. In other words, stitching gave way to ‘compose around the specificities of becoming a pedagogist.’ Inspired by textile artist Susan Brandeis (2019), stitch by stitch, mark by mark and line by line, we created contours and temporary outlines to our collective and pedagogical orientations:

Lines that bend or curve with sufficient angle or curvature, or overlap in their pathways, eventually cross and enclose space, forming shapes distinguishable from the surrounding space. Each shape has expressive potential, largely determined by the combination of its external boundary (outline or contour) and its interior markings, shadings, or coloring (fill).

(p. 101)

Digital documentation design by Tatiana Zakharova and Malvika Agarwal

We approach the practice of pedagogical documentation as the driving force of inquiry and curriculum making. As a practice, documentation is shaped by a generative and ongoing dynamic between the traces of what we have defined as pedagogically significant within a process (Rinaldi, 2005), and the different propositions ideated on the basis of that which we found significant. In other words, as pedagogists engage in pedagogical documentation, they are moved by a set of pedagogical questions, concerns and orientations that help discern and give value to what happened at the same time that they propel into cultivating new forms of knowing, acting and living (through questioning, experimenting, fabulating, enacting, inventing trying out, daring, figuring out, stumbling to name a few). Hence pedagogical documentation is both retrospective and prospective.

The retrospective aspect of documentation, as Italian pedagogista Carla Rinaldi notes, can sometimes be misunderstood as a representation of what happened. However, pedagogical documentation is not simply a final narrative of what was done; it is instead a narration of the different trajectories and processes that are thought through and partially interpreted.

The prospective aspect of documentation engages the practice of projecting via ideation. The intention is to purposefully activate certain ideas/possibilities through material, interpretative and speculative processes of curriculum making. Acts of ideation compose situations that stich something different in the curricular fabric of an early childhood centre. Pedagogists ideate because they are pedagogical projectists (a translation from “progettisti in Italian) who are interested (as being in the midst of things) in curriculum making as that which enables new and alternative relational fields (ones that are less based in managerial logics, less human centric and less individualistic).

Finally, and as a way of insisting, documentation, for us, enables and enriches our abilities to pedagogically envision. This means a practice that proposes inventive processes within an educational setting without fully knowing, without fully seeing, yet, moved by pedagogical prospective(s) that face and engage with a future that we cannot predict, and yet, a future that we can story.


Brandeis, s. (2019). The intentional thread: A guide to drawing, gesture, and color in stitch. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Books.

  1. Sarah Hennessy, Tatiana Zakharova, Malvika Agarwal, Adrianne Bacelar de Castro, Maureen Cullen, Kelly-Ann MacAlpine, and Rocio Gujani co-laboured with us in the enactment of each encounter, in gathering the documentation, and in stitching this pedagogical documentation.

On Becoming a Post Secondary Pedagogist: Working with Students, Faculty, and Institutional Realities

Continuing the collective work that has been ongoing since 2018, post-secondary institution (PSI) pedagogists with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario work within programs that educate, initiate, and think with early childhood education students as they begin to get to know the contours and inheritances of pedagogy, curriculum, and relations in education. In particular, pedagogists in post-secondary institutions work to reimagine practicum as a space for reconfiguring how the education of future educators unfolds and how early childhood educators, students and faculty members might create innovative practices. This role is unique as pedagogists must grapple with and disrupt the taken for granted structures of both early childhood education and a post-secondary institution, and occupy what is made in the collision of these two structures. Importantly, a post-secondary pedagogist centers questions of pedagogy in the collaborative work of re-creating practicum: what orients our ideas of the intentions and purposes of practicum? What relations are possible and impossible in practicum? How might we co-construct alternative ways of realizing a practicum experience?

In the interview that follows, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla and Nicole Land speak with post-secondary institution pedagogists Paolina Camuti-Cull and Olga Rossovska. Our intention for this conversation is to trace how we are each in different – careful and non-innocent – relations to some of the pivotal concepts that we ‘do’ or enliven in the process of becoming a post-secondary pedagogist. We hope that you will notice the intricate and risky ways that Paolina and Olga do the layered work of noticing how concepts work in the status-quo, offering some questions and practices for unsettling these concepts, and turning toward thinking alternative possibilities for coming together in practicum and post-secondary institutions.

