By: Diane Kashin, Ed. D, RECE. Constructivist theory in education suggests that learners are the makers of meaning. This theory is especially relevant in early learning. Meaning-making refers to the personal epistemology that learners create to help them make sense of influences, relationships and sources of knowledge in their world. Teachers create experiences for learners to make meaning as children are not born with the ability to interpret the world as adults do. Children learn the meaning of things gradually, as they gain experience (Hein, 1999).
All of us constantly organize and select the information our senses take in from the natural world and from the symbolic and cultural worlds of words and signs. This is how we make sense of these worlds. This activity is independent of any particular educational theory. It’s a consequence of our being human, of our neurological system and the way it develops and interacts with the environment ~ Hein, 1999, p. 15
I have been thinking about how children make sense of the natural world in relationship to storytelling. “Storytelling is an intimate sharing of a narrative with one or more persons” (Phillips, 1999, p. 12). Storytelling is an ancient tradition that can occur naturally in the natural world. Storytelling is a way to pass on knowledge of plants, animals, seasons and cycles; encouraging children’s connectiveness to the Land. When children encounter the wonders of the earth during outdoor play, they can tell stories of their experiences. These can be told orally, written down, acted out and documented by teachers to be shared with families. Last week, a broad-winged hawk was perched outside my window. I searched for what this visit might mean and learned that hawk symbolism represents the ability to see meaning in ordinary experiences if you choose to become more observant. This was particularly meaningful to me at this time as I contemplate meaning-making, storytelling and pedagogical documentation.
As a student of pedagogical documentation, I have long recognized that this complex process, is about being observant to the deeper meaning of children’s experiences. What I have realized is that there is so much wisdom about the Land that can be learned from Indigenous stories of the natural world which encourage children to be careful observers. I look forward to the York Region Nature Collaborative full-day workshop designed to explore these relationships on February 15th, 2020 – Land as Our First Teacher: Exploring Relationships Between Indigenous Storytelling and Pedagogical Documentation. Storytelling will inspire dialogue and promote learning. Berger (2017) suggests that the narrative interpretations inherent in pedagogical documentation are an occasion for dialogue, an opportunity to seek other perspectives and to consider future pedagogical action. When these stories are about unexpected events they can awaken our responsibility for our common worlds. When we “integrate and support children’s storytelling practices in ways that reflect their lived experiences with the natural world”, we “nurture their ecological identity, and encourage children into a deeper knowing of the natural world. Pedagogical documentation is also a tool to help implement storytelling within common worlds pedagogies” (Yu, 2018, p. 2).
The agenda for the day is full of possibilities for unexpected events as is every day that we spend with children on the Land, just like my visit from the hawk was not expected. Documenting these experiences in a way that creates stories that can be told and retold supports the view of documentation held by educators from Reggio Emilia. According to Rinaldi (2004) documentation, does not mean to collect documents after the conclusions of experiences with children but during the course of these experiences. It is not about recording memories for archiving but a way to create and maintain the relationships and the experiences. In Reggio, “we think of documentation as an act of caring, an act of love and interaction”. When I think about documentation as an act of love, Rosalba Bortolotti’s documentation of the Tomato Project stands out. The annual tradition of making tomato sauce as a way to build relationships within the community is documented in Beautiful Stuff from Nature: More Learning with Found Materials edited by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini. Rosalba will have her documentation on display at the February 15th, 2020 event. We know that the opportunity for dialogue inspired by the documentation will be rich. Evident from these four examples, are the voices of the children as they theorize and narrate their understanding of the natural world.
Pedagogical documentation is about sharing stories. Now with the help of platforms such as Storypark these stories can reach beyond the walls. When Loris Malaguzzi described the environment in the pre-primary schools of Reggio Emilia, he spoke of the walls that are used as “spaces for both temporary and permanent exhibits of what the children and teachers have created”. In his words, “our walls speak and document” (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998, p. 64). The York Region Nature Collaborative is grateful for the support Storypark has given for the upcoming event on February 15th, 2020. It will be so interesting to hear from the expert panel about their perspectives on storytelling and the sharing of documentation beyond the walls. It is as if Malaguzzi could see into the future when he suggested there is a wall, which prevents us from going beyond what we know. His poetic words tell us that, “beyond the wall there is always a beyond” (2001, p. 6). When the Hundred Languages of Children Exhibit was in its first incarnation, it was called “When the Eye Jumps Over the Wall.” According to Malaguzzi (2001), inside the title there was a message “that the eye, when it looks beyond the wall of habit, of custom, of the normal, of the non-surprise, of assumed security” (p. 6), will find the possible. Join me at the Land as Our First Teacher: Exploring Relationships Between Indigenous Storytelling and Pedagogical Documentation to see what is possible when we share stories of meaning and invite our eye to jump over the wall.