Nicole Land thinking with Sanja Todorovic and Jajiba Chowdhury
I was thinking of our earlier conversations about running and about being curious how different ways of moving happen in your classroom, and what these different ways of moving do. I think that there is something quite interesting happening in noticing how and why different materials are carried, and how they travel, around the space. On Friday, there were lots of materials that were scooped up and carried around in lots of different ways: a hat that was carried around on heads and in hands, the coloured see-through block pieces that children carried in threes as they stretched their hands to hold three at a time, some children cuddling baby dolls against their bodies as they walked them around and others holding the dolls by their ankles or arms as they walked, the paint from the activity that got stuck to fingers before it was washed off, and books that were carried by their covers or carefully held flat as they travelled from the book carpet to other spaces. There is so much moving with materials that is unfolding, and I am interested in wondering and paying attention to what these moving relations create – what happens when dolls or paint or blocks or books move in particular ways? What does this moving open up? How do we shape how children move with these materials – why, how?
I want to suggest that there are some familiar, status-quo ways that we can think about how materials are carried and held and travel within your classroom. For example, it is really familiar to me to trace the path of a material: this child picked up this material here and moved it to here. This, I think, emphasizes movement as something with a beginning and an end, and positions children’s movement as something valuable when we appreciate the distance children move or the meaning in why that child wanted a material in one place over another. I want to invite us to be curious together about complexifying this view of movement as an outcome. How can we wonder what happens when we don’t see movement only as something with a quantifiable beginning and end or something that matters for the outcome of the movement?
This reminds me of the work of Pauliina Rautio (2013) and her article “Children who carry stones in their pockets: on autotelic material practices in everyday life”. In this article, Rautio writes about how we might understand how children carry stones in their pockets as “autotelic material practices”. For Rautio, “by autotelic practices, I understand activities that we repeatedly engage with for no external reward or motivation such as money or outside recognition” (p. 394). Rautio makes me think about taking seriously practices and movements that don’t have an outcome or that don’t “produce” a developmental milestone or meet the criteria for what I might consider proper “learning”; almost these unruly, hard to pin down everyday material practices that don’t immediately ‘make sense’ because maybe children aren’t engaging in them to ‘make sense’, where making sense means meeting an adult, taken-for-granted explanation of what is unfolding in their moving. Rautio argues for a return to thinking moving as it happens (relationships, consequences, conversations, experiences), not movement as producing a certain outcome. She proposes that “the child-with-stones could be approached as if horizontally, as a momentary event produced by a mesh of related bodies (human and non-human). This would allow us to reconsider the seeming simplicity of the observation that children seem to carry stones (or sticks, corks or any other item) for the sake of carrying them” (p. 395). This makes me want to think more about how we might understand carrying and holding and travelling with different materials like dolls or paint or books beyond only focusing on outcomes or noticing how they move from point A to point B: what if we pay attention to moving with materials, rather than to how materials were moved? What happens within moving or travelling with these materials?
I think another inherited way of understanding how children move with materials is to consider how individual children “use” particular materials. For example, to notice how one child decides to pick up a doll by the doll’s ankles and carry the dangling doll across the room where they put the doll into a chair. This, I think for me, emphasizes two taken-for-granted ideas: that focusing on how children “use” certain materials as instruments is important and that we can understand how children move as individual, isolated beings (this child executed this movement independently or correctly or in alignment with these standards). I think it might be interesting to pay attention to how this movement might not just be individual, but how it might be collective, part of a larger classroom conversation that unfolds through moving. In her article, Rautio offers that “to appreciate also the momentary and the seemingly unguided in children’s everyday lives, the fleetingness and aimlessness of autotelic practices, we would have to let go of our insistence on long-term accountability, evaluation and controlling of learning outcomes. We would need to trust that the interaction between children and the world, seemingly irrational and mostly unreflected, also has value…Most importantly, however, we would have to embrace the thought that teachers – those who invite, guide, support and steer us – can also be other than human beings. Tiny black inanimate pebbles can invite us into interaction by virtue of existing, guide the nature of this interaction by virtue of their physical form, support our activity through lending themselves to be investigated and engaged with and steer us in our being human through providing a concrete point of reference for our reflection as the species we are” (p. 402).
I love this, the idea that pebbles or paint stuck to fingers or see-through blocks held by stretched hands can, as Rautio says, invite, guide, and support moving and relationships. It makes me think with who and what participates in moving within the classroom. This makes me wonder, what possibilities for moving do we create when we notice how moving is relational or collective and not just a human activity? What happens if we pay attention to how movement is contagious, how moving unfolds within the common space of the classroom where any one child’s moving always intersects with moving from other children and adults and materials within that shared space?
Rautio, P. (2013). Children who carry stones in their pockets: On autotelic material practices in everyday life. Children’s Geographies, 11(4), 394-408.