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Beginning in 2018, you have been engaging in processes of becoming a post-secondary pedagogist. You have been exposed to an array of theory, concepts, and ideas throughout this time. We have thought with “reading” these concepts as a pedagogist might: attuned to the connections, tensions, overlaps, and disjuncture between concepts as we put them to work thinking their possibilities for curriculum-making and pedagogies relevant to our places and relations. Can you please share one or two ideas or concepts that are sticking with you within your process of becoming a post-secondary pedagogist? How do you see these concepts enlivening or provoking your thinking and practice within your institution?

PAOLINA: I have been most stirred by the concept of finding meaning in “empty space,” in the silence that is found lingering “in-between” the language used in text(s); propelled to uncover meaning that is unnoticed (Aoki, 2009). As a pedagogist, I am interested in considering what is not made visible and what is absent. I am motivated to look beyond what is evident. This creates tension, uncertainty, and discomfort. This process disrupts how I experience language. As a pedagogist, in this “becoming” I find myself increasingly attuned to the absolutes used to define and describe our practice. I am made to sit inside words and phrases such as “child centred,” and “teaching;” to dismantle their meaning and consider their implications. Historically, I have associated myself with specific models of pedagogy, asserting that these applications are based on theoretically sound rationales, and applying the language associated with these models. In this “becoming” a pedagogist I bring to question, in such absolutes what is being created or recreated? What then is missed? What possibilities are lost or silenced? How does this influence our humanity? Our exposures suggest we think with these questions in mind in our curriculum making.  

In this becoming, I come to realize that it is in the “in-between” space of such absolutes that we come to uncover new possibilities. In this entanglement, I am compelled by Derrida to consider how meaning is constructed with “other” (Tarc, 2015, p.7). Foucault brings intensity and urgency to this thinking as we consider the role of socio-economic systems in affecting language, especially in post-secondary education, with colonial and neo-liberal intentionality.

With a gentle approach, we sit with students, faculty and other pedagogists to think together about the language we use to bring meaning to our curriculum making and the relations that are created within this context. We search to uncover the hidden, quiet, silent meanings that remain unavailable and unnoticed. We seek using inquiry, what we have not thought about rather than what is visible and considered known. We are encouraged to read, to learn, together so that our insights can be deepened, and to know our history and its relation to our “now.”

OLGA: Thank you for this question. Always being-in-question (Vintimilla, 2018) is a concept that has become a part of who I am and how I am thinking as a post-secondary pedagogist. For example, something that I have repeatedly been going back to is the meaning we, as a society, as faculty and as independent individuals, place behind ‘quality’ in education. When unpacking this seemingly easy question as a pedagogist, I arrive to more questions than answers, with these creating tensions and challenging what I and others are used to – an instant and satisfying response. With our faculty group we are constantly thinking about who the student in our classroom is, who we are as faculty, whom are we thinking with and what stories we share – questions that do not always have straight answers, questions that expose our vulnerabilities, our professional tendency of romanticizing education, and our struggle to have a democratic classroom in a neoliberal society. From there we arrive to more questions, those we often think with in our pedagogist network gatherings, questions of whether we are consciously privileging certain ways of thinking and being in education and how this puts us on the path of producing a particular kind of Early Childhood Educator, most often the one with an overwhelming desire to comply, to do, and to be good (Osgood, 2006). However, being in question is not simply or thoughtlessly questioning our ways of being and doing in education, of planning curriculum and striving to graduate a particular kind of professional. Being in question means that I, as a pedagogist, am entangled with thoughts of others – fellow pedagogists, theories, provocations, and always the pedagogical commitments of our program. Therefore, in being in question I am creating conditions in which we ethically and critically think about the meanings and possibilities for curriculum and pedagogy we place when interpreting, for example, quality in education. 

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: You both referred to two different, yet key concepts, that have been part of the discussions with PSI pedagogists: inhabiting “in between” spaces and “being in question”. These are very generative concepts and, at the same time, their praxis is not easy. Being in question can be uncomfortable and vulnerable. In between spaces can ask us to face tensions. We are wondering about how, as PSI pedagogists, you work with and through these two concepts? For example, to be in question means that one might need to take distance from discourses of mastery and control. Creating in between spaces might invite us to move beyond questions that focus on the teacher or the child. To enliven the in between and ground your work in question often requires putting the status-quo at risk while concurrently envisioning alternative ways of coming together with students and colleagues in your institutions. What does it look like, for you, to engage with such praxis as a faculty working with students?

PAOLINA: In this “in-between” space I search beyond the language used to find meaning that remains unnoticed (Aoki, 2009). As a pedagogist I am motivated to bring to question that which is not visible and perhaps not accessible using our existing language. I am interested in bringing to consciousness what Shel Silverstein refers to as our “Forgotten Language” (Tarc, 2015, p.34). Robertson equates this dynamic to an epiphany, a “psychic event” where we “re-find the contours of our internal lives” (Tarc, 2015, p.40). It is in this entanglement that we come to locate the tension between theory and practice (Pinar & Reynolds, 2015). As a pedagogist, this is where I sit with students and faculty to contemplate, evaluate, and discover together what is unnoticed in an effort to build depth in understanding and intentionality. This engagement moves our “curriculum making” beyond the “knowing” as defined by outcomes. It propels us to bring a renewed value to the notion of “experiencing.”  As a pedagogist, I have used a variety of pedagogical insights to document what is understood; to uncover what is perceived, to identify contradictions, determine what is missed, and consider new possibilities. We are encouraged to enliven concepts by painting, drawing, stitching, sculpting, story making, poetry, drama, music and movement. It is in the essence of these storylines that are built with students and colleagues through taking these contradictions and tensions seriously, that new questions, ideas, possibilities are formed: meanings that move beyond what is prescribed. This prospect is enriched when language that is absent is realized. It is in this space that we think together and build inquiry. Such exposures are deepened when “experiencing” is layered toward documenting the journey and recording a new history. 

For me, to actualize this work, I propose that students and faculty must be aware and open to their own conscious and unconscious discourse. Recognizing with empathy, that we all in varying degrees carry trauma and the experience of oppression. Such prospects can only be realized when there is a strong bond and trust within the student and faculty team. Where each member of the team feels valued, safe, a sense of belonging. We share our readings together and use strategies to encourage thinking outside of what might be considered the “status quo” using non-threatening technological tools like Miro Boards to begin our conversation. We are sensitive to the vulnerability created by the “new” and that which is unknown. 

OLGA: Our faculty team meets monthly for pedagogical gatherings where we engage in pedagogical discussions alongside various thinkers, elders, pedagogues, and community members about teaching and learning. During these gatherings we reflect, think critically, and we challenge, for example, our comforts with content we teach and being seen as an expert. We discuss our discomforts with stepping outside of our comfort zone and student reactions to these. Based on the discussions during these pedagogical gatherings, our colleagues seem to have moved away from the notion of mastery quite a while ago and our faculty has a strong focus on co-learning and co-teaching, therefore, collaborating with students. Of course, being in control and being perceived as an expert of content is comfortable, often desirable for both faculty and students, and as a faculty I am very much tempted by that notion. In my experience, when I offer space to students to take control over content or provide flexibility in choosing how they express their thinking most students feel uneasy, and while some readily accept it, they come back with a plea to “now tell us the right way to think and do”. Many are frustrated when I ask “the right way according to whom or when?”. To me this is yet another example of neoliberal transaction-like practices. The views of the role of post-secondary institutions are engraved from early on in life as places of knowledge deposition and learning about how to survive in the real world, places where educators and students voluntarily accept the role of passive mechanical beings transmitting and disseminating information. This is not unique to Early Childhood programs. Freire (2000) mentioned this concept of ‘banking’ and ‘receive, memorize, repeat’ cycles in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and he urges us to think about knowledge and learning as a process of inquiry rather than reiteration of what is already known. As Friere (2000) shares, “knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (p. 72). 

In education we are so deeply rooted into dominant ways of thinking, doing, and being and it will take us time to create conditions for doing curriculum otherwise in post-secondary ECE classrooms, and this means that we will continue to be in tension with others and our own thinking. Something I discuss with faculty are the stories of dominant and alternative discourses. When we think of our time together with students and the content we teach and explore with students we consider: how might one challenge something one does not understand or know about? Even the dominant discourse stories contain someone’s truths – truths one might feel comfortable with because of desire to fit in or because it fits their current conditions – and they are convenient or dominant because one does not know something else is possible… there are other ways to tell our, and other, stories. The issue with dominant stories such as content expertise, skill mastery, etc. is that these status-quo stories of childhood and education are viewed as universal truths and sometimes a two-year college diploma only scratches the surface in challenging these truths. We definitely have a lot of work ahead of us, but what I as a pedagogist am really excited about is that we are not afraid to let go of some control and try what we discuss in our pedagogical gatherings with our classes, with an intention to expose students and ourselves to tensions we are in.

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Through practicum courses, a post-secondary pedagogist works with students and established early childhood educators to unsettle familiar, reductive, and controlling stories, theories, and relations as they matter in a particular institution, while at the same time working to set in motion alternative possibilities for being together in that institution and that answer to situated concerns, histories, and relations within that institution (university, college, child care centre). ‘Comfort’ and ’new’ can act as buzzwords within neoliberal institutions – they can be made to work as competitive contemporary jargon, as practices that continually bolster an institution’s power while carefully dictating how those within that institution must become subjects who actively contribute to maintaining the institution’s neoliberal expectations. Practicum is often conceptualized as an apprenticeship to building a student’s ‘comfort’, where a student can learn the expertise needed to thrive as an educator within education as it already exists. As a PSI pedagogist, how do you understand how ‘comfort’ works in practicum courses in your institution (through, for example: specific relations, discourses, feeling ‘good’, trust, convenience, reciprocity, living well together)? As a post-secondary pedagogist, how do you grapple with ‘comfort’ and ’new’, in conversation with practicum students, established ECEs, your institution, the PNO, and your pedagogical commitments? 

PAOLINA:  I am deeply motivated by this inquiry, and eager to consider examining the language often associated with the practicum experience from a pedagogical perspective. Commonly used words like “comfort” and “new,” are important to disassemble, particularly as they influence institutional power; they affirm the “status quo;” create a certain kind of “subject” (Mac Naughton, 2005). In my “being” with students, institutional “influencers” and within our pedagogical exposures, I am made to consider what lies in the “in-between” space and to apply a political lens to what sits visible. What happens when we consider what it means to be comfortable in the practicum and within our institution? What then does it mean to be uncomfortable?”

In our being “human,” we have learned to attach the word “comfort” to describe a state of being in all our relations. We strive to be in this state of “comfort,” in our interactions with others, with content, materials, and within environments. We need to recognize the reciprocal nature of this dynamic. Drawing on pedagogical insights, I am compelled to think together with others about the “subject” being unknowingly created and recreated. In the practicum and in our institutional dynamic what does it mean for the “subject” to be with “comfort?” Often the result is to be passive, to conform, to avoid that which is unsettling and tension provoking. To be in the world as it is. To avoid unsettling the “status quo.”

In our “living” together in this pedagogist space, I am made clearly aware that discomfort is a critical part of all “experience.” Being uneasy is vital to our practice. I am motivated as a pedagogist to bring to light the notion of finding “comfort” in discomfort which is fraught with tension, conflict, and disruption. In our pedagogist discourse we purposely “unfold” and sit with tensions to consider other ways of looking and being together. Considering, in this pedagogist engagement, what the implications are to existing ways of being and to “systems.” It is in this discourse that we come to reconsider meanings assigned to words such as “new.” In this fluid dynamic discourse, we sit “in-between” “comfort” and strive to bring to consciousness what is unnoticed, and to uncover another way of being with and outside of the status quo.  Using a range of strategies including artifacts, transcription, and storyboards that are used for reflection, in this becoming a pedagogist with others we bring to question what meanings are evident and what is missing. Through such interpretive practices using inquiry, I as a pedagogist with others deepen existing narratives and story lines and create texts that bring to life more active, dynamic, challenging opportunities to be together. We participate in new ways of thinking of the human within a power dichotomy, where disruption and challenge is seen as a catalyst for change and innovation. 

OLGA: In my classes I often address the educators’ (including myself) comfort with routine, stability, and discomfort with the new or different ways of thinking and being. I also caution that the comfort makes our profession static and the convenience of routine becomes inconvenient and quite annoying. Our conversations then shift to focus not on creating something new, but rather to engaging in reflective practice. Similarly to the post-secondary classroom when I engage with my colleagues who are Early Childhood Educators, I encourage them to see their mentorship experiences with practicum students not only as time to teach technical skills, which in my professional opinion are needed to function in a busy classroom of infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, but also as opportunities to engage in pedagogical conversations. When we value the personal and intellectual growth of ourselves and of others, and engage in reflective practice as part of ongoing professional learning, that is how we become dynamic in our practice. By creating conditions for pedagogical development I cannot say that what we as a collegial group are putting in motion is something new, but I can say that we are choosing to be part of culture of early childhood practice (Kummen & Hodgins, 2019) that considers perspectives we haven’t considered in a while or haven’t considered alongside others.


Aoki et al. (2009) Curriculum in a new key: The collected works of Ted T. Aoki. Routledge.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed). Continuum.

Kummen, K., & Hodgins, B. D. (2019). Learning collectives with/in sites of practice: Beyond training and professional development. Journal of Childhood Studies, 44(1), 111-122.

Mac Naughton, G. (2005). Doing Foucault in early childhood studies. Routledge.

Osgood, J. (2006). Deconstructing professionalism in early childhood education: Resisting the regulatory gaze. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 7(1), 5-14.

Pinar, W. F., & Reynolds, M. (2016). Understanding curriculum as phenomenological and deconstructed text: Educators International Press.

Tarc, A.M. (2015). Literacy of the other: Renarrating humanity. State University of New York Press.

Vintimilla, C. D. (2018). Encounters with a pedagogista. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 19(1), 20–30.

Editors’ Note

We are pleased to release the second issue of the Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine. This magazine is a space for encountering ideas and experiences that relate to pedagogists’ educational practices, and serves as a living archive of work that takes place at the intersection of pedagogy and early childhood education.

Issue 2 includes four distinct, yet akin, articles that engage with three of PNO’s threading concepts: curriculum making, becoming a pedagogist, and situated relations. The articles not only touch upon each concept but also activate them from and towards different locations. Through these activations, the contributing authors urge early childhood education to endure more, commit to more and enunciate more than what the field currently breathes, actualizes and speaks.

Curriculum making is a central idea for Cristina Delgado Vintimilla and Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. In their article, they narrate the creation of pedagogical documentation alongside the composition of curriculum. For them, curriculum making and pedagogical documentation work in tandem, feeding one another. To bring to life this intimate connection the authors attend to the metaphor of stitching. They stitch with pedagogists; they insert inventive and responsive processes as a form of curriculum making. Through this slow stitching they also encourage readers to attend to the temporal aspects of pedagogical documentation – not only do we work retrospectively, they say, we are also projecting towards what is not yet known.

Delgado Vintimilla and Pacini-Ketchabaw also put to work the concept of becoming a pedagogist through documentation they created following a PNO gathering in 2020. Similarly, post-secondary institution pedagogists Paolina Camuti-Cull and Olga Rossovska, in an interview by Cristina Delgado Vintimilla and Nicole Land, provide a thoughtful narration of the vulnerabilities and (dis)comforts of reconfiguring their relations as post-secondary pedagogists with students, educators and colleagues. Camuti-Cull and Rossovska share how, in inhabiting an in-between and always-in-question becoming, they problematize the postsecondary institution’s neoliberal inheritances. They describe how their roles as pedagogists are opening up generative possibilities for beginning to notice, reimagine, and recreate practicum and classrooms conditions and experiences. In questioning the pedagogical purposes and intents of practicum, they propose possibilities to set into motion alternative ways of relating and coming together in early childhood education.

How a pedagogist asks questions of pedagogy, lives pedagogical questions, and performs pedagogical acts also come through in Nicole Land’s Sweating the Fact(s) of my Body (+ Mermaids) as a Pedagogist. Land’s provocative, intimate, rigorous and poetic piece threads pedagogy with the concept of situated relations. Situated within a body, Land “sweats and muscles” pedagogical questions and, in turn, makes her body a space for interrogation, provocation, and invention. She lays bare what it might mean to think pedagogically from within a body; what it might do to ask pedagogical questions from an unwell body; what it might actualize when addressing a body in a pedagogical way. We believe that Land wants us to read this essay pedagogically – she is not looking for a sympathetic reader (although it might be impossible not to ache for the suffering and distress that her unwell body brings), rather at every turn of her prose she seeks and demands a pedagogical engagement.

Entering through a different axis, Fikile Nxumalo’s podcast also activates the concept of situated relations. Situating herself within multiple geographies of racialization, she interrogates how Blackness is activated through pedagogical and curricular events – for instance, through descriptors such as ‘from preschool to the prison pipeline’ used to refer to young Black children’s educational trajectory. From this space, Fikile thinks with feminist Black theories to make early childhood education accountable for reproducing anti-Blackness, and for its seduction with Canadian multiculturalism. Yet, Fikile not only challenges early childhood education, but she also offers a new pedagogical lexicon to think differently about what might be possible through environmental early education.

The articles in this issue are kindred, yet distinct offerings, and ask what must be endured to remain in the midst of pedagogical engagement. We hope readers not only linger with the individual visual, aural, poetic, and narrative forms, but read them in relation with one another, and as an activation of work that is reconfiguring the intersections of early childhood education and pedagogy.

On Early Childhood Education Encountering Pedagogy: An Interview with Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw

In this segment Cristina Delgado Vintimilla interviews Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. The interview takes place as Pacini-Ketchabaw is embroiled in the midst of two projects she is leading in early childhood education in Canada.

Cristina Delgado Vintimilla (CDV): This interview takes place in the midst of two projects that you are leading in early childhood education in Canada. Both projects inaugurate the professional figure of the pedagogist. This figure responds, among other things, to the growing interest to think about early childhood education as a pedagogical project. Indeed, the term pedagogist connotes an intimate connection with pedagogy. As these projects unfold, we have experienced that, thinking about pedagogy and engaging early childhood education as a pedagogical project is a complex endeavor. What intrigues you about this project and why is it important to you? I imagine we can think of this encounter between pedagogy and early childhood in many ways. What comes to mind for you and what are their challenges and opportunities based on your view of the work, so far?

Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw (VPK): Thank you for these questions Cristina.  Let me begin by clarifying that the two projects that you are referring to are the ECPN (Early Childhood Pedagogies Network) and the PNO (Pedagogists Network of Ontario).  What is important for me is that these two projects, as you said, insist that early childhood education needs to engage in pedagogical conversations, and in doing so challenge the pervasive developmental discourse that early childhood education continues to perpetuate.  I don’t think that I need to say too much about why these projects aim to bring alternative narratives into early childhood.  As Peter Moss and Gunilla Dahlberg reminded us more than a decade ago, developmental psychology as a dominant discourse allows for early childhood education to be constructed as a service for families and as a producer of predetermined outcomes.  Like these authors do, the projects that you mentioned are proposing that we think about early childhood education as a “public forum situated in civil society in which children and adults participate together in projects of social, cultural, political and economic significance” (p. 73).   What intrigues me is how the role of the pedagogist might allow us to open up these kinds of conversations in early childhood education.   What might be possible in early childhood education when we attend to pedagogy rather than child development?  Of course there are multiple challenges.  The main challenge is that Canada might not yet be ready to have this conversation.  Engagements with pedagogical thought require that Canadian early childhood education invents another vocabulary… Yet, I continue to encounter (especially now during the pandemic when early childhood education has been a conversation in the media and political circles) troubling references such as ‘early childhood education as an essential service’, educators as ‘workers’ and members of the ‘workforce,’  and the field as a ‘sector’.  This factory-like lexicon creates certain expectations and moves us away from engaging in early childhood education as a cultural and political project.

(CDV): As I am listening to you, and I think about early childhood as a cultural project, I think about the tension between, on one hand, education as a system that perpetuates particular structures of interpretation and socializes children into a stabilized state of affairs, and on the other hand, education as what creates the conditions for thinking otherwise futures and for inserting something different into the present. This,  seems to me, to be the tension that you are describing. I would propose that this is a tension that is becoming acutely present as a provocation that pedagogy brings to early childhood education.  In your view, what might early childhood education in Canada need to consider to generatively respond to such provocation? Particularly when considering that– in the broad social imaginary– early childhood is thought in such constraining and instrumental ways as  those described in your example?

VPK: Yes, that is the tension that pedagogy offers to early childhood education.  There are many things we need to consider.  The main (amongst many) that comes to mind right now is how to work with pedagogists in creating the conditions for thinking otherwise futures.  I often worry that this side of the tension is completely dismissed.  Somehow we have had opportunities to engage in the critique of hegemonic structures within early childhood education.  In my experience, we have become quite skillful at unpacking and unsettling discourses with pedagogists.  The challenge now is to work with pedagogists to create conditions for other futures.  I am thinking about the pedagogical work that we have been doing in the Common Worlds Research Collective.  I have learned so much through my work with you and other fabulous colleagues to challenge myself to dive into the question ‘what could be otherwise?’    I think it is important that pedagogists do not become too comfortable with critiquing educators’ practices.  I am not saying that critique doesn’t have a place in the life of a pedagogist.  It does.  But critique needs to be deeply entangled with the ‘otherwise’, the ‘what if’, the ‘yet to come’.  I want to stress the idea that these two movements are indeed entangled. One does not come after the other.  Like you said Cristina, it is a tension that as pedagogists we need to constantly live in.

CDV: Indeed, generative tensions need to be cultivated in early childhood education and this is not because early childhood education lacks tensions, but because the tendency might be to ‘master’ and even try to avoid those tensions in the name of protecting what we already know or the familiar ‘how to’ that mark early childhood in Canada.  What do you think might be some of the conditions and dispositions that a pedogist needs to nurture as a way to move past mere critique? And could you share some thoughts about how it would look like if early childhood practices and curricular propositions were driven by the generative force of the “what if”?  I am particularly interested in this  last question because I think that thinking “what if” or the “yet to come” requires much of our attention. As a pedagogista, I consider thinking “what if” as a complicated and demanding mode of engagement with the world.  “What if”  is  at the heart of what I refer to as ideation which, as you know, it is one of the abilities that defines the work of a pedagogista, in the Italian tradition.

VPK:  As you know, we started to think about some of the conditions that a pedagogist needs to nurture in an article that was just published in Contemporaries Issues in Early Childhood.   Let me address just one here.  In my work with pedagogists in the PNO and ECPN, I have come to realize that interdisciplinarity is one of those conditions that a pedagogist cannot live without.  By that I mean that a pedagogist has to be able to attend to the conditions of early childhood education not only by drawing from a multitude of disciplines (anthropology, sociology, geography and so on) but also be able to encounter these conditions through different theoretical frameworks.  A pedagogist thinks with poststructuralism, feminist Black studies, and/or feminist Indigenous theorizings to challenge the narrow discourse of child development that organizes early childhood education.  Phenomenology is a language that a pedagogist thinks pedagogical documentation with. Feminist environmental writings help a pedagogist to think early childhood education in viral times. Yet, it is not about moving in and out of disciplines and theoretical frameworks.  It is about working transversally with multiple languages.  These languages intermix so that the pedagogist can offer educational proposals that move beyond the monopoly of developmentally appropriate activities.

To address the second part of your question: I agree that the ‘what if’ requires careful attention in the education of pedagogists (and early childhood education as a whole).  Early childhood education suffers from literalism.  We lack imagination of what might be possible.  This is dangerous because pedagogy needs to be able to think ‘the otherwise’ in order to avoid being squeezed into neoliberal capitalism.  A pedagogist needs to embrace what Loris Malaguzzi called creativity (not psychologically defined).  I think I want to think about this disposition as speculative practice – that is, a practice that is committed to an idea of worlding that keeps the world going in more-just-ways.  I might even say that what makes a pedagogist is to be able to embrace the ‘what if’.   Yes to the idea of ideation, of invention, of creative projection!

When sharing this piece, please include the following citation: 
Pacini-Ketchabaw, V., & Delgado, C.V. (December 2020). On early childhood education encountering pedagogy: An interview with Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine, 1(1). Retrieved